Choices. We make a lot of them every day. Some of them are small and don’t have a lot of sway in our life, like choosing what clothes to wear each morning. Others, though, are larger and can have far greater impact than we initially imagine. Students everyday make the choice to attend the University of Iowa to continue their education, and Chelsea Prestien, an alum who earned a BA in journalism and mass communication in 2013, made that choice to attend Iowa as a non-traditional student in her late 20s. That choice, and the subsequent choices she made during her time at Iowa, like choosing her major and taking the leap to study abroad, have made a lasting impact on her ever since.
“Growing up as a small-town girl from Iowa, I felt like a lot of the choices I made in life were safe or they were made for me by someone else,” said Prestien. “Leaving a full-time job to become a full-time student at Iowa in my late 20’s was the first time I stepped into making a decision on my own; one that felt a little risky, a little more outside of the box than everything I had been up to at that point in my life.”
When choosing to attend Iowa, Prestien always knew she wanted to go abroad to study in a different country. During her junior year, Prestien completed a study abroad program at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, taking courses in political science abroad.
“There are so many times when I went through college that I put so much pressure on myself to pick a major and make huge decisions that felt so influential at the time. In hindsight, studying abroad was the easiest and most impactful decision I made in college."
“A lot of people will travel farther away from home to go to school, but I knew I wanted to attend Iowa and study abroad so I could have the experience of traveling away from home for a new culture and community,” said Prestien. “While abroad, I joined a third-year cohort at Strathclyde, took courses in British politics, Scottish politics, American politics, and a research class.” Through her coursework, Prestien learned about American politics from a new perspective, participated in voting during the 2012 election while abroad, and was able to add a different level of context in class discussions on the political landscape in America.
Prestien’s time abroad gave her another choice to make – how to spend her time outside of her courses during her year in Scotland. Similarly to living with friends in the residence halls or in an off-campus apartment in Iowa City, Prestien found herself living with a group of five younger women, four of whom were international students, too, from Scotland, Germany, Finland, Czech Republic, and Belgium.
“The connections I chose to make with my flatmates are really important to me,” shared Prestien. “I now have global friends and especially during the pandemic recently, I have been in constant communication with them sharing about the different experiences we all have had in our respective countries.”
While studying abroad, Prestien found herself choosing to spend a lot of time with her new friends, taking small trips to different parts of Scotland and building strong friendships during her year abroad. When it was time to leave at the end of the year, Prestien found herself already making plans with her flat mates for return trips.
“I was going to go back. If you would have asked me back then, I was heading back to live there,” described Prestien. “While I didn’t move back full time, studying abroad became the first choice that I made where I realized I could go anywhere, and I could do anything. I feel so much more empowered to say if I wanted to move for another opportunity, I can pick myself up and flourish wherever I plant myself. There’s sometimes a dialogue that Iowans feel trapped, however I’m making a choice to be here in the state now. I can be anywhere, and I can flourish.”
Prestien currently works for Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and attributes her time abroad to her success at the company.
“Collins is a global company with a global impact, and I regularly work with people in Europe, Asia, and South America,” said Prestien. “Because of my time abroad, though, I have made bigger jumps in my career because I’ve made better connections with people due to the experiences connecting with others from around the world during my time abroad.”
“My time abroad started an understanding about everyone wanting similar things from life despite different cultural norms and communication styles,” said Prestien. “I use that in coaching teams at Collins through challenges with roles and responsibilities, planning change management, and overall keeping a perspective focused on our global customers’ needs.”
While Prestien has put down roots locally in Iowa, she has still made a handful of trips to stay in touch and visit her flatmates from her study abroad experience. The connections she started making in 2012 have continued with her throughout the past decade, resulting in several return trips and, most recently, a reunion trip abroad in July 2022 to visit Glasgow and experience, again, the place that brought the five friends together in the first place.
“There are so many times when I went through college that I put so much pressure on myself to pick a major and make huge decisions that felt so influential at the time,” said Prestien. “In hindsight, studying abroad was the easiest and most impactful decision I made in college. I knew that studying abroad was going to be something that was impactful, and I’m glad I made the decision to do it. It was hard, all the challenges and things that came with it, but those things have paid for themselves time and time again, both in my career as well as with the friendships I’ve made.”