Reflecting on Study Abroad: Marisa Schnaith

Marisa Schnaith
Marisa Schnaith

By Megan Schulte, student study abroad ambassador

The first alumni feature is the incredibly successful Marisa Schnaith, who currently serves as an Honors Attorney for the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. She credits her study abroad programs in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Valencia, Spain as being helpful for her current profession.

Studying abroad as an undergraduate student

She first spent a summer in Buenos Aires where she learned the importance of living like the locals. It was a good introduction into study abroad. She had a host mom who did not speak a word of English, which pushed her outside of her comfort zone and allowed her to immerse herself in the language. Her next study abroad experience brought her to Valencia, Spain during the summer after her junior year. During this trip, she lived with a single mother and two children who took her in as if she was just another member of the family. She loved having the opportunity to be in Europe and experience many different cultures.

Joining the Peace Corps

While Schnaith notes that study abroad has made many great impacts on her life, one of the most significant impacts was motivating her to join the Peace Corps. Her shorter study abroad experiences during college made her feel more confident about committing to a longer program, as the Peace Corps expects two years out of its participants. She decided to push herself even further outside of her comfort zone, after enjoying the challenge of international travel during her time at Miami. “[Study abroad] definitely made me more interested in doing something like the Peace Corps because I realized when you live somewhere, you get a whole different understanding of the people and the culture and lifestyle than when you are just a tourist. Tourism is obviously incredibly for what it is...but when you live somewhere you get an incredible perspective,” Schnaith said.

Current career with the Department of Labor

Not only did study abroad help her decision to join the Peace Corps and live abroad, but it has also had lasting effects as seen through her current job. Schnaith works at the Department of Labor, where she says it is crucial to be able to talk and communicate with other cultures. Schnaith exclaims, “In the world we live in now, you need to be able to talk to people from other countries and cultures to be successful in any job that you do. So I think having the opportunity to study abroad and taking advantage of that while you’re here [at Miami] is such a great way to develop those skills.”

Reflecting on time in Mongolia

One of the most intriguing parts of my conversation with Schanith was the story she told me about her time in Mongolia; a story about a really bad situation with a really happy ending. She was taking a 12-hour bus ride between two rural towns with about 15 complete strangers that did not speak a word of English. Two hours into the trip, the van broke down and they were stranded in the rural countryside with no access to help. It was the dead of winter in one of the coldest countries in the world, and they were all stranded on the side of the road, indefinitely.

Schnaith describes this experience as, “I am the only foreigner and no one speaks English and my Mongolian isn’t that great. Everyone just took me under their wing as someone they are going to look out for. And they had no reason to do that other than just being wonderful people. They put me up by the heaters and gave me snacks and water, and they were just so sweet.”

This situation went on for ten more hours and throughout this time, everyone trusted that the driver would come back. No one complained a single word or demanded a refund. Schanith was amazed by this, as she thought how different the situation might have been if she was in America. It made her think, “There are other ways to live life and other cultures are very different in some really good ways, and we can learn some serious lessons.” Although it was not an ideal scenario, it was one of her favorite experiences while in Mongolia because it taught her so much about other cultures and the human spirit.

Final thoughts

Schanith concluded with this piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to ask people questions about their culture and their lifestyle.” I walked away from my interview with Schnaith feeling inspired. Here is a woman who is incredibly polished, accomplished, and has opened her eyes to the beautiful diversity of cultures that this world has. It is people like her that will make this world a better place.

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