Study Abroad in Pandemic

Anna Puhek
Anna Puhek (ThreeSixty Journalism/Aaliyah Demry)

Junior Anna Puhek is studying actuarial science and economics, but at many universities around the world. Puhek currently studies at St. Thomas’ home campus in St. Paul. She has studied abroad at the St. Thomas campus in Rome, named Bernardi in the fall semester of 2021, and studied abroad in London in January 2020. 

Puhek possesses sincere gratitude for the countless triumphs she has made by utilizing the opportunities provided by the Office of Study Abroad. Puhek demonstrates this by sharing her open-minded perspective as a result of countless exposures to different cultures. 

“I actually got to study abroad in January of 2020 in London, so I kind of have the interesting experience of seeing how the world changed pre- and post-COVID,” Puhek said. “I liked actuarial science because it’s the science of risk in doing a lot of math. And so I thought that (actuarial science) would be a good way to bring some current events into it because that’s what brings risk and that’s what changes in the world.” 

The countless semesters Puhek spent abroad have facilitated her understanding of cultures beyond the Midwest regions she’s lived in her entire life. 

“There’s so many cultural norms that you just take for granted. Living in Minnesota my whole life, but getting to go to England, getting to go to Italy and travel around there, it really shows you different ways of life and how things that you like aren’t always the same everywhere else,” Puhek said. 

The perspective Puhek gained from a “culture weekend” provided by the University of St. Thomas while in Rome assisted Puhek and students in making further connections with the Italian culture of the people around her. 

“St. Thomas brought us on a cultural weekend. On one of our group trips we went to Sorrento, which is nearby the Amalfi Coast. A group of 10 of us, we rented out a boat for a day and got to see the sights and on the Mediterranean Sea,” Puhek said. “We got to see little traditions that make Italy special. We got to meet some really amazing people with some interesting stories. I think how that … culture weekend was different is that we really got to make some real connections and meet some local people beyond just tour guides.” 

While she continued to expand her cultural horizons in Rome, she sought to overcome a language barrier in that particular city. 

“Of course, when I studied abroad in London, they spoke English, right? So I didn’t have to learn anything there. But it was a little more difficult, trying to speak Italian,” Puhek said. “One thing that kind of makes you think a little bit, at least for me, is when we were in Italy, they often couldn’t speak some English. Whereas a lot of Americans don’t have a second language, at least I took Spanish in high school, but I can’t speak it very well, so thinking about that American mindset.” 

For students eager to experience a culture outside of their neighborhoods, Puhek urges them to get in contact with the Office of Study Abroad and enjoy a semester in which you gain more than you anticipate. 

“I would say do it. And I would say, reach out to the Office of Study Abroad. Think about what interests you, what part of the world you would like to see,” Puhek said. “Frankly, I’d like to go everywhere. I don’t think studying abroad is something you’ll ever regret because it expands and enriches your college experience much more than staying in one campus.” 

This story was produced with the University of St .Thomas Marketing, Insights & Communications team. Student profiled St. Thomas changemakers involved with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at the university at Winter News Team.