Every weekday, I wake up at 8:00 a.m. in my Arlington, Virginia apartment on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. and I lift open my government-issued laptop to start my work day. Under normal circumstances, I’d likely have to set my alarm clock much earlier in order to have time to get dressed, put on makeup, eat breakfast, and catch the metro to get to downtown D.C. But during a pandemic, rolling out of bed with messy hair, no makeup, and staying in pajamas has become the new normal for many people, including myself. On the contrary, in the summer of 2017, when even the thought of a global pandemic seemed impossible, I woke up every morning in my Grenoble, France apartment, got dressed, grabbed a ‘pain au chocolat’ from the bakery across the street, and hopped on the metro to make it to my classes at l’Université de Grenoble-Alpes.
|A short walk from my apartment in Grenoble|
My study abroad experience in Grenoble was incredible and it provided me with a multitude of skills and life lessons that have not only helped me get where I am today, but continue to help me achieve my goals. As an International Studies major in undergrad at Texas A&M University, I was required not only to take language courses, but also to complete a study abroad experience. I minored in French in college because I had previous knowledge of Arabic and Spanish and wanted to know a third language.
|My friends and me on an excursion to Geneva, Switzerland|
My journey began with a flight from Houston to Lyon, the closest large city to Grenoble, followed by a bus ride to the small city, where my CEA advisor met me and took me to my apartment. I decided to stay in a student housing building rather than with a host family because I wanted to become more independent and live on my own. I was able to meet people from all over the globe who were living in Grenoble for a multitude of reasons, as well as other American students participating in different study abroad programs. The best part of my stay was the view of the Alps from my bedroom window!
|View from my bedroom window in Grenoble|
During my study abroad program with CEA, I took two intensive French language classes. I attended class for 4 hours every single weekday and was very surprised, but pleased, to learn that the French teachers would rarely speak English or translate things for us. It was definitely a more immersive experience than I had back in the States, and I was able to quickly excel my comprehension and speaking skills. Outside of class, I made it a point to practice my French as much as possible – when purchasing train tickets, ordering food, asking for directions, or just chatting with my new friends.
A year after my study abroad experience, I graduated from Texas A&M and was unsure of what to do next. Part of me wanted to try my luck applying to jobs, but another part of me wanted to pursue a master’s degree in order to have a more specialized focus. Thankfully, I got accepted to the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, where I proceeded to complete a master’s in International Affairs, focused on national security and diplomacy.
|Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.|
I graduated from the Bush School in 2020, a few months after COVID-19 started. Finishing up a semester during a pandemic posed several challenges to faculty, staff, and students alike, but more challenging than online school, however, was finding a job following graduation. I applied to more than 200 positions, constantly tweaking my resume and cover letter and improving my LinkedIn profile. After 6 months of hardship, rejections, and feelings of discouragement, I received an email from the team lead at the Office of Standards and Intellectual Property at the International Trade Administration, which is part of the Department of Commerce. I could hardly believe my luck!
|Department of Commerce|
After 4 rigorous interviews, I was offered the International Trade Specialist position and decided to move to Arlington, Virginia, for a change of pace and lifestyle, regardless of working from home. In my current position, I focus on resolving technical barriers to trade, specifically standards, that impede U.S. businesses from exporting to foreign markets. My regional areas of specialty are the Middle East/North Africa and Europe. My study abroad experience not only helped me land the job due to my experience with traveling and adapting to new environments, but I continue to use skills I learned during my study abroad program daily on the job. I have to work under pressure, use my French language to read documents and collaborate with foreign government and trade association members, and be proactive and creative. If I could go back and do my study abroad journey all over again, I would, but I am also thankful for where it has led me in my life today.
Diana Hajali is a CEA alumna who spent the Summer 2017 term studying abroad in Grenoble, France. She is a graduate of Texas A&M University.
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