Seniors head for new continents

From living abroad full-time to attending specialized schools, some graduates of the 2021 class will be starting anew

Natalie Aramendia

For students considering doing a semester abroad in college, senior Natalie Aramendia is taking it a step further by attending Duke Kunshan University (DKU) full time in Suzhou, China. Aramendia plans to study at this joint-venture between Duke and Wuhan University created especially for foreign students.

“I was really drawn to the novelty of [DKU] as a new school and the opportunity to really live in Asia, but also have the support system of an American university,” Aramendia said.

For the Asia-bound student, her surroundings were a large factor in the college-selection process. Aramendia first took interest in the school’s campus, as it is adjacent to Shanghai, China. When exploring a career in urban planning, the architecture of the metropolis was key. Although DKU does not provide that specific major, computation and design is a close match. Aramendia will continue urban studies into graduate school in the United States for a more focused education, but emphasized the importance of Chinese immersion in the field.

“Undergrad [is a time for] adventure and to really learn a lot and put my language skills to use to practice, and engage with the culture,” Aramendia said. “I like the idea of being in China if I had to do it one time in my life. During university [I will] have more freedom than working there as an adult.”

Aramendia is part of the 30% international demographic of the school, the other 70% being mainland Chinese students. Her class will only be the fourth to graduate from DKU, as it is a small and newly formed university. She has yet to visit the campus in-person, due to restrictions on overseas travel during the pandemic. She first discovered her fondness for the area when visiting family friends on vacation and studying the language at Washington-Liberty.

“I’ve been taking Chinese for a few years now, and I went to China two summers ago,” Aramendia said. “I had such an incredible experience and I knew I really wanted to go back.”

Once Aramendia had a taste of international exploration, she was certain she wanted more. Her family researched many colleges across the globe, but Aramendia ultimately felt most comfortable in China, a decision for which her parents could not support more. While it is a long commute for visitors, the soon-to-be DKU freshman is nothing but curious and excited for the change of pace.

“I knew for college, I really wanted it to be a growing experience, and I really wanted to get out of my comfort zone,” Aramendia said.

Katerina Rankin-Lacchini

Europe is a central hub for literature, artistic expression and culture, all of which senior Katerina Rankin-Lacchini will experience firsthand for the next four years. Lacchini has enrolled in Northern Illinois University’s (NIU) sister campus in Salzburg, Austria that only this year became available to international students full time rather than for a semester exchange program.

“I don’t know if I always wanted to live in Austria; I think it was more of a general wanting to move out of the [United States],” Lacchini said. “The grass is always greener on the other side and I’d always visited Europe when I was younger to visit my family. I had always loved it there. I thought it was beautiful.”

Her father, born in Austria, immersed his daughter, Lacchini — who is a District of Columbia (D.C.) native — in the culture. Through this she learned the German language, which helped further her adoration towards Salzburg. She still has family she sees regularly in Austria; her uncle was actually the reason for her application to NIU once she and her father reached out. Lacchini’s uncle spoke to a member of the admissions department with whom he was friendly, eventually snowballing into a Zoom interview over the summer of 2020.

“I did want to attend college in Europe, but I think everyone always associates colleges in Europe with Oxford or really prestigious kinds of schools, and I don’t think it always has to be that way,” Lacchini said. “Thanks to my dad, I found like a really great option that allows me to travel.”

Although Lacchini did not have the easiest high school experience after being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) her junior year,  there was noticeable academic improvement afterwards. The COVID-19 pandemic allowed her and many others to opt out of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT) which she did not feel would be reflective of her achievement and comprehension at the school.

“I hadn’t gotten the best of grades but after [finding out about my ADHD], my grades immediately skyrocketed,” Lacchini said. “When [NIU] saw the transition in the grades, they were impressed, so that really helped.”

With a host of opportunities and an open mind, Lacchini has not yet decided on a major but is interested in the humanities and social sciences. Her campus being in close proximity to the city, Lacchini enjoys the thought of her family helping her to explore all the possibilities that living abroad can offer.

 “I’m going to have an entire system of people that I can go to if I ever need help,” Lacchini said. “[My parents] know that I’ve always loved Europe so they’re very supportive.”