Emily Heiser went from homebody to global explorer her junior year at SJC Long Island, when she accepted the opportunity to study abroad through a faculty-led trip to Romania.
“I tried going away for school, and it wasn’t for me, so I ended up coming here,” said Heiser, who graduated from St. Joseph’s College in 2019 with a double major in Psychology and Criminal Justice. “I was kind of in my own little bubble here. So then going abroad and seeing that, wow, there’s actually this whole other world out here — different people, different cultures — it really intrigued me.”
Thus sparked a wanderlust in Heiser.
“That trip to Romania opened up my world view,” she said. “I realized there’s so much more out there than just what’s in my home, and I really wanted to figure out more about it.”
Ever since, the 24-year-old has enjoyed internships abroad in South Africa and Australia, and she’s now pursuing a master’s degree in mental health counseling and criminal justice at Loyola University New Orleans.
Her First Trip Abroad
The study abroad trip to Romania Heiser participated in took place in the summer of 2018. It was part of a course called Cross-Cultural Social Psychology: Romania and America.
“So many people take things — and people — for granted,” Heiser said. “But in Romania, they live with only what they need, and they are happy! I learned to appreciate living a simpler life and not get caught up in the latest trends.”
Her favorite part of the trip, though, was her interaction with the students and professor from St. Joseph’s, Heiser said.
“We became our own family,” the Medford native said. “We supported each other, solved our problems together, laughed and cried together. It was such a bonding experience. I never knew so many people could connect so quickly together. I still talk to some of them, I still see them.”
Heiser’s experience in Romania eventually helped her when she decided to intern abroad.
“It made me more open, more accepting, just challenging myself to try and understand all these different people that I met and their cultures,” she said.
Interning in South Africa
“I found that interning would help me decide what I wanted to do,” she said. “I figured, I’m interning, why don’t I just go travel while I’m at it?”
After Linda Lubranski, SJC Long Island’s Global Studies coordinator, directed her to an organization called Connect-123, Heiser landed a human rights internship in Cape Town, which she served from February through April 2019.
She worked with Africa Unite, a nonprofit youth empowerment organization that aims to prevent conflicts, such as gender-based violence. She spoke with students in a school club formed by the organization, and she led workshops.
“The year I went was actually the 25th anniversary that they got away from the apartheid,” Heiser said. “Hearing the history and teaching the new students at the school club, it really opened my eyes and taught me again to be more accepting and understanding of all the different issues — that are not just happening here in America, but everywhere around the world.”
Heiser’s favorite part of her experience in South Africa was the people she encountered.
“My two roommates became my absolute best friends,” she said. “Even though one lives in Charleston and one lives in Los Angeles, we always see each other every year. We celebrate our birthdays together, we celebrate holidays. So those connections again, that was really big for me.”
Social Work in Sydney
After serving an internship in South Africa, Heiser and one of her roommates there searched for internships in Australia. Heiser found a social work internship in Sydney with an organization called Thread Together, which she served in September and October 2019.
“They would partner up with name-brand stores, whose excess clothes at the end of a season would usually end up at a landfill,” Heiser said of the organization. “But Thread Together would take them and link up with charities, then give them the clothes for free, and that clothing then goes to people in need.”
Heiser was responsible for contacting new charities and expanding their reach. Two days a week, she also helped with a popup store ran by Thread Together, which provided free clothing to populations in need, such as people in shelters and domestic violence victims.
While Heiser ultimately loved the internship, it helped her decide that social work is not for her.
“It felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders,” she said. “My favorite part was being at the store and working one-on-one with the customers and listening to their stories. It made me realize that counseling was more the option for me because I liked that kind of personal, one-on-one connection.”
Finding Her Passion
Heiser picked up more than just her decision to pursue her master’s in counseling and criminal justice from her internships abroad.
“I gained skills abroad that help me now, especially in my classes in graduate school,” she said. “We talk a lot about multiculturalism and how it’s relatively new to the counseling field. Like 20, even 15 years ago, it wasn’t as big as it is now. So I think that really helped me prepare and just really listen to what my professors have to say and how serious it is to learn this type of training.”
Although she’s not sure exactly what she wants to do after she graduates, Heiser wants to find a way to combine her two areas of discipline.
“I’m thinking of working with rehabilitation, whether it be substance abuse or trauma or even people coming out of the criminal justice system, helping them get back on their feet,” said Heiser, who hopes to graduate with her master’s in May 2023. “I think a lot of people don’t need to be in the criminal justice system and need social services instead, and I hope to help with that.”
She also hopes to continue traveling the world in the process.
Her biggest advice to students thinking about studying abroad is “just go for it.”
“You learn so much about yourself, other people, what the world has to offer, and it just kind of expands your whole world view and gets you outside of your comfort zone,” Heiser said. “And I think everyone should have that experience.”