Learning En Route

Mackenzie Ritter '17 at Kasbah des Oudaias in Rabat, Morocco: "I’m so confident in who I am and what I’m doing when it comes to reading, writing and articulating."

“The former president of Latvia might be the coolest person I’ve ever met. Talk about a badass chick.” She pauses for a second, adding, “It is so bizarre to think that I did that.” Confused? Mackenzie Ritter ’17 is talking about her experience as an intern for the largest think tank in the Czech Republic.

Ritter studied abroad in Prague in the fall of 2015 and then, in an uncommon move, actually spent the spring semester abroad in Rabat, Morocco. Her year abroad in her own words? “Absolute bliss” she says. 

An international studies major from San Antonio, Texas, she has always known that she wanted to study abroad. “When else are you going to be able to live in another country for 5 months and just learn?” She asks earnestly. “I figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And I just did it.”

“I wouldn't have the job I have today if I hadn't studied abroad.”

Ritter has never regretted her choice. With enviable excitement, she recounts her experiences in the two countries. In Prague, she did a CIEE program called Communications, New Media & Journalism. Her semester there was a series of firsts—her first time living in a city, living on her own, cooking for herself and taking public transportation. The nature of her internship was certainly a first as well.

Sitting in on back-door conversations and taking notes, Ritter got to be in the presence of policy makers, presidents and parliamentarians. She talks about her experiences in Prague with pride and disbelief, noting that she’s still not sure how she managed to land such a situation.

In the spring, Ritter arrived in Rabat, Morocco where she was part of an SIT program called Field Studies in Journalism and New Media. Requiring homestay living and unorthodox, experiential learning, the SIT program could not have been more different from her semester in Prague. Yet, once again it was utter bliss.

Initially nervous about the homestay, she soon discovered that there was nothing to worry about. While her family spoke no English, she found that they were able to connect through food—not to mention a helpful cousin who would visit on Saturdays. “All intense communication happened on Saturdays,” Ritter comments, laughing.

The highlight of her program, however, was her independent study project in which she researched the film industry in Ouarzazate, Morocco. This little town has been the site of countless famous movies like James Bond and Mission Impossible. Fascinated by the community’s relationship with the film industry, Mackenzie got permission to stay there and conduct research. Her efforts paid off with U.S. News & World Report actually publishing her story.

Ritter now works in public relations at Amazon in Seattle. She gives a great deal of credit to her experiences in Prague and Morocco, declaring that she wouldn’t have her job today if she hadn’t gone abroad.

When pushed to explain what she means by that, she says with conviction, “I’m so confident in who I am and what I’m doing when it comes to reading, writing and articulating myself. I’m also able to work with a lot of different types of people. I truly value peoples’ stories and I think going abroad made me realize that was my passion.”

If you’re thinking about studying abroad but aren’t sure it’s right for you, Ritter says, “Do it. All you have to do is jump. Once you mentally commit, you will never regret it.”

April 20, 2017