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Vira I. Heinz Scholarship Winner Rachel Siefert

 

Rachel Siefert (far right) in Italy

“Everything the designer does has an impact on the people using the space.” Interior Architecture major Rachel Siefert trusts the transformational power of design. “I’ve always has an interest in architecture,” she says. “I love being a part of designing a building, arranging the interior, and selecting finishes.”

As a prospective student, Siefert visited Chatham and found a home in the three year program: “Out of all the schools I toured, Chatham was the only one I could actually picture myself going to.” For her, the sense of sisterhood is extraordinary: “Spending time with the other girls in the program is by far my favorite part,” she says. “Interior Architecture is such a special major; no one understands everything it involves unless you experience it yourself.” Motivational classmates fuel late nights and long work sessions: “Each and every one of them encourages me to keep pushing forward and stay determined no matter how stressful the day becomes.”

Just this summer, Siefert took her education across the Atlantic. “Initially, I had not really considered it,” she says. “Many of my design professors pushed me toward study abroad, and I finally looked into it.” An extensive hunt for the perfect program led her to Italy: “Florence is literally the birthplace of design. There could be no better place to study!

Chatham’s emphasis on global understanding connected Siefert to an extensive infrastructure of resources and advisors. After winning the highly competitive Vira I. Heinz Scholarship, she earned a spot at Florence’s Accademia Italiana. “For students who are interested in study abroad applications/scholarships, make sure that you dedicate the time necessary to make a strong application,” she says. “Proofread your essays and send handwritten thank you notes after interviews.”

Siefert’s excellence and consistent courtesy paid off: she found herself in Italy for a full six weeks. “It was the first time in my life I was completely dependent on myself, and I loved every minute.”

Exhilaration accompanied every challenge. “The language barrier could be stressful,” she shares. “Luckily, my professors and classmates spoke English, but I had a lot of practice in charades after my trip was over! I had done my best to learn some basic Italian before arriving in Florence, but it was not enough. Nothing prepares you better to learn a language than hearing it 24/7 and being forced to use it.”

Even with its obstacles, Siefert remembers the little things that made the experience special. A favorite memory? “I’d have to say just walking around the streets of Florence with the amazing friends I acquired,” she remembers. “We were careless, happy, and completely free. There is no better feeling in the world!”

Siefert returned to Chatham with a cemented career goal: work with an international design firm so she can do even more traveling. And now, months after her experience, what advice does Siefert have for other students hoping to study abroad?

“DO IT. This is an experience that will help you grow on so many levels: academically, personally, and globally. You will learn so many things about the world and yourself, and you will realize how strong and independent you are.”

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