Living for those lost

Deciding to study abroad is a big step in anyone’s life. To be away from family and friends and dropped into an unfamiliar environment can be an overwhelming experience. But despite these concerns, Olivia Yutzy, a senior communications major, committed to studying abroad – a decision she came to after tragedy struck the UNI campus in Fall 2015.

Olivia Yutzy studying abroad in Australia

“I realize that there is so much more to life than being stressed about school and work and that sometimes we need to take a step back and just enjoy the little things and cherish the moments we spend with the people we love,” said Olivia.

Olivia has always loved to travel and knew she wanted to study abroad after a Spanish trip to Costa Rica during her sophomore year at UNI. She decided on a fall semester so that she could be home with her family during the holiday season and from there narrowed her options down to Australia, Costa Rica and Brazil.

One of her friends was, as she remembers, “eager and overly excited” to study abroad in Australia that upcoming February. But unfortunately that friend was never able to make the trip. He took his own life three months before he was supposed to leave.

“I think part my decision to leave the country was to escape the reality I was living in and to try something new,” said Olivia. “When it came down to those three countries, then I knew I had to go to Australia to live out what he wasn't able to do.

“I wish more than anything we could've shared stories and adventures but I know he was smiling watching over my crazy experience [as Aussies would say] ‘down under.’”

This tragedy was felt all across campus, but was especially hard for Olivia. The pair first met during their freshman year and had been friends ever since.

“He was the happiest, most genuine person I have ever met,” said Olivia.

Still coping with the loss, Olivia continued with her plans to study abroad. She was able to travel to many different cities and experience a new, carefree way of life. She met a variety of people and was able to see their hometowns, all the while appreciating everything around her.

“I think I cherished every moment a little more. Everywhere I was I thought to myself, ‘Wow, he would've loved being here,’" said Olivia. “I could just see his big smile in my head and I knew he was so happy I was experiencing it, despite the hurt I felt from him leaving.”

Olivia was able to turn this unimaginable loss, into a chance to live out not only her dream of studying abroad, but her friend’s as well. She channeled the sadness and hurt from losing her friend, into an opportunity to honor him.

“The one-year anniversary of his death was in the last month I spent in Australia. It was a day I dreaded but I did my best to honor him the way he would've wanted me to. I wore his favorite Notre Dame hat while drinking an Australian knock-off of his favorite beer,” said Olivia.

For Olivia, studying abroad opened her eyes to other cultures and allowed her to experience how other people live. She learned so much about herself from stepping outside of her comfort zone.

“I realize that there is so much more to life than being stressed about school and work and that sometimes we need to take a step back and just enjoy the little things and cherish the moments we spend with the people we love,” said Olivia.

For more information about studying abroad at UNI, visit https://uni.edu/studyabroad/.

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