From Minneapolis to Maastricht: how one American is exploring the world through education

Katie McCoy

From a young age, Kali Benton knew that there was a life to be lived outside of the United States. She has never lived in one place for too long, with her childhood years being spent in Seattle, Minneapolis, and Madison, Wisconsin.  When Benton was a junior in high school, she took a leap of faith and traveled across the world to study abroad as an exchange student in North Macedonia, on a program funded through the U.S. Department of State. Her drive to experience life outside of the U.S. has led her to the Netherlands, where she now studies at University College Maastricht.


(The following story is told by Kali Benton to Katie McCoy)

 I’m Kali, I’m from the U.S.  I’m 19.  I’m studying liberal arts at a university in the Netherlands. 

When I was four, I lived in Ukraine for a little bit and that was really nice. 

Kali Benton’s drive to search for opportunities outside of the United States has led her to University College Maastricht in the Netherlands. Submitted Photo: Kali Benton

Then when I was 13, I went on a trip with my dad and my grandma to Greece. That was when the thought first crossed my mind that I could go to school abroad, it’d be a lot cheaper, and it would be really interesting.

My dad is a professor and he knows professors all over the world so it made the world of academia seem a little bit smaller, and so I was really not too intimidated to try to branch out of the U.S.

As I got older, we had a lot of exchange students in my house.  We had four in total and I went to visit two of them at different points during high school and that was really cool to see.  

I realized I’m not so much of a traveler. I just love to go experience other things. It’s stressful for me to go be a tourist somewhere. 

I really appreciate traveling with people who are from that place who can show us how not to get scammed and show us the best places to be.  I appreciate that a lot and I knew going away for a semester during college wouldn’t cut it as what I really wanted to do outside the U.S. 

In high school, I decided to become an exchange student for 10 months in Macedonia, on a U.S. Department of State scholarship called YES Abroad. They got to pick where I went and I ended up going to North Macedonia and it was really cool and that’s when I really got committed to going outside the U.S. 

There were classes that were aimed at showing the students at my international school in Macedonia universities outside of Macedonia.  That’s where I saw the Netherlands and I saw they are a great place to be if you want to study international relations.

I think living abroad anywhere, once you’ve done it that first year you’ll be okay. You get over a lot of humps and you grow so much as a person that it’s so much easier any time you do it again after that first time. 

When I moved to the Netherlands, of course, there’s things that will give me culture shock when I’m here, but it’s nothing compared to what I felt in Macedonia. Especially the prevalence of English around the Netherlands, it’s so much more common to hear it on the street, especially in my student city where we speak English in most classes. 

I would say I’ve been having quite a positive experience.  I’ve met awesome people over here. I think the fact that I go to such an international school has made my transition easier because I’m not only surrounded by a bunch of Dutch people, I’m surrounded by a lot of other people who’ve left their home country, even if they’re not American.

The city is quite small and the ability to bike everywhere is so nice and my quality of life, I feel like it’s just generally better than it would be in the U.S. 

I think the quality of my education has been amazing. I feel like I’ve learned a lot. Even though the style of learning is so different, specifically at this university, I think it’s really working for me. I’m learning how to speak up in groups, which is a big skill going into the workforce.  

I really think I did make the right decision, and I’m happy here.