How an experience abroad in high school taught Kate Cooper to say “yes” to more opportunities as an undergraduate

Vatican Museum Spring 2019

For six years, Notre Dame Pre-College has been sending high school students abroad to Rome, Italy and Ireland for two weeks in the summer to experience the Notre Dame global community. For many, this sparks a love for travel that will follow them into their undergraduate careers (and beyond!).

Kate Cooper traveled to Rome, Italy with ND Pre-College in the summer of 2015 as a high school junior. What she didn’t know at the time was that this would shape her life significantly in the years to come. Fast forward to 2020, and Cooper is a senior at Notre Dame with a double major in political science and Chinese as well as a double minor in studio art and theology. Cooper has traveled with Notre Dame International throughout her undergraduate experience, including the China Summer Language Program in Beijing and Eschatology in Art Pilgrimage to Rome.

I think many ND students, alumni, and fans would agree that the sense of community on campus is what they love most about Notre Dame,” says Cooper. “For this reason, it was very meaningful to me to actually experience that same sense of the ND family across the globe, and affirmed that the intangible spirit I loved about ND as a high school applicant wasn’t limited to the physical place I wanted to attend.”

She understands the nerves surrounding the idea of being a high school student considering applying to attend a study abroad program, but encourages students considering the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Her biggest piece of advice: practice saying “yes.”

“I think that saying a whole-hearted “yes” to new and different things, even when it may be intimidating, is the simplest way to be sure you make the most of your experience abroad,” she says. “Making new friends, learning about new places, trying new foods, and seeing new sights all starts with saying ‘yes!’”

Studying abroad is an opportunity to explore a new culture and to learn more about yourself. Cooper discovered her core passions of art, culture, language, and education - and how these are interconnected in beautiful ways.

“While my time abroad studying eschatological art across Italy and studying Mandarin in Beijing were polar opposite in many ways, they struck a chord in the way they exposed me to an infinite number of beautiful, complicated, humbling and challenging growth opportunities,” she says.

“In Rome, I was absolutely enamored by timeless marble sculptures and ancient ruins, but they had no more impact on me than seeing the city’s homeless find shelter under those monuments on rainy nights. In China, I climbed to see the breathtaking view from the Great Wall and developed a craving for dumplings with vinegar, but I also struggled immensely communicating (choppily) through a tonal language.”

Great Wall Summer 2018

She believes that going abroad is critical because it immerses students in a pool of new experiences which will capture, challenge, and ultimately help them become more curious and compassionate global citizens.

Her wanderlust continues, with plans to go abroad again through a Fulbright scholarship to Taiwan starting in 2021, where she will teach English to elementary school students and conduct research in order to pursue her goal of writing and illustrating bilingual children’s books.

“I am very grateful for my study abroad experiences through Notre Dame, both ND Pre-College and Notre Dame International, because they exposed me to the beauty of different cultures and taught me the overwhelming importance of cross-national understanding and mutual respect,” she concludes.

Notre Dame Pre-College continues to send 18 high school juniors abroad each summer to Italy, Ireland, and their newest destination of South Africa. Students earn a college credit upon completion of a program - and a whole new outlook on what it means to go further into the unknown to be pushed outside of their comfort zone, dream bigger as they explore new passions, and experience an unforgettable journey abroad that will take them to extraordinary places!

Study Abroad Summer 2021 applications for Notre Dame Pre-College are due on January 25, 2021. Learn more about the study abroad opportunities Notre Dame offers to high school students.

Originally published by Colleen Wilcox at on January 13, 2021.