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Studying abroad for a semester? Don’t panic!

21 Sep 2020

Sisilia Akello-Okello works at LMU’s International Office. She advises students before they begin their first semester abroad. Her own experience helps her deal sensitively with students’ fears.

Ein Portrait von Frau Sisilia Akello-Okello.

© LMU

Before studying abroad for the first time, many students are uneasy at the prospect of spending several months in a foreign country, far away from family and friends. Fortunately, an encounter with Sisilia Akello-Okello and her mile-wide smile is an excellent antidote to their anxieties. “I’ve done Erasmus myself. I’ve spent time abroad,” the international advisor says. “I know the kind of fears people face.”

A native of Munich, Akello-Okello has been at the International Office for two years. One of her duties is to provide initial advice and organize information events for students. She traveled a lot and was committed to voluntary causes before starting work at LMU Munich. “I studied in Vienna and then traveled around Europe. I spent a lot of time with various NGOs in Belgium and the Netherlands,” she recalls. Even back then, her aim was always to help young people gain international experience.

Thinking back to these formative years, she gets a little nostalgic: “We visited other companies with youth groups and teamed up with partner organizations on the ground. That helped the youngsters build a cross-border network of contacts. And they saw how people in other places approach topics such as the LGBTQ community compared to what they knew from home.”

The position at LMU brought Akello-Okello home. But it was the job profile advertised that really clinched her decision to come back. “Advice on studying abroad. That sounded perfect for me. I think the idea of spending time abroad is a big mountain for many students to climb, so there is a huge need for advice,” the consultant says. “And I thought I could provide them with useful support so that they would really go ahead with their semesters abroad.”

Studying abroad — an invaluable opportunity

That is why, for Sisilia Akello-Okello, it is the most natural thing in the world to accommodate the individual needs of everyone who comes to her for advice. Sometimes that means spelling out what LMU in general has to offer, what destination countries there are to choose from. And sometimes the questions are more specific – like how to finance a stay abroad.

It is especially important to her to show viable options to those people for whom a semester abroad is by no means the obvious choice. “Spending time abroad is so important because it fosters mutual understanding,” Akello-Okella smiles. “In my job, I can above all help people in financial difficulties to exploit all the available options.” It is a sad truth that young people and students often see opportunities pass them by because of financial and social disadvantages. That, in the consultant’s eyes, is a cruel waste of so much potential.

Committed to social change — not just at the workplace

You can hear the passion in Sisilia Akello-Okello’s voice when she speaks of social injustice. The topic is obviously close to her heart. Which is why she doesn’t “watch the clock” and never feels “off duty”. In 2017, she launched the AfroDiaspora 2.0 association. “We do empowerment work for black people,” she explains, “mainly in the context of artistic and cultural projects.”

For example, the association organized writing workshops for children with a migration background because the children could not identify with “white-heavy” German children’s books. “This project gave rise to the children’s book ‘When I grow up, I’m going to New York’, which was penned and illustrated in its entirety by children,” says a manifestly proud Sisilia Akello-Okello.

Outside her work at the International Office and her voluntary commitments, does she still have any free time at all? “Of course I do!” Akello-Okello says. “Thanks to the part-time arrangement, I have enough time to get everything done.” She uses her free time to play music in her band. What does she like about that? Getting people dancing, she says – before breaking out into another of those mile-wide smiles. Work, rest or play, doing good to others seems to be at the heart of what drives Sisilia Akello-Okello!

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