Talia Zook: The Compassionate Traveler

Talia Zook

Talia Zook expected that her study abroad experience would yield the obvious results: a stronger sense of independence, a more cultured outlook. She didn’t expect that, as a result of the five months she spent in Germany, she’d be adding a second major as a senior. Or that her post-college plans would shift drastically. Or that she’d have a pen pal from Afghanistan and a grasp of the German language that is tailored toward communicating with refugees. But that’s exactly what happened. Now, the senior from Missoula plans to return to Germany after she graduates, and says that her study abroad experience changed the trajectory of her life.

As a student at the Berlin School of Economics and Law through UM’s partner university exchange program last spring, Talia found a new focus, both academically and personally. “I’d always been a driven person,” she says, “but it gave me an intent.” This included expanding her studies to include an International Business major, and seeking out volunteer opportunities. Talia found herself working at a refugee housing facility: doling out food and supplies, helping with paperwork, and answering questions. “What I ended up realizing was that I had my own very American perspective of volunteerism,” Talia says. “I went into that opportunity with the intention of helping people, and my definition of ‘helping’ was altering their way of life to make it more similar to my own… And I think that’s very prominent in our culture.”

She’s applying these lessons to her own career path, and says that she’s now more interested in working in the areas of ecommerce and social media marketing. “Berlin narrowed down my options and what I wanted to do,” she says. Now, more curious about the world and the people in it than she was a year ago, Talia has maintained communication with at least one refugee from the center where she worked, and finds herself approaching her studies with a newfound voraciousness.

And yet, Talia is still able to strike the right balance between the passion she feels for academics and her passions outside of the classroom. When she’s not curled in a chair, studying in the Gallagher Business Building, she can usually be found leading tours around campus as a UM Advocate, listening to music downtown, skiing and hiking to hot springs in the winter, or playing Ultimate Frisbee in the warmer seasons. “Being productive is a very big part of being happy for me,” she says.