Vietnam: Allison Frankel ’11

Allison advocating for equal justice with The Bronx Defenders during the NYC Pride Parade.

Programs: CIEE Academic Program in Vietnam, Semester

Class of 2011: Political Science

For UW alum Allison Frankel, study abroad showed her perspectives she had not yet considered, and that has likely served her well as she talks below about her roles in promoting human rights abroad and at home in the U.S.

What have you been doing since completing your study abroad program?
When I returned from Vietnam and Cambodia in 2010, I continued pursuing my passion for travel and dedication to promoting human rights. My senior year, I led an alternative spring break program to Rwanda to volunteer with survivors of the Rwandan genocide. After graduation, I worked at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Netherlands, helping to prosecute people responsible for mass atrocities in the Balkans during the 1990’s.

Recognizing that in order to promote human rights abroad we must also uphold these values here at home, after nine months in Europe I moved to New York to join the American Civil Liberties Union. At the ACLU, I worked to hold the U.S. accountable to its international law obligations, particularly in the criminal justice system.

After more than two years with the ACLU I enrolled in Yale Law School, where I have worked in the Criminal Justice Clinic and International Human Rights Clinic to advocate on behalf of marginalized populations in the U.S. I have spent my summers helping to defend people on death row with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Georgia and representing indigent clients with The Bronx Defenders in New York. After I graduate this spring, I will work for a federal judge in New York for one year. In the future, I plan to continue working to uphold fundamental rights for vulnerable populations in the U.S. and abroad.

A reflection on your study abroad experience: How did your time overseas impact your life, your goals, and your career?
Studying abroad impacted my life in two main ways. In terms of my career, my study abroad experience deepened my belief in the importance of being proximate to the people we wish to serve. I came to Southeast Asia with my own views on issues from post-conflict reconstruction in Cambodia to freedom of expression in Vietnam. Conversations with my Vietnamese and Cambodian peers throughout my semester abroad opened up my eyes to other perspectives that I had not yet considered. While they did not always change my beliefs, these conversations complicated my view of the world and instilled in me the importance of spending time in places and with people impacted by the policies I hope to change.

Studying abroad also shaped the way I approach new challenges and opportunities in everyday life. From exploring cities throughout Europe by myself while living abroad after graduation, to interviewing clients in rural Alabama prisons this summer, to trying a new type of food on campus, my study abroad experience has made me more adventurous, independent, open-minded, and capable, and has left me yearning to seeing as much of the world as I possibly can!

Share with us a favorite memory from your study abroad days.
Some of my favorite memories are just sitting on a plastic stool outside of my favorite phở shop hidden in an alley way on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, sipping on a Bia 333 (local beer) and slurping down a bowl of hot, spicy noodle soup, surrounded by friends from Vietnam and across the U.S. Unbeatable food, beautiful scenery, and wonderful company.

Photo of Allison Frankel
Allison (center) and friends relaxing while exploring the rivers of Laos.

What advice do you have for students returning from abroad?
Adapting back to campus life after immersing yourself in a totally different culture can be challenging. Surround yourself with other people who also have the “travel bug,” and try to find ways to incorporate the aspects you miss about studying abroad into your everyday life. For instance, I realized one of my favorite parts of living abroad was the opportunity to explore new places every day. So, during my senior year I tried to treat Madison as an adventure – I would go for long walks or bike rides to new parts of town, and try out different coffee shops. I’ve made every effort to keep traveling, but given the limited time and resources of a public interest advocate, I am trying to find that same sense of adventure I loved in Southeast Asia by exploring new parts of my communities here in the U.S.!

Interview conducted via email October 2016.