Someone once remarked to Emma Ackerley that her college transcript was all over the map.
The anthropology major, who has a supplementary major in global affairs (with a concentration in transnational European studies), and a minor in journalism, ethics, and democracy — takes that as a compliment.
After all, the comment is accurate, literally and figuratively.
Ackerley, who grew up in Arizona and graduated high school in Colorado, has spent summers in Australia and Finland, traveled to Italy three times in the last two years, and participated in an internship in Cleveland (after her summer trip to France was canceled due to COVID-19).
“I’ve explored my interests and what I wanted to do,” she said. “I’m not afraid of not being on the most traditional path.”
Wherever that path leads, there’s a good chance Ackerley can communicate with locals when she arrives. She’s fluent in Italian, reads and speaks Portuguese and French, and can read Spanish. One semester, she took a one-credit Russian course because she wanted to explore yet another language.
With her travels and impressive language skills, Ackerley easily completed the requirements of the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures’ Globally Engaged Citizens program — which encourages deeply engaging with languages and cultures.
“I am happy to see Notre Dame recognize the value of global experiences through the GEC program,” she said. “Filling out the online portfolio was a really wonderful chance to reflect on mine.”
“Honestly, the things I didn't expect, or anticipate, have been most valuable. They weren't necessarily what I had planned, or what everyone would have done or thought would be the best thing for me. But with the amount of opportunities and experiences available, Notre Dame has been even more valuable than I ever could have expected.”
Embracing the unexpected
Anthropology courses have enabled Ackerley to study people and cultures worldwide, and Notre Dame’s numerous resources and funding opportunities have guaranteed that her path is well-traveled.
This spring, for instance, the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts and Nanovic Institute for European Studies funded her trip to Naples, Italy, to take photographs for her senior thesis in anthropology — a visual ethnography about soccer star Diego Maradona.
Ackerley also spent her junior year abroad in Italy — in Bologna, where she immersed herself in the culture and took most of her classes and tests in Italian.
“I really, really improved my language skills and was able to travel a lot throughout Italy,” she said. “I made great friends and took some interesting classes, like Archeological Sites around Vesuvius.”
Ackerley was slated to study in France the summer after her sophomore year, but the pandemic derailed those plans. So she opted for a six-week internship at the Ukrainian Museum-Archives in Cleveland, where she worked on an exhibit about Ukrainian-American political involvement.
While she initially wondered whether Cleveland might be a bit of a letdown compared to her plans in France, her doubts soon evaporated.
“It was such an incredible experience, especially in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It gave me an interesting perspective,” she said. “I couldn't speak more highly of it. Now, every time I'm skeptical about something, I know I should just embrace things.”
Valuing the unanticipated
Travel and languages have been welcome constants in Ackerley’s life.
Ackerley — whose mother is from Italy — grew up speaking Italian, and she frequently visited family members there. She also has visited family who reside in Australia, and she lived there one summer in high school. During another high school summer, she lived in Finland thanks to an exchange program.
With her fascination with travel and languages, Ackerley said the global affairs supplementary major was a natural fit. She added the journalism minor because of her love of writing. This spring, Ackerley took a multimedia class and interned with Notre Dame Magazine. During her year in Italy, she penned pieces for the online tourism blog Turisti per Caso, which included writing about Liguria during a four-day, all-expenses paid tour.
In the future, she’s considering pursuing journalism or graduate school — but first, she’s going to take time to explore, professionally and geographically. She plans to travel, including a return trip to Italy, as she gains work experience.
For Ackerley, her Notre Dame liberal arts education has helped her grow, learn, serve, and explore — and, most importantly, be open to the possibility of surprise.
“Honestly, the things I didn't expect, or anticipate, have been most valuable,” she said. “They weren't necessarily what I had planned, or what everyone would have done or thought would be the best thing for me. But with the amount of opportunities and experiences available, Notre Dame has been even more valuable than I ever could have expected.”