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Omaha Magazine

UNO Student Amber Johnson Flies High for Scholastics

Nov 01, 2021 10:42AM ● By Hannah Heser
girl in black floral dress near Spanish church

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Amber Johnson vividly remembers flying alone as a teenager to visit extended family in Arizona. 

She had visited the state before, but always with immediate family members.

“Johnson definitely has an adventurous spirit for traveling,” said Emily Krueger, her academic adviser at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

This adventurous spirit came alive during Johnson’s years at UNO. 

“I just really wanted to see somewhere else in the world,” she said. That somewhere ended up being 23 countries. Of the eight semesters she was enrolled in UNO’s international studies program, she spent most of them abroad.

“One of my favorite countries I have traveled to was Ljubljana, Slovenia, because it was the first country I studied abroad in,” Johnson said.

It was an adventure that was assisted by the Benjamin A. Gilman and the UNO Mal and Millie Hansen Award scholarships. 

“I needed a country where I could find an affordable cost of living, one that was an official UNO partner university, and I was intrigued by countries off the beaten path,” Johnson said. “A fellow UNO student shared about their time in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and it seemed perfect.”

UNO partner universities provide reciprocal exchange opportunities in which a student can travel to another country and pay UNO tuition.

As she was already in Europe, Johnson took advantage of the close proximity of other countries and toured the Balkans, including Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary, and Slovakia. She went backpacking with two friends, specifically targeting countries in the Balkans and Western Europe. She also visited Albania, Montenegro, and Spain. 

Having enjoyed Ljubljana, Slovenia, Johnson came back to UNO before taking off again in summer 2017, this time as a cultural ambassador with the Taiwan U.S. Alliance Global Ambassador Program. She especially enjoyed experiencing things in a non-European culture. “I loved how there were so many modern buildings that had skyscrapers and old temples,” Johnson said. “It had a very modern, yet ancient vibe; the food was amazing; and the people were very friendly. My level of Chinese when I went to Taiwan was very low, but I got to learn it more throughout my journey there.”

This pattern continued throughout her undergraduate career. She was so committed to spending as much time as possible studying abroad that she carefully researched scholarship opportunities, often filling out forms while living in other countries. 

“What helps with this is her ability to plan and put in a lot of extra time to make sure she understands exactly where she is going,” Krueger said.

It’s a journey in which Krueger was glad to assist, stating that she liked watching Johnson dive into the local culture of each country she was interested in.

“I’ve really enjoyed helping students put all of the pieces together for studying abroad, such as finances, figuring out where they want to go, what classes they will take, etc.,” said Krueger, who herself traveled to Russia for 10 days as a UNO student.

That helped Johnson a lot, especially as she was also trying to find accommodations while in different countries.

“The scariest part of traveling to a new place is figuring out housing,” Johnson said. “It is a difficult task to do on your own because you’re going to meet some people who are willing to help and some people who do not care.” 

Once she got that figured out, Johnson was ready to explore. “My favorite part was finding new cafes around each town and go from there,” she said.

In fall 2017, she studied at the University of Tartu in Estonia, aided by the UNO International Studies Outstanding Senior Nancy Keegan Miller Memorial Scholarship.

Her final year as an undergraduate was spent in an intensive language program in the city of Qingdao, China, on a full-ride scholarship. She was in this city for a full year, taking classes taught in Chinese for six hours a day. “I remember a few sentences that will allow me to get around and do stuff; however, I would like to continue working on it, and hopefully I will again soon.” 

Being in this area of the world enabled her to travel through China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and South Korea during 2019 Lunar New Year holidays.

She isn’t done yet. Johnson won a full-ride Erasmus Mundus scholarship in order to continue traveling while studying for a European Masters in Tourism Management program. This program is offered in three European countries: Denmark, Slovenia, and Spain. This Masters Program focused more on sustainability. 

Johnson completed her first of her two years in this program this spring. According to the eacea.ec.europa.eu website, “an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree is a prestigious, integrated, International study program that is delivered by an international consortium of higher education institutions. Students at master’s level from all over the world are able to apply for this program.” 

After Johnson completes the master’s program, she hopes to start a career in destination management or heritage. “Right now I am very interested in doing a lot of work in courses related to destination management. It’s looking at the organizations that focus on branding or marketing with other local enterprises to get people to travel to a certain destination,” she said. 

Visit unomaha.edu for more information on their travel abroad programs.

This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.