“Smiling is the one thing, growing up overseas, that is such a universal language that everyone understands. Being able to smile at someone and getting a smile back is incredible. It makes a great first impression.”

It did make an impression on me, as the interviewer, of this unique student, which is why I just had to ask her why she was so cute? Even though she couldn’t quite answer this silly question, I knew what it was after spending some time interviewing her. She very much follows the famous saying from Audrey Hepburn, “Happiest girls are the prettiest.”

The moment Gia enters a room she is as smiley as can be. Even though she is not alien to hard life situations she discussed them as though she has learned valuable lessons and constantly expresses how grateful she is for the unique life she has lived.

Gia lived in Qatar for her middle school and high school years, having to leave her hometown in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. That would be a hard transition for any young person, but Gia seems to have embraced her new home with an open heart. Gia is a TCK, or a third culture kid, one who has a passport to a different country than the one that she lives. This can be very challenging for any kid, but Gia loves that she has been able to travel to over 20 countries due to her unique lifestyle. She talks about her home in Qatar as a good one, with a father and mother who both have jobs working with educational programs. Her brothers were always fun to play sports with and cheer for.

She talked about teachers and other influencers that would come and go from Qatar and the difficulty that that presented in becoming attached to any role models. “People are constantly walking in and out of your life, when you’re a TCK,” she says.

Gia she enjoys telling the story of one special teacher, Mark Klar. Mr. Klar was one teacher who did not come and go from Qatar as the others did. He was an ex-Marine with many tattoos–not your usual teacher. The reason he had a positive effect on Gia was because he taught her how to play on her strengths and not focus on her weaknesses. The very fact that Gia focuses on the positives of life in general can be owed, in part, to Mr. Klar. Instead of focusing on all of the teachers or peers who constantly left, she smiles about the ones who stayed.

When it was finally time for Gia to leave Qatar and embark on her college experience, it was not the smoothest of rides for her in the beginning. Gia attends a school, Wheaton College, in a city near Chicago, one of the windiest cities in the States. That wind brought in the winter coined the “snowpocalypse.” This was an adventure for many students, but also a call for sickness to spread that began in November 2012. Gia became very ill the first winter away from her family who lived thousands of miles and multiple time zones away from her. Many could look upon this circumstance as a very disastrous and depressing time for a freshman year student trying to figure out life in a different country. If anything this sickness only helped Gia to realize how much she treasures her family. Even though she only gets to see her big, Italian family a 2 to 3 weeks out of the year, she says that they make her the happiest. “When we’re all together under one roof, it is when my heart’s the happiest.”

Gia is a student here on campus that is unique because she has learned how to be happy through some challenging circumstances. Wheaton College is a diverse campus and is definitely a place that needs the universal language of a smile that Gia brings with her at all times.  Smiling connects people together, according to Psychology Today, and this makes Gia one of the most connected people that I have met. IMG_2505