Friendship Forged in Study Abroad Will Endure for Trio of Graduating Haslam Seniors

May 14, 2024

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and its Haslam College of Business both focus on creating community among faculty, staff and students. Community and friendship can be found in many ways through the university and college, even when not on campus. Three graduating seniors — Michael Forshee, Keagan Lahart and Jacob Sienkowski — discovered this when they met in 2022 during a Haslam Study Abroad experience in Belize. The trio of Haslam students forged such a strong bond that they embarked on a joint adventure for an entire semester in Seville, Spain, during their junior year, immersing themselves in a second Study Abroad Experience.

Friendship Formed Abroad

According to Sara Easler, Haslam’s assistant dean of International Programs and Partnerships who oversees International Programs and Study Abroad (IPSA), study abroad experiences can create enduring bonds between students.

“Our goals are for students to learn about international business practices, gain exposure to different cultures and practice language skills, but studying abroad also offers many opportunities for students to develop deep and lasting friendships,” she says. “Michael, Keagan and Jacob are a prime example of that. They are inseparable.”

Forshee, who is a student assistant and Carroll Torch Fund Manager at Haslam, says taking on opportunities like study abroad provided the three with unique shared experiences.

“You go through things that you don’t go through with anybody else,” he explains. “We’ll say, ‘Oh, you remember that one trip where we booked a flight two days before we left and then ended up in some Spanish islands off the Coast of Morocco?’ The memories you share are so amazing.”

Lahart, a Haslam Ambassador and OIT Help Desk student assistant, adds, “We’ve pretty much been attached at the hip, and we’ve done so many cool things together.”

Learnings from Seville

Michael, Keagan and Jacob in front of a cathedral in Barcelona

In Seville, the capital of the Seville province and the Spanish autonomous community of Andalusia, the trio studied international business and worked to improve their Spanish language skills. In addition to their studies, together and independently, they traveled to several European cities, experiencing different cultures and expanding their networks.

Sienkowski, Forshee and Lahart also refined intangible qualities essential to business, such as self-reliance,adaptability and confidence. Sienkowski, a student assistant and peer mentor at Haslam, credited his study abroad experiences with adding to his self-assuredness.

“Since I studied abroad, I wanted to travel more, and I went on a solo trip to Peru that I planned on my own over this past spring break,” he says. “I don’t think I ever would have been able to do that had I not studied abroad.”

Forshee discovered how to overcome uncertainty and adapt in any situation. He calls it “being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

He explains, “There’s a ton of unexpected situations where it’s like, ‘I missed my flight, I don’t know where we are right now, and I don’t speak the language here. How do I navigate these situations?’”

Lahart recalls making the most of a bus trip that went to a different city than he planned.

“We learned to just go with the flow, and whatever you get thrown into, make the best of it,” he says. “I feel like I’m 10 times more confident in situations like that than I was before this experience. We learned by the mistakes we made.”

Of their time in Seville, Lahart speaks for them all when he says, “It was the best four months of my life.”

Giving Back to IPSA

After such an exciting time, readjusting to life in the U.S. was a struggle. The trio also realized many students returning from study abroad must be similarly affected. Wanting to help, the friends consulted with Easler about ways to aid students’ adjustment. With the assistance of others in IPSA, they developed a reentry program for students suffering post-study abroad tedium, enabling them to share their experiences and feelings with others who felt the same.

“We wanted a way for students to feel heard about the challenges of leaving that experience behind, and more importantly, how to incorporate it into our daily lives,” Forshee explains.

Easler was impressed with the trio’s inventiveness in developing the reentry session and touched by their willingness to share their own feelings.

“Jacob, Michael and Keagan had this amazing idea, where people had the ability to talk about how emotionally challenging coming back can be,” she says. “They really had a hard time with reentry, but then they were so wonderfully open talking about it and had such great reflections every time they spoke.”

Hasta Luego, No Adios

The trio have shared memories to treasure, but graduation is imminent, and for the time being, Lahart, Sienkowski and Forshee must part. Forshee is taking a job with Wells Fargo in Las Vegas, Sienkowski will be working for Hershey, location to be determined, and Lahart is keeping his options open. They are determined not to lose contact, however, and have discussed taking yearly trips together to different countries. As Lahart puts it, “I don’t see us going our separate ways and never seeing each other again.”

Looking back on their time at UT, all three highly recommend studying abroad to incoming students. Sienkowski sums it up with, “Absolutely. I think everyone should, at least for a short time. That was by far the best experience I had in college.”


Scott McNutt, business writer/publicist,