We Are…Everywhere

With such an extensive network of alumni, it shouldn’t come as a shock: Penn Staters have gathered some crazy stories about seeing fellow Nittany Lions during their world travels.

However, when we asked to hear them last week, we weren’t prepared for such a wide variety of responses. As it turns out, Penn State may actually live (almost) everywhere.

After sending out the crowdsource invite, our inboxes and comment section exploded with great stories highlighting the fact than Penn Staters are spread all over the globe. You can imagine that narrowing down the stories to a select few was extremely difficult; because of this, we decided to focus on the stories we found were especially unique or ironic.

Without further ado, here are the craziest of times our readers have run into fellow Penn Staters, categorized by continent:

North and Central America 

  1. Alaska — Rachel Fowkes lived in Alaska for most of her life. One day she was in a restaurant, she encountered a man wearing a Penn State sweatshirt. “When he walked into the restaurant I stopped him and asked if he was a Penn State alum. He said that he was, and as we got talking he told me he had a tailgate at every game. He invited me to the tailgates and told me that they had a personal chef and a band there.”
  2. Minnesota — Lindsay Stringer moved from New Jersey to Minnesota (where she didn’t know a soul) for a job. After a few months, she spotted a car with a Pennsylvania license plate and Penn State decals in her parking lot. One day, she decided to leave a note on their windshield with her phone number and the year she graduated. “Later on that day, the person texted me and said that she went to Penn State too! And she actually graduated a year later than I did! We even had a few friends in common. We met up later that night and the rest is history. Ever since then, Alex and I have been best friends even though our lives have taken us to new places,” Stringer said.
  3. Colorado — Christina Spohn was working in the San Juan mountains in southwestern Colorado and ran an aid station for a marathon on a dirt road called Engineer Pass. She was wearing her Penn State hat when she ran into two alumni. “Two older dirt-bikers stopped at our station to see what we were up to, and one commented on my hat. He graduated in the 60’s, his son was a senior at the time, and we swapped stories about the Skellar during Homecoming weekend! It was rad to meet a fellow Penn Stater while on the side of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere!”
  4. Louisiana — Christopher Good was visiting New Orleans for a mission trip to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. He was assigned to work on some minor improvements outside a house that was almost completed when one day, a man pulled up in a truck and struck up a conversation. Being a lifelong fan, Christopher immediately recognized the man’s Penn State hat. “After chatting for a bit, he took his leave, but not before revealing to us that the house we were working on was the one replacing the home he had lost in the disaster. That fact alone resonated with me, but also that I had been randomly assigned to work on the house of this Penn Stater from halfway across the country. This has stuck with me through the years. I pull that story out any time I want to express to someone the reach that dear old State has (and I even used it in my essay when I applied — I got in).”
  5. Utah — Evan Finney was skiing in Park City, Utah when he met a Nittany Lion with an even deeper connection. As Finney skied down the mountain and waited for his friends, the lift operator surprised him by saying, “WE ARE.” “Being on the men’s soccer team, they give us a parka for the cold months. I was wearing it that day so he saw the Nittany lion logo. He asked me if I go to Penn State and I said, ‘yes I play soccer at University Park.’ He said no way, and went on to explain how he was the manager of the team in 2012, the year before I came in. We chatted for a bit and every time I skied to that lift, he would yell ‘WE ARE!’ At 10,000 feet in the middle of the Wasatch Mountains I met a fellow Penn Stater.”
  6. Belize — Robert Bahmann got married in July 2003 in Ambergris Caye, Belize. However, when he realized he was in a bind, a fellow Penn Stater saved the day. “I realized I need witnesses, so I asked a couple we were scuba diving with all week to be our witnesses. Turns out both were Penn Staters from the late 70s.”
  7. Bermuda — This past summer, Brittany Bills was completing an internship with the United States
    Department of State at the U.S. Consulate in Hamilton, Bermuda. She was standing near a bus stop wearing a Penn State shirt and hat when an approaching couple shouted, “WE ARE.” “When I responded ‘Penn State,’ they were excited and shared with me that their son was beginning school here in the fall. We talked a bit about Penn State until our bus came. It was a great experience because it’s nice to know that Penn State pride actually exists outside of State College and that you can find it in the most random places.”
  8. Dominican Republic — Maria Naradko was in Punta Cana for a family vacation three years ago when she met a fellow Penn Stater. She was wearing a THON T-shirt and heard someone scream from behind, “BJC, let’s hear you scream, 2014!” “Not your everyday average person chants the line dance. We exchanged a ‘WE ARE’ chant to let the whole resort know that we were Penn State Proud!”
  9. St. Lucia — Kimberly Cassano and her husband were on their honeymoon at a Sandals Resort in St. Lucia. While in the gift shop, Kimbery’s husband spotted a familiar face, so he asked the “stranger” if he went to Penn State. “Standing next to my husband I told Ryan he can’t just walk up to people and ask if they went to PSU, but then the guy said he did go to PSU, and it was Jeremy Boone, former punter from the football team. Boone was staying at a neighboring Sandals Resort on his honeymoon with his wife, a former member of the Lionettes, and was in the gift shop looking for a Polo shirt to wear to one of the restaurants. Turns out we got married on the same day and both decided to honeymoon in St. Lucia!”
  10. Costa Rica — Anneke Stewart was studying abroad in Costa Rica in 2013 when she decided to visit a small Caribbean island called Tortuguero (a rural island only accesible via water taxi) with her friends. “The island was a rain forest, and we decided to go on a midnight tour to see some night animals.  Crazily enough, our tour guide, who was born and raised on this tiny island and spoke with a really thick accent, was wearing a Penn State cap!  He said that some tourist had given it to him…so even at midnight in the middle of the rain forest on a rural Costa Rican island, Penn State will still find you!
Anneke Stewart with her tour guide in Costa Rica
Anneke Stewart with her tour guide in Costa Rica

South America

  1. Argentina — Lauren P. was at a street market in Buenos Aires, Argentina when she spotted someone wearing a Penn State Greek T-shirt. After chatting briefly with the boys, she found out that they had started a hot sauce company there after spending a semester abroad and discovering there was a market for it. Also during the encounter, another Penn State grad approached the table asking about the shirt, making the trip even more surprising.

Europe

  1. Austria — Deb Saxe was visiting Salzburg, Austria when she ran into fellow Penn Staters. “My father, a professor at University Park campus, was teaching at Regensburg, Germany for a semester. He thought it would be fun to do the Sound of Music tour since it was a much-played movie growing up. They take you on this bus that drives throughout Salzburg and the surrounding areas where they filmed the movie and as you are driving, they play the soundtrack. We got off of the bus to check out the gazebo from the film and my father, sister and I hear a ‘WE ARE’ chant. Turning around, we saw a couple decked out in their Nittany Lion gear and yell out ‘Penn State!’ Turns out, this older couple both attended Penn State and eventually settled in Altoona, PA. They had noticed my Dad’s Penn State baseball cap while seated on the bus. This tour had maybe 25-30 people on it so to run into fellow Penn Staters in Europe on the Sound of Music tour of all places was absolutely insane! Plus, they were from Altoona and we were from State College. Crazy.”
  2. Ireland — Dianne Feeney and her six companions (who also attended Penn State) were on top of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland when they spotted a fellow Penn Stater. “My friends and I were visiting for the weekend when we were studying abroad in Seville, Spain. The person was wearing a big Penn State windbreaker, and all six people I was with go to Penn State as well, so we all collectively yelled, “WE ARE” at the man, to which he happily replied, “PENN STATE!”
  3. Italy  
    • Lori Martini was visiting Italy on vacation, standing in a ridiculously long line in the Como region. As she waited in line, her boredom increased until she finally decided to yell “WE ARE” for the fun of it. To her delight, two people standing nowhere close to each other replied with, “PENN STATE!” “I felt obligated to follow up with a spirited “Thank You” and well, you know the rest. I have no idea where those folks were from and I didn’t risk losing my place in line to find out, but it made my day and all the sudden the line didn’t feel that long or boring.”
    • Sondra Goldschmidt was in Rome on a summer internship program and was just leaving work to walk to class for the rest of the afternoon. While cutting through piazzas and walking down small side streets, she saw a man with a Penn State shirt on. “I paused and commented to him that I liked his shirt, and I was a Penn State student here for the summer. That comment turned into cheering and the rest of his group, whom I hadn’t spotted, came over and expressed how they were all Penn State fans (and most alumni), and were headed to a Penn State bar that they heard of in Rome. After some chatting, the encounter ended with the group asking to get a picture with me, to show everyone what a small world it really is!”
  4. Czech Republic — Michele Stine was visiting Prague for a conference. One night, Stine and several of her colleagues went out for a couple of drinks and some music with several members of the group wearing Penn State clothing. “After an hour or so, an older couple at a table near us got up to leave and as they walked by us, the gentleman stuck out his hand, introduced himself, and said ‘Class of ’68. Go Lions!'”
  5. Finland — Katie Pierce was in Helsinki, Finland visiting a friend when she saw someone sporting a Penn State backpack in the airport. “They looked caught off guard and surprised that I was speaking English, but once they realized I was a fellow Penn Stater they got so excited! They were recent alumni and were so friendly. We talked for a half hour until we got on the plane and went our separate ways.”
  6. France 
    • Kimberly Spohn had just arrived in Paris when she spotted a familiar face. “My travel buddy and I decided to eat at the hostel restaurant, even though they had boring American food. We were so famished and tired. Sitting at the table, waiting for food, and sipping a beer, I saw a kid that was in my business fraternity at Penn State. I thought I was hunger hallucinating. We called him by his last name at school, so I shouted that across the bar and he reacted by saying, ‘No one around here knows my last name, I almost didn’t answer.’ He was staying in the same hostel as my friend and I for a few days!”
    • Elizabeth Armstrong was visiting Paris in during the winter 2014. While there, they visited Sacré-Cœcur for a day. “I was standing there looking out while wearing a Penn State hat. At this time, an older guy came up to me wearing a Penn State windbreaker and introduced himself. He was a boisterous guy with a lot of love for this amazing institution. The conversation ended with him giving me his tailgate spot number and telling me I have to come visit at some point. Not only can you meet a Penn Stater anywhere in the world, but they can be just as friendly as if you saw them on College Ave.”
    • Morton Lin flew to Paris to visit a friend during Spring Break of 2015. As soon as they landed, they knew they had to walk around the city and visit the Eiffel Tower. “The line for the elevator was too long, so we took the stairs up the observation deck instead. As we climbed over the last step, we saw another group of Penn State friends who were also on their summer post graduation Eurotrip! One of the girls lived next door to me in State College, and here we were again, almost 4,000 miles away.”
  7. Scotland — Adam Copeland was visiting the UK for a conference and traveled to Scotland, specifically a very small island off the coast of mainland Scotland named Islay. “I sat down at dinner my first night in Islay all by myself. Over the course of the dinner I overheard the conversation of the table next to me. I jumped into the conversation at one point and we began to converse about whisky, eventually making it to details about where we are from and what we do. I mentioned that I am on an academic trip from Penn State, and one of my fellow diners, Ryan, said he graduated from Penn State some time ago. I couldn’t believe it. After we discovered our common academic heritage, we talked about our love for scotch whisky. I also learned that Ryan was there with his brother, who is a doctor in New York City and lives only a few blocks away from where I do in the city. I couldn’t handle the craziness of the encounter transpiring around me…We discussed football weekends, the Penn State experience, academics, and our shared love for scotch, the water of life, and god’s chosen elixir…Meeting Ryan was one of the best experiences of my life and made a trip to a very quiet, distant place feel welcoming and like I was meant to make the arduous journey there.”
  8. Spain — Florence Hoffritz, her husband, and other family members were visiting Spain in May 2007. While they were sitting at an outdoor shopping area in Sevilla, they spotted a young women (who was wearing a Blue and White Society T-shirt) and a young man walking down the street toward them. “I got up and walked over to her and the young man with her and told her I was a Penn State alum and asked if she were a Penn State student.  She said ‘yes’ and said that she and the boy with her were both there from PSU on an exchange program. I never thought we would meet another Penn Stater in Spain—but we happily did.”
From left to right: Aviva & Barry Kesselman; Florence & David Hoffritz; the 2 Penn State Students; and Ilene Beckman in Sevilla, Spain
From left to right: Aviva & Barry Kesselman; Florence & David Hoffritz; the 2 Penn State Students; and Ilene Beckman in Sevilla, Spain

Asia 

  1. China
    • Brian Struass was studying abroad in Shanghai, China when he met a Penn State alumnus at the Shanghai Brewery. After hearing a “WE ARE,” they turned around and met Mike, an alumnus who was working in Shanghai. “He got our WeChat names (similar to GroupMe) and added us to a group comprised of Penn State alumni living in China. He then invited us to their next happy hour the following week. When we went to the bar, Captain Roosters, we found out that the owner of it was a Penn State grad that moved to China shortly after graduating. It was great to meet more than 20 alumni for drinks while living halfway across the world.”
    • Anya Ryba was waiting in line to visit a portion of the Great Wall in Beijing, China when she encountered fellow Penn Staters. “My father, a professor in the Earth and Mineral Sciences Department, had his 1995 PSU Rose Bowl sweatshirt on (he and I went to the game!) Turns out there was an older couple in front of us in line who was a PSU professor and at one time had worked with my father!”
  2. Jordan — Matthew Detrick traveled to Jordan in 2015 to study abroad. A few of his friends took a boat tour of the Bosphorus during their free time to see Istanbul. “As we were waiting in line to buy tickets, a lady and her mother walked in the agency’s office and noticed my Penn State hat. She immediately told me that she was a graduate student at Penn State studying anthropology. She added that she was in Turkey doing field work for her master’s program. As we further conversed, we realized that my Arabic professor was one of her colleagues. The most fascinating part was that we found out that we actually grew up in towns within 15 minutes of each other! That part blew my mind. Not only did I meet a Penn Stater that I have never seen in my life on the other side of the world, but she also grew up and went to high school near me, too!”
  3. Singapore — Victoria Herr was visiting her sister (a 2014 Penn State grad) in Malaysia when they decided to take a trip to Singapore for the weekend. They were both wearing Penn State T-shirts and were stopped by several alumni throughout the day. “My favorite encounter was when an older man saw our shirts and stopped us to talk. He did not attend Penn State but he was actually roommates (or close friends, I forget) with Coach Russ Rose at George Williams College as undergraduates! We talked for awhile about why we were in Singapore and of course our favorite topic, Penn State! At the end of the day my sister and I both had to laugh because as much as people hated on the ‘Penn State Lives Here’ slogan, it is still very true no matter where in the world you go!”
Victoria Herr and her sister in Singapore
Victoria Herr and her sister in Singapore

Africa

  1. South Africa
    • Kevin McClure was in South Africa during summer 2014 working in a wildlife preserve when he suddenly heard a “WE ARE” chant. “We were doing some site seeing in Swaziland and I happened to be wearing my Penn State water polo shirt. Next thing I know, I hear a “WE ARE” from a random guy. When I turned around, I saw he was also wearing a Penn State shirt. We get to talking and he graduated from Smeal in 2004 and got his MBA from Smeal in 2008.”
    • Charlotte Rachel was visiting Cape Town, South Africa during Winter Break of ’95/’96. “Our host family had previously spent a year at University Park and our families had became friends. On day we went to the Cape of Good Hope, and as we walked towards the sign at the entrance, another family approached from a different direction decked out in Penn State clothing.”
  2. Zambia — Stephanie Ashbaugh was walking down the street in Livingston, Zambia surrounded by a group of Penn State Medical students. As a faculty member in the College of Medicine, Stephanie was taking members of the Global Health Project to see Victoria Falls. “Another person spotted our group because several of us had Penn State gear on. He was there on a mission trip as well. We were lost and he gave us directions to where we needed to go.”

About the Author

Katie Klodowski

Katie is a senior from Pittsburgh, PA and a retired editor at Onward State. Currently, she works as a staff writer. True to her hometown, she is a fan of Steel City sports but also uses her ballet and music training to be a tough critic of all things artsy. The fastest ways to her heart are through pizza, sushi, and a solid taste in music (this means no Taylor Swift). To be constantly razzle-dazzled, follow her on all social media forms at @KatieKlodowski

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