Diving Into the Northwood Experience - International Student Kia Sebastian

Freediving with whale sharks in the sea near Oslob, Cebu in the Philippines, Kia Sebastian (’19) helps protect marine animals as a sea warden.

Freediving with whale sharks in the sea near Oslob, Cebu in the Philippines, Kia Sebastian (’19) helps protect marine animals as a sea warden.

Freediving in the seas surrounding her native Cebu in the Republic of the Philippines, Kirsten “Kia” Sebastian (’19) lives her passion for marine conservation. She swims and dives without scuba gear among sea turtles and whale sharks, assists marine biologists with their underwater studies, and helps build artificial coral reefs. On land, Sebastian gives seminars about conservation and sustainability to school children.

Her life among the waves and ocean wildlife seems like a world away from the NU campus and studying business. For Sebastian, Northwood was a natural choice to learn how to fit her passion for the environment into a business framework.

On the surface, swimming with the sharks at sea and swimming in the business “shark tank” appear to be wildly different. Sebastian doesn’t see it that way. While marine conservation is her calling, it’s her dream to encourage Philippine companies to include environmental sustainability and protection as vital parts of their business plans.

“I am passionate about teaching Philippine business leaders about the ways that profitability and environmental sustainability go hand-in-hand. Balancing economic and sustainability needs is possible and can lead to improved performance long-term,” said Sebastian. “If I want to help strengthen companies’ focus on the environment, I need to communicate in the right language to conquer the business world’s uncertainties. At Northwood, I am learning not only what to communicate about costs and benefits but also how to communicate it effectively.”

Sebastian came to Northwood to complete her B.B.A. in Management in 2019, after working on her degree at the Center for International Education (CIE) in Cebu City. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. A seasoned traveler, Sebastian has visited many countries in the Asia Pacific. Even with all that experience, coming to Midland for school wasn’t a simple transition. Her “east meets west” experience came with a little culture shock.

“I’m so glad I took the opportunity to finish my senior year at Northwood. The Midwest is so different from the Philippines, which has really helped to open my mind,” said Sebastian. “I’ve learned how to live and work with people who are quite different from me. And I’ve worked hard to help other students – both international and American – become more inclusive and step out of their own cultural bubbles.”

As a member of the International Student Organization and working as an assistant for the Student Affairs department, Sebastian created opportunities for Northwood’s international students to engage more with each other and with students from the U.S. The activities she led, like international game night, highlighted different cultures while showing that fun and laughter are universal.

“In the short time that Kia has been at Northwood, she has had a big impact. She is part of several organizations on campus and has been a tremendous help in bringing our American and international students together. We have all benefited from her being a member of the Northwood community,” said Jeremiah Lee, director of International Student Engagement and multicultural advisor. “I know that Northwood will go with Kia wherever she builds her life and career as she uses the knowledge, business acumen, and skills she learned here.”

International Students Contribute

Kia Sebastian’s involvement in organizations and activities at Northwood – including Circle K, S.A.F.E. (Sexual Advocacy for Everyone), Students for Sustainability, Ahimsa Yoga, and as an Admissions student ambassador – is an example of the ways international students contribute academically, culturally, and socially to the communities in and around the universities they attend. A recent NAFSA (National Association of Foreign Student Advisors) economic analysis examined the economic boost for the 2017-2018 academic year that can be attributed to international students:

Northwood University

International students contributed $4.4 million to the local economy and supported an estimated 25 jobs NU.


International students contributed $1.2 billion to the state’s economy and supported an estimated 14,385 jobs.

United States

International students contributed $39.0 billion to U.S. economy and supported an estimated 456,622 jobs.