“I had my roommate. I had all my classes picked and I decided the day before move–in, I’m going to do it. I’m not going to school. I’m going to do modeling.” The days leading up to her move–in at Penn, Elizabeth "Liz" Seibert (C '24) had been offered modeling contracts in New York, Paris, Milan, and Tokyo. All were two– to six–month placements, forcing Liz to decide between school and a more nontraditional path. Undecided in her studies but confident in her desire to explore the world, Liz chose to take a gap year to work in New York and then Italy as a full–time model. “I was nervous to go into an intense college environment without having a concrete plan of what I wanted to study, so those options were really intriguing to me.”
Liz began her career with a bang—her first show was at the exclusive New York Fashion Week. Yet, as what seems to be the theme of her life, things did not go to plan. After eight hours of preparing, getting her hair and make–up done, and rehearsing, Liz and ten other models took the stage. “I was chosen to be in a show that I thought was a runway show. It was actually a presentation show where you just stand,” Liz recounts.
“There was a smoke machine, and we had this sick jewelry, and we were wearing swimsuits and heels. We’re up there for, like, 10 minutes, and I start getting really sweaty, my hands got a little tingly, and my legs got a little tingly...and then I was in the male model next to me’s arms off–stage.” Passing out at her first show, Liz thought it'd be her last. She went home that night expecting to never book another modeling gig, but within a few shorts months, she found herself living in Italy in an apartment with other models from around the world.
Italy was Liz's first experience living abroad for an extended period of time, and the transition was not a walk in the park. "Having a good support system and place that you feel comfortable isn’t there, at least not in the beginning," Liz recalls, adding that while she enjoyed the opportunity to work with new brands and learn first–hand about Italian culture, she was constantly on the move, and had trouble connecting with her roommates and others in the industry because of the language barrier.
“You think modeling is just posing or walking down a runway, but for me, I found that there were a lot of challenges that I wasn’t expecting.”
Feeling drained and homesick, Liz returned to the US and split her time between her home in Philadelphia and modeling gigs in New York. “When I got home from Milan, that’s when I realized that this isn’t going to work for me if I continue to do this. I started seeing a therapist and that helped me see things more objectively and helped me see what I needed to do in order to go about the next trip in a healthier way.”
During her next modeling placement in South Africa, Liz developed a healthier work–life balance, "I really prioritized having connections with people, speaking to my family and friends back home over FaceTime every day, and not working too much." During her travels to the country's historical and cultural sites, Liz discovered her interest in international relations, her intended major.
This past spring, while the COVID–19 pandemic put a several-month trip to Paris on hold for Liz, she used her free time to focus on her social media presence. After downloading TikTok, Liz noticed the lack of models posting on the platform. "I thought maybe there's a market here. So I started posting videos, like 'Secrets about Models that You Didn’t Know,' or 'Ways to Become a Model.'" Her first videos got millions of views and she has continued to post videos on modeling, fashion, and beauty tips.
Liz savors the independence TikTok has given her. In modeling, she explains, "your manager will be, like, 'Here are your options: Milan or Paris,' and you go there and they send you on casting and then they tell you what jobs you have. With social media, I decide what I want to post and I decide what brands I want to work with. I like that control and that I can be more myself."
Anticipating her next big adventure, Liz is ready at last to settle into college life. As she finally embarks upon her first semester of classes at Penn, Liz remarks that remote learning has given her the flexibility to balance her modeling, social media, and academic careers.
"Traveling helped me see the world in a different lens," she concludes, "going back to Penn with this new lens will make me have a much better and happier time."