Category Archives: Study Abroad and Beyond

Check here for info on how to get a job in international education and other great info and stories on studying, working, or volunteering abroad.

Becoming a Study Abroad Advisor

When I tell people what I do for a living, I usually get one of two responses:

  1. What is a Study Abroad Advisor?
  2. That is the coolest job in the world.

I tend to prefer the second response as I 100% agree. I am living my dream job. How many people at the age of 30 can really say that?

I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a Study Abroad Advisor; in fact I doubt many people grow up with that goal. My path was round about. I started pre-med, switched to pre-law, then contemplated getting an MBA and finally decided to get a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration. But even then, I still didn’t think about being a Study Abroad Advisor.  Nope…I wanted to be Greek Life Director. I had just graduated from college, had accepted a job with my international sorority as a leadership consultant and planned to go to graduate school so I could advise fraternity men and sorority women for the rest of my days.  At least that’s what I thought, until one day when I was in Italy.

After studying abroad twice with my Italian professor, she asked me to be her program assistant for the summer after I graduated. My job consisted of counting to 40 a lot (40 students on the program), buying tickets, enforcing quiet hours, etc., and in return I got to be in Italy for 8 weeks for free. Best job ever. At the end of every program, my Italian professor took our group to the Aeolian Islands to get some rest and relaxation before final exams. It is one of my favorite places in the world; I love the black volcanic sand and swimming in underwater craters. It is a true paradise. It is also the location of one of the most significant moments in my life. I was standing on the docks with my Italian professor one evening after dinner and I remember her saying, “Elise, I just don’t think you’ll be happy working with fraternities and sororities for the rest of your life. I really think you should consider international education.”

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Vulcano, Italy – one of my favorite places in the world and where I first contemplated a career in international education

While I didn’t think much of it at the moment, her words resound in my head still today. As I started my job with the sorority, I quickly realized she was right. It wasn’t fulfilling. I wasn’t inspired.  Six months into my job, I was headed to Argentina to visit my best friend and I felt troubled and lacking direction. While on the plane I began reading The Eighth Habit by Stephen Covey, a book that had been given to me by one of my mentors. The book said that in order to be effective, we have to be great. In order to be great, we have to be passionate. I let this swirl around in my mind. What was I truly passionate about? I loved the college experience. I loved traveling and exploring. I loved studying abroad in Italy. It was at that moment that my Italian professor’s words came back to me and everything clicked. I realized I could combine all my passions if became a study abroad advisor.

Grad school, eight years and three universities later, here I am, in the best of positions I could ever imagine. My students awe and amaze me every day. I am energized by their experiences abroad and find so much joy when I can convince a student to do a semester overseas; I know it will be the best semester of her life.  While my time as an advisor in San Diego is drawing to a close, I am more confident than ever that this is the perfect career path for me. And until I find the right position in Oklahoma, I plan on being a virtual advisor via the blogosphere and Facebook.  So any study abroad students out there, if you need some help, don’t hesitate to ask!

Interested in exploring a career in International Education?

1. Register for the study abroad listserv – SECUSS-L I recommend the digest version…otherwise expect 5 to 20 emails a day. This listserv is specifically geared towards education abroad and is very active. On the listserv you’ll see emails from professionals asking questions about different programs, marketing their own programs, and posts for positions. Many entry-level positions get posted here by both study abroad providers and universities. It’s a great place to know where you can apply but also to get a feel for what is going on in the field.

2. Check out NAFSA (the biggest organization for international ed) for job postings and conferences. It is our national organization for international education and their website has great resources. NAFSA is divided into into regions and usually the regional conferences are held in the fall. They are a bit pricey but having gone to a regional conference does show initiative and is great for a resume. It’s also a great way to meet people in the region and start building your network. There often are scholarships too that you can apply for to go and most regions offer a mentoring program for young professionals.

3. Explore graduate programs in Higher Education Administration or other relatable field (MBA, foreign language, etc). If you are interested in a job at a university, a masters degree is usually required. Sometimes exceptions are made if you have a lot of life experience, but if you are straight out of college, an advisor position will be hard to get. Once in grad school, engage with the study abroad office on your campus any way possible. I got started by volunteering for 5 hours a week on a project in the Study Abroad Office at the University of South Carolina while in my first year of grad school. When a job opening came available, it was pretty much mine.

4. If you aren’t ready for grad school, research different study abroad program providers. For recent grads, this is probably the easiest way into the field. Many program providers have university relations staff that typically are younger staffers (under 27) and travel around the US to market the study abroad programs. We call them road warriors because they are out of the office a lot and most people only do this kind of role for 2 or 3 years before they move into a more stationary position. The great thing about these positions is that there are lots of them, you get to do a lot of travel (some international travel may happen in the summer), and you get exposed to a ton of different schools. The down side is living out of a suitcase and the pay is usually pretty low. Then again, pay in study abroad is typically not so great so don’t expect to get rich in this field.

My final advice no matter what route you take is to really hone in on why you want to pursue a career in study abroad. Loving to travel is not a good enough reason. You have to really want to help others have the experience you had. I also believe that you can’t expect a career in study abroad means you’ll get to do a lot of travel yourself. Some positions do send you abroad a lot but often if you work at a university this is not the case. Finally, I would really research the issues currently in study abroad and find something that resonates with you that you can focus on in your cover letter and interviews. Some of the hot topics right now are curriculum integration, social media and study abroad, enhancing cultural integration, long vs. short term study abroad programs, returnee programming, and assessment of cultural learning. Melibee Global is great site to do some initial research.

If You Could Study Abroad Again – Part 2

My earlier post got me thinking about my study abroad experience and if I were to study abroad again, not just where would I go, but what would I do differently.  My time in Italy changed me for the better, but I definitely made some of the more common mistakes. If you’ve already been abroad, I’m sure you can relate to some of these. If not, than hats off to you…I’m impressed. For anyone preparing to leave, take my advice and avoid some of the most classic regrets.

In addition to avoiding Stuff Study Abroad Students Say, if I could do it all over I would:

  1. Study abroad for a full year. I was very involved at my college and just couldn’t convince myself to go abroad for more than the two month program.  Granted I did it three times, but I still wish I would have gone for a year when I had the ability.
  2. Give up English. While my Italian definitely improved while I was abroad, I wish I had just stopped speaking English all together. I think my vocab would be a lot better today if I had.
  3. Go by myself. The second time I studied abroad, I went with a friend who I had met on my first program. We started out great friends…we ended not speaking to each other. In fact we haven’t spoken since. While it’s fun to travel with friends, I always advise to study alone.
  4. Consistently journal. I really wish blogging had existed when I studied abroad. Maybe I would have actually wrote more of my experience down. Now I just have faded memories of washing clothes in the bidet and my original impressions of seeing a Bernini for the first time.
  5. Pack less. I am 4’11”.  It is great quality on planes; not so much when carrying luggage. Plus, no one needs 8 pairs of shoes for 8 weeks in Italy.

Eight pairs of size 3 shoes still take up a lot of space.

If You Could Study Abroad Again

In my job I’m frequently asked if I could study abroad again, where would I go. Of course, I would never give up my experience in Italy; as an Italian major, it was really the only place for me to go. However, if I could go some place completely different, these would be my top 5:

1. Bangalore, India with USAC

India is definitely on my short list these days. In addition to it being the most affordable tuition price I know of ($3,780 a semester!!), USAC’s program at Christ University in Bangalore has really interesting courses like Bollywood Dance, Women’s Issues in Indian Society, and Buddhism and Hinduism in Contemporary Society.

2. Lima, Peru with ISA

With its lively Latin culture and affordable living, Lima is one of my favorite study abroad spots. ISA’s program at University of San Ignacio de Loyala has a huge variety of classes in English (since my Spanish is pathetic) and offers home-stay options and a variety of excursions, including one to Machu Picchu.

3. Amman, Jordan with SIT

As seen through my book and movie choices, I really like the Middle East.  The SIT program in Jordan focuses on modernization and social change in the region and includes a short and long-term home-stay experience. While a little pricey, the program requires a great deal of independent research – a huge plus for anyone interested in graduate school.

4. Cuenca, Ecuador with CEDEI

One of my student workers went on this program and LOVED it. Up in the mountains of Ecuador, this city has far less American students than Quito and allows for real immersion.  For $12,900 students get their home-stay with meals, tuition, and excursions to Peru and the Galapagos. The program also works on the American calendar which can be nice.

5. St. Petersburg, Russia with AIFS

After reading Soulshine Traveler, Russia has been looking better and better. Another one of my student workers did the AIFS program in St. Petersburg last fall and she continues to sing their praises. In addition to intensive Russian, the program offers great courses like Contemporary Russian Literature and Russian History: from Kiev Russia to the Revolution. Another nice thing about AIFS is that it is all-inclusive and for $11,995 students get tuition, housing, meals, local transportation, and excursions to London, Finland, Estonia, and Moscow.

If you could study abroad again or for the first time, where would you go?

Missing Home this Father’s Day Weekend

When I started this blog a month ago it was because I missed traveling and seeing the world. I haven’t been abroad in over three years due to various reasons, but this blog helps me satisfy that itch. However, sometimes I think the harder itch to scratch is missing home. And today, it is what I miss the most.

When Hubby and I moved to San Diego a year ago, I joked with everyone that it would be another “study abroad” experience for me. There is no doubt that the culture of Southern California is quite opposite of South Carolina.  But in all honesty, the culture has been pretty easy to adapt to and I enjoy bringing my southern hospitality to my California friends. San Diego really is a great city and I feel spoiled to live in a such a beautiful, international place.

Rather than the culture, what has been hard about residing in the Pacific time zone is missing all the birthdays, the family dinners, and the everyday life of being with those you love.  In addition to it being Father’s Day this weekend, it is also my mom’s birthday. While my brother and his family will gather around to celebrate my parents, my husband and I will be 3000 miles away. We’ll talk on the phone and we’ll mail gifts, but isn’t quite the same.

The distance of living so far hit me the hardest when my grandmother got ill in January.  She was 97 so I knew my days with her were numbered, but I never really contemplated the challenge of being so far away if she did get sick. When my parents called on a Wednesday and told me she was slowly declining, I bought a flight for Friday to go and see her. But on Thursday morning she passed, and I lost my chance to say goodbye. Although it’s been five months, I sometimes still cry when I think about it. I blame the distance for not being able to see my beloved grandma one more time.

I 100% believe that we gain so much when we go away, whether that be to California or Cambodia. It’s the reason why I’m a study abroad advisor.  What I learned from my six months spent in Italy changed me for the better, and I see hundreds of student come back from abroad with new skills, knowledge, and confidence.  But today as I’ve been thinking about my homesickness, I realized sometimes we have to give something up in order to have the growth obtained from travel. Sometimes what we give up is worth it, but sometimes that loss lingers with us.  I far from regret our move to the west coast. In fact, I think it was the very best decision for us. But my husband and I both realize that we have made sacrifices as well.

For anyone out there experiencing that pang of homesickness this Father’s Day weekend, I hope you too can say that the experience you are gaining abroad is worth the sacrifice.  Just be sure to call Dad on Sunday.

My heart is in Georgia this weekend. (via LilyGene on Etsy)

Warm Glacial Memories: Friendship by food poisoning

I’m one of those people who still use Yahoo! to get news. I know it is not the most worthy of news sources but for random stuff, they come up with some pretty entertaining tidbits. For example, last week they posted this video of one of the icebergs off of the Uppsala glacier in Argentina flipping over.

While slightly scary, the video actually brought back great memories of my all-time favorite trip to Argentina in December 2004. A good friend was living in Buenos Aires for the year getting a culinary degree so it was the perfect opportunity to visit South America for the first time.  The plan was for her to show me around BA and then we would fly to El Calafate to hike the glaciers and go horseback riding.

BA was awesome.  We ate the best steaks, saw Nora Jones in concert for my birthday, bought new leather jackets, and I even helped my friend celebrate Hanukkah with my own DIY paper menorah. The day came that we were going to fly south. But before we went, my friend had a sushi class that I was allowed to attend. At that point in my life I did not eat sushi.  However, I wanted to participate so I prepared it and my friend ate both hers and mine.  I mean it couldn’t go to waste, right?

This is the actual sushi I made…ok…I had a lot of help.

We rushed straight from sushi class to the BA airport, made our flight, and arrived at the El Calafate International Airport. We successfully picked up our shuttle which was to take us into the village to our hostel.  But about 15 minutes into our journey, we had to make an unexpected stop. The sushi ended up not agreeing too well with my dear friend and instead decided to bond with my shoes.  For the next 18 hours she lost her sashimi along with everything else in her stomach. We finally made it to our hostel (which thankfully had a bathroom in the room!) where she immediate went to bed and I left on the hunt for saltine crackers.  Please remember readers, I was an Italian major in college. My Spanish is pretty terrible. So I bumbled around town with a Spanish dictionary and filled in with Italian hoping that somehow I could get the point across. Fortunately it worked and I came back with dinner for me and sick food for my friend.

The food poisoning did subside and we made it for our glacier hike the next day. Wearing our winter gear in the El Calafate summer, we put on our crampons and trekked for a few hours. Considering her condition my friend kept up amazingly well but she did skip the shot of Jack Daniels they served at the top of the glacier. Despite a little food poisoning (and an eaten ATM card), El Calafate and the glaciers were spectacular! Almost 8 years later, it is still my favorite location I’ve been to.

But more than the amazing glaciers, what I loved most about that trip was the friendship that was sealed. What began as a trip to see a college friend, ended up being an experience the forged one of the closest friendships I have ever had.  Almost exactly two years ago this same friend was my maid-of-honor and toasted me at my wedding to this same story. Who knew that bad sushi in Argentina would be the catalyst for a life-long friendship?

I’m a serious hiker…look at my crampons.

Summertime at the Perito Moreno Glacier

Reliving My Travels through Postcards to Grandma

When I began traveling, I started a tradition of sending postcards from whatever country I was in to my grandma.  I would describe my grandma as a real country woman.  She never moved outside a 20 mile radius of where she was born; she married at 16; lived in the same house for 70 years; and made the BEST apple pie and chicken and dumpling ever.  The thing I admired most about her though was just how much she loved her family.  At the age of 97, she passed away this last January.  While I was helping clean out her 1000 sqf. house in Southern Illinois, I found every postcard I had ever sent her.  She saved every last one.  Staring at all those postcards, I felt truly loved.

A few nights ago I decided to go back through those postcards and see what I wrote.  They range from when I was 18 years old on a mission trip to South Africa through my honeymoon to Puerto Rico in 2010.  Reading through them brought back so many good memories of my travels.  They also served as a timeline of my own development – the style of writing changed, the topics that were important changed.  In a way, I felt like getting those postcards was like unearthing my own travel time capsule.

Do you have old journals from your travels?  Blogs you wrote that you haven’t reread in awhile?  Sometimes one of the best ways to stay connected with the world is to remember what we’ve already experienced.

Here are some of my old postcards and the wonderful woman who saved them all.  Love you, Grandma.