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.

To Whom Do You Owe The Credit?

Do you ever really think about what or who inspired your desire to travel?  For part of my job, I read and critique scholarship applications for study abroad students.  Frequently the essay question is “Why do you want to study abroad?”  It is generally answered with one or all of the following cliches: “I want to immerse myself in culture,” or “I want to travel the world,” or the worst, “I want to broaden my horizons.”  If I’ve heard these responses once, I’ve heard them a thousand times.  I always want to grab the student’s shoulders, shake them and say “Why do you REALLY want to do this?”

Of course advising others has made me REALLY think about my own honest answer to what inspired my desire to travel. When I think back to what sparked my own interest, I believe I have these people to thank:

  • My next door neighbors – I grew up on a street in Minneapolis that was inhabited by mostly retirees.  Walt and Phyllis lived next door and frequently babysat me when my mom went back to school.  They were avid travelers and would regularly take me with them to the travel agency where I was allowed to take out all the catalogs and look through the pictures.  They also always brought be back a trinket and coins from every place they went. It took me a long time to realize what an influence they had on me from such an early age.
  • Hun Win, my childhood best friend – She lived across the street and her family immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan.  I will never forget the smell of Asian cooking that constantly permeated their home, how Hun Win would alterate between Mandarin and English so swiftly, and just how disciplined her and her brother were with finishing home and practicing the piano. It was my first experience with another culture and I was drawn to how different her home was to mine.
  • Sra. Strauss, my high school Spanish teacher – I remember speaking jibberish as a kid pretending it was another language; I loved the idea of knowing a language other than my own.  Sra. Strauss helped turn my jibberish into something useable. She exposed me to language and culture with patience, humor, and love.  While I was never very good at Spanish, I have to say that what she taught me in high school has actually gotten me by quite a few times.

 I’m curious, what or who inspired you to travel?

To the Berglunds, Hun Win, and Sra. Strauss, I am indebted to each of you for sharing the world with me. Many thanks!

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20×20: Tell Your Abroad Experience in 400 seconds

From what I can tell, 20x20s were first done in Japan at an event called Pecha Kucha where young designers could show their work. To keep the event at a reasonable pace, each designer could show 20 images and had 20 seconds to describe each image. Now this same format is being used in a variety of venues and it’s one of my favorite ways to talk about an experience abroad.

In my time working with study abroad students, I noticed two things that happen when I  ask a student about their experience.

  1. They have the short one sentence response, “It was great”, or
  2. They ramble on in a story that can be hard to follow.

The 20×20 is a great solution to help anyone put into words what being abroad was like, what it meant to them, and what the highlights were. We all know that slide shows can be boring, disconnected, and drag on far longer than most people’s attention spans. The 20×20 nips that in bud and instead helps make the presentation dynamic and fun. Here’s how I think it works best:

1. Think about your experience abroad and jot down 20 to 30 highlights such as your housing, host family/roommates, courses/projects, favorite restaurants or food, sights that amazed you, people you connected with, funny stories, lessons learned, etc.

2. Put your highlights in an order that you would want to tell them. Make sure to have a beginning and conclusion.

3. Go through your pictures and see if you can find a match for these highlights. Also feel free to use quotes or maps if you want. They don’t have to be perfect matches. They just need to go along with the idea.

4. Select the top 20 of the highlights/pictures to put them into a PowerPoint presentation, one picture per slide.

5. Set the PowerPoint to automatically change slides every 20 seconds.

6. After a little practice, press play and tell your audience in 20 seconds about each highlight. When the slide changes, you have to stop your story and go to the next one. This often provides for a few good laughs.

7. Open up for questions in the end (2 minutes max)

The 20×20 format can be great for a variety of events like:

  • Study abroad presentations (recruitment or pre-departure orientation)
  • Mission trip report at a place of worship
  • Fundraising events for international aid projects
  • School presentations
  • Get a group of friends together and all do a 20×20 over dinner

Natural Talent

Hubby and I had an interesting conversation last night about professions and why some get paid more than others. For example a professional basketball player probably works less hours than many factory workers, but his salary is exponentially larger. In the end we decided that he can do something that the majority of the population cannot do. Because of his unique talents, we as a society compensate him financially. While hard work is certainly part of his success, part of it is also natural talent. The same goes for pop singers, actors, brilliant business people, etc.

I am a study abroad advisor. Perhaps anyone could do my job. Anyone could learn the programs and visa requirements. Anyone could encourage others to travel. I think the difference between anyone and me is that I really love college students. I light up when they come in the office and bribe them with food to come visit me. I can’t wait to hear about their planning, their challenges, and their adventures. When one called me yesterday to tell me she got a job, I felt so proud. Each of those students make me want to go to work every day. Though my profession may not be financially rewarded, I feel paid in full by the relationships I have with them. That is my natural talent.

Friday was my last day at my university. Originally I was going to write that it was my last day as a study abroad advisor, but that is not true. I think I will always be a study abroad advisor. It’s something I am truly passionate about. So whether I’m paid or not, I think in order to be truly happy, I have to be doing something in this capacity. So as Hubby and I move to Oklahoma and I continue to be global from home, I will also be seeking as many opportunities to help college students experience the world around us. In this way, I hope to use my natural talent.

What are you really good at? Are you pursuing it?

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)