From Participant to Leader: Journeys in Study Abroad

IT ALL STARTED IN SEVILLE, SPAIN... 

In August, 1999 I landed in Spain and my life forever changed. With Flamenco as my guide, I immersed myself deeply into the cultures of Andalusia and the only way for me to follow the trajectory across the Atlantic was to continue to enroll in study abroad programs. After a year in Spain, I was part of the first U.S.-based group to study in classrooms with Cuban nationals (COPA-IFSA-Butler University's program) for a full semester in 2001. I then completed my undergraduate studies with semester in São Paulo and Salvador, Brazil (2002). Everyone talks about the importance of receiving their diploma but for me, one of the great moments was when I returned to the study abroad office at UMass-Amherst and the program director gave me a plaque: "King of Study Abroad." Nobody, to her knowledge, had studied abroad for as long as I had. 

With that plaque in hand, I enrolled in the first-ever joint-degree program between a Cuban university (Universidad de la Habana) and a U.S. university (SUNY Buffalo). After two semesters in Havana and two semesters in New York, I completed the interdisciplinary Master's program in Latin American and Caribbean Studies (2004).  

All along, I would realize years later, in addition to learning language, culture, and cross-cultural navigational skills in these programs, I was also observing radically different administrative set-ups, staff-student dynamics, and program designs and their very different impact on student learning, program safety, group unity, and intercultural and language development support. My participation in these study abroad programs, I realized, was also what allowed me to assess programs, see what could be salvagedrebuildexpand in ways that enhanced the experience abroad. The lived-experience as a study abroad participant also allowed me to forge strong partnerships and speak about the importance of study abroad to host universities, community organizations, and more. I was the direct result of the study abroad programs and going into the stories of what it was like allowed for the concept and poetic of study abroad to 'translate.'     

I always refer 'back' to my experience as a participant in study abroad programs, international scholarship programs: it allows me to build and improve from the perspective of the student who's life can be just as completely transformed through the experience as mine had been. 

After the Master's degree, I taught Portuguese at UMass-Amherst and then started a Ph.D. in the English Department. I designed and taught courses in the Writing, English, and Comparative Literature programs. I ended up putting the final touches on the dissertation as a Fulbright Scholar in Brazil, an award that brought me back to my old host university as an undergraduate study abroad 'king' in Salvador, Bahia.

That is when the participant perspective switched gears and turned into a program developer and director. In 2012, I led the complete rebuilding of the Universidade Federal da Bahia and Universidade Católica do Salvador study abroad programs in Salvador, Brazil for over 300 U.S. universities and then stayed on as Resident Director until 2015. Every single aspect of the programs at these institutions had to be adjusted, rebuilt, or expanded and, as a team -- working across units in Brazil and the U.S. -- we did this with large groups of students on-site, in the middle of major protests, and even in the middle of military police strikes and university campus-wide strikes.

Each turn in the development process (and there were many) was accompanied by detailed notes and is one of the case studies that I used to write the eBook, "Study Abroad: A Guide for Program Developers." Salvador, often considered to be an operationally adverse location for major study abroad providers, thrived after the rebuilding and I was able to duplicate this recipe for development for other study abroad projects in Brazil and Cuba. 

Between 2015-2016, I worked with scholarship programs for students from Latin America and the Caribbean and directed all partnerships with the Fulbright Program, Kellogg Foundation, Organization of American States, Science Without Borders (Brazil), and six other major scholarship programs. I then went on to develop Blue Sage, bringing the partnership management skills and program development work under one roof.

Blue Sage began with the eBook project but it is truly the continuation of years of program development work in the field of Study Abroad.