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I think it has something to do with everyone being mutually confused and excited, but people aren’t joking when they say your friends from study abroad become your friends for life. There is just something special about every study abroad experience; only the people that were there with you really understand where you are coming from. The cool part is that this includes your CEA study abroad leaders and directors, too.

Leo, my roommate and I at our farewell dinner.
As I wrap up my time interning with Program Directors, Maggie and Leo, at the CEA San Jose location, here are three ways you may bond with your onsite team when you study abroad:

Fun: It is probably no surprise, but being away from friends, family, home, and everything familiar for an extended amount of time can be difficult in many different ways. Oftentimes these difficulties are not something the students can address themselves. Cue program director! As described in my past post, the Directors have to wear many different hats on a daily basis, but throughout everything the primary goal is to help the students to feel as safe, comfortable, and happy as possible.

Leo & Maggie

Friends: Program Directors also work very hard to plan enjoyable cultural activities and excursions,  many of which they accompany students! As a result of the constant availability, desire to help, and proximity on trips, Program Directors become pretty good friends with the students.

Family: On this matter, I can speak from experience. After being in Costa Rica for three months, I left thinking of Maggie and Leo more as friends than separate authorities. While I did have to reach out to them occasionally about logistical questions or business-like things, we have stayed in touch mostly due to our shared passion of study abroad and a desire to be mutually helpful to each other in whatever ways possible. I know that if I ever need a letter of recommendation or travel advice from people who have been there, I can contact Maggie or Leo. They know if they ever need somewhere to stay in my area of the US or a student’s perspective on CEA issues, I would be happy to accommodate.

Leo, Marissa and I at Volcan Irazu.
And the list goes on. But the important thing to remember, much more than the beneficial reciprocity, is that your Program Directors are people, too. Something to keep in mind if you’re about to go abroad or something you already know if you have returned from a program: While they are not in the same boat as you in terms of immersion into a completely new culture, your CEA leaders are still interested in having fun and making friends from other cultures!

Macey Hallstedt is a Winter 2013 CEA San José alumna, CEA Senior Alumni Ambassador at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, and currently a summer 2014 CEA Alumni Ambassador intern in San José. Don’t miss her next post about her connection with her host family! 

Anyone who’s ever heard anything about study abroad probably heard it from the perspective of an excited student who was either about to depart for an extended international experience or just returned.

But how often does one hear the opposite perspective? What do you know about the daily duties, struggles, rewarding experiences, and thoughts of program directors or site coordinators?

Leo Durán , CEA San José Academic Director (back left),
Maggie Banchs, 
CEA San José Program Director (back
center), and Macey Hallstedt, CEA Alumni Ambassador
Intern (back right).
I’d be willing to bet the answer is somewhere around minimal. Even when I was a CEA San José study abroad student, I saw how hard Maggie (CEA San José Program Director) and Leo (CEA San José Academic Director) worked, but I never realized how all-encompassing their duties were and exactly what expertise these duties required. Now that I am an onsite Ambassador intern for CEA San José, Costa Rica, I am learning that what goes on here is more than I ever could have thought possible at one time. And they manage to achieve it all with flair and gusto, still making time for the fluke surprises and random crises that come with hosting so many college students abroad. Compared to the testimonials and experiences of students, there is a vast under representation of who and what goes on behind the scenes. I am here to rectify this situation.

The Many Roles of Study Abroad Onsite Staff

On any given day, a study abroad director must fill a myriad of different roles. These roles include, but are not limited to: guidance counselor, arbitrator, travel agent, tour guide, social media expert, crisis resolution guru, photographer, navigator, cultural expert, and all around people-pleaser. Any study abroad experience is usually emotionally and intellectually trying for students, and it is the job of the directors to be able to swoop in, advise, and help fix any major problem students might have while being so far away from home. These duties begin before a student has even arrived on-site, with pre-departure information including everything a student might need, including how to navigate the airport seamlessly. After the study abroad experience, the directors are also still available for any post-immersion questions and difficulties. The support is very thorough.

On top of helping to make daily life smooth for students, the directors are also in charge of planning trips and cultural excursions. It is in this realm that the majority of my duties lay. When I studied abroad in Costa Rica with CEA a year and a half ago, I was too enveloped in my own goals and travel plans to notice the efforts made by CEA staff to plan and organize excursions for students.

A Taste of These Roles as an Intern Abroad: Challenges & Realities

Now that one of my functions as an intern is helping plan events and excursions, I am not only realizing some of the challenges that come with interning abroad, but I’m also finding a new appreciation for the onsite staff’s behind-the-scenes efforts now that I’m helping with some of them. Spanish is my second language and navigating around San José and Costa Rica is not instinctual yet. I also sometimes find myself thwarted by a characteristic Costa Rican lack of efficiency. Perhaps due to my businesslike, northern United States mentality, I quickly become frustrated and annoyed when I cannot find necessary information on a business’s website or an outdated phone number is listed. I always do my best to solve the puzzle of finding the right information or speaking to the right people, but sometimes I have to ask for help from the experts. Maggie and Leo are both native Ticos (Costa Ricans), so I assume they will have all the answers when it comes to my confusion. Sometimes they are just as confused as I am. While it is annoying to be mutually frustrated, it is comforting to know that I am not alone in my cultural awareness struggles and that we can put our heads together to overcome any cultural trial.

Along with planning cultural activities and excursions, another part of my job is to act as a kind of antenna for students’ feedback about school, their homestays, and their overall experiences. Because my own study abroad experience was a whole semester, I had much more time to learn the city and orient myself. The summer students participating in month-long programs obviously don’t have that luxury. As a result, my goal is to help provide them with all the resources, cultural happenings, and attractions available so that they can spend less time planning and more time doing to make the most of their San José study abroad experience

After all, that is what any study abroad experience is about: learning by being uncomfortable, immersing, and doing. In a pleasantly surprising way, my tenure as an intern here at CEA is once more teaching me that diving in headfirst is the best way to learn. Much like when I was a student here, I can be unsure and confused, but the practice of having to figure it out is rewarding and sure to help me succeed in any future career.

Macey Hallstedt is a Winter 2013  CEA San José alumna, CEA Senior Alumni Ambassador at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, and currently a summer 2014 CEA Alumni Ambassador intern in San José. Don’t miss her next post about what goes on behind the scenes at CEA San José! 
My CEA journey started in the winter of 2013 and has grown to include being a CEA study abroad student, MOJO (Mobile Journalist), Alumni Ambassador, and now a CEA Alumni Ambassador intern. Why did I choose to stay part of the CEA family in so many roles? More than any other institution I have ever encountered, CEA cares about its students. It is such a simple concept, but much easier said than done. In all the various endeavors throughout my entire life, I have never had the pleasure of interacting with such a cohesive team devoted to giving each and every student the opportunities to have an eye-opening experience. I feel confident making such a bold statement because I have lived it. CEA and I have a long history; one that I feel has helped us both a lot.

Macey Hallstedt during her winter 2013
San Jose study abroad program.
It all began in San Jose, Costa Rica. After many months of research, preparation, and tough decision-making, I had settled on a program and could not have been more excited. Upon arrival, I was blown away by how intentional CEA had been on its preparation to make sure the students had all the necessary information in order to feel comfortable venturing out on their own. They were always available and helpful, but still allowed students to be very independent.

After my first few weeks in San Jose, my program directors, Maggie and Leo, made us aware of an available paid position on the CEA team as a MOJO. Given my concentration in communications and predisposition toward writing, I jumped at the opportunity. Not often does an amateur undergrad stumble across a chance to get paid to write. So I wrote. And I photographed. And I recorded. And from all this, came a few tour videos, several photo essays, and even more blog entries encompassing all topics from how study abroad helps students even after graduation to what 'pura vida' means to me. All of them were published. In on fell swoop I had gotten some of my own writing posted on a platform other than my own personal blog and CEA had received blog content to help future students considering study abroad.

Fast forward five months to September 2013, as I was entering my junior year at the University of Michigan. I had accepted a position as a CEA Alumni Ambassador intern. Such a position includes things like giving presentations encouraging students to study abroad, creating and distributing flyers, working the CEA table at study abroad fairs, making contacts within relevant offices like International and Advising centers, and the like. The experience fit in so well with my communications concentration. Plus, I am so passionate about study abroad that I wanted to share it with everyone I met.

A year and a half later, my experience with CEA has come full circle. Due to my hard work as an Alumni Ambassador and an intense craving to go abroad again, CEA invited me back to San Jose, Costa Rica as one of the first to participate in the Alumni Ambassador Internship program. So here I am, starting my CEA San Jose internship and seeing study abroad from a new angle.

Macey Hallstedt (center) with CEA San Jose Academic
Director, Leo Duran (left), and Program Director,
Maggie Banchs (right).
My job is to plan cultural activities and meaningful excursions, and do pretty much anything else necessary for the international students to feel safe and comfortable here. That can include anything from showing them how to plan a great vacation, to where to buy the delicious Costa Rican fruits for cheap and how to avoid tourist traps to helping them with Spanish homework. The best part? I enjoy all of it.

I am not only here to serve CEA and its students, but I am also selfishly gaining invaluable experience in how to navigate international workplaces, how to help others feel welcome when all they feel is different, and improving my Spanish the entire time. I am having fun learning by doing and simultaneously providing a very important service to the international students; I am a student who has lived it, worked hard, succeeded, and returned to put my new skills to use. I am a living testimonial about how hard CEA works in order to ensure the best experiences for the students - both present and past.

Macey Hallstedt is a Winter 2013 CEA San Jose alumna, current CEA Senior Alumni Ambassador at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, former CEA MOJO, and currently a Summer 2014 CEA Alumni Ambassador intern in San Jose. Don't miss her next post about what goes on behind the scenes at CEA San Jose!

It’s been a great summer on the blog keeping up with our CEA Alumni Ambassador team. Since they’ve “been there, done that” when it comes to knowing the ins and outs of study abroad, it’s been fun hearing about their experiences in Barcelona, Prague, Aix-en-Provence, Alicante, Paris, Port Elizabeth, Seville, and San Jose. We love hearing their feedback and want to thank them for their help on the blog covering topics such as  debunking study abroad myths and sharing their insights about the CEA Alumni Ambassador program.
Patrick Gradus (top left), Josh Lagunez (top right), & Taylor
Stoeckler (bottom, far left)

If you’ve been busy working or hanging out with friends this summer, here’s a quick recap of what you missed:

Intern Abroad in Alicante: Did you hear about Taylor’s summer interning with the CEA Alicante team? As one of the first CEA Alumni Ambassador Interns abroad, Taylor got to experience study abroad from the other side. (Plus, she was already an expert at study abroad with four programs behind her.)

That’s a Wrap! We thought the CEA blog would be a little quiet without our MOJOs over the summer, but our “Males in Study Abroad” series kept us checking back for more. We went back in time with Tanner, Shane, Josh, Patrick, Tarek, and David as they shared why they studied abroad, what they learned from their time abroad and why they encourage you to study abroad.

The end of this series also means we’re saying “adios” to Patrick, a Prague alum and Associate Alumni Ambassador, who contributed several blog posts recapping his time in Prague. We’re excited for where the next step in your post-study abroad journey takes you, Patrick!

Monique Martinez (top left), Tarek Dahdul (bottom left),
David Sperling (top right), & Shane Heckman (bottom right)
But wait, there’s more! Before we start crying in our melted gelato that the summer is over, we’re excited for one more summer treat: Our second Alumni Ambassador intern, Macey Hallstedt, a San Jose Winter ‘13 alumna and student at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, is about to share her summer CEA San Jose internship recap. Get ready for updates about living life “pura vida” style.

Psst: Even though we love summer, we’re psyched for the Fall semester to roll around so we can meet our new Alumni Ambassador team members and catch up with returning Ambassadors!

Psst (again!): How can you join the CEA Alumni Ambassador team? Study abroad with CEA