What position do you hold at CET?
I am CET’s Executive Director, which means I manage our staff, our finances, and our outreach. I also work to establish our long-term plan, and to communicate that effectively to our partners and staff. I’ve learned over time that my main function is to get out of the way of CET staff. Our team is really amazing, and my role is simply to offer them support and guidance so that they can be the best they can be.
What has been your career path so far?
I am someone who got off the bus at the first stop—my very first job after college and the Hopkins-Nanjing Center was Resident Director at CET’s Intensive Chinese Language Program in Harbin. I later served as our Beijing program RD and then Coordinator when our headquarters were in Boston. I also took some time off for graduate school. People sometimes ask me how it’s possible for one person to work for the same organization for so many years. But it’s not hard to imagine when you consider how much we’ve grown and changed over this period. When I started, we had two program locations in China and around 100 students each year. CET now operates programs in seven countries, with around 1200 students/year. My job is completely different than it was even five years ago, and it’s never been dull. In this case, I chose the perfect bus stop!
Did YOU study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?
I was a student in the CET Beijing program for the 1987-1988 academic year. I chose China because I knew it would be completely different from the world I knew at home—I wanted to experience life as a foreigner and as a minority. I was also very committed to learning Chinese.
In those days, living conditions were not easy, even for us foreign students who were treated so well. And foreign students were discouraged from interacting with Chinese students, so we really lived in an American bubble. By Halloween, I was pretty frustrated by how difficult it was to learn Chinese, and I considered leaving at the end of the fall term. But somehow I understood that leaving would be a sort of failure, so I stuck it out. At some point in the spring term, my frustrations evaporated and I found myself completely at home in Beijing. By the end, I had great Chinese friends and it was difficult to leave.
What does the future hold for CET? Any exciting new programs to share?
Every study abroad program is a work in progress—we can always do more to make our programs more challenging and more rewarding for our students. So a big priority is working with our US partners and students to continually evaluate what we’re doing, and to develop new academic offerings or program elements that meet new needs. To that end, we are launching a Public Health track in Vietnam, an internship program in Prague, and a new Middle East Studies program in Amman, Jordan.
We’re also very excited to be developing a new program in Brazil, scheduled to launch in the fall of 2014. Brazil is a perfect fit for CET: it offers students amazing opportunities for immersion and language learning. And Brazil is a country of obvious economic, strategic, and cultural importance, yet very few Americans study there. So we’re interested in doing our part to change that.
What about the future of the industry? How do you think study abroad and international education will change over the next 10 years?
The field has already changed so much in the 20+ years that I’ve been involved! One thing that’s very different today is that more people are deliberately choosing undergraduate majors or graduate degrees that will prepare them for careers in education abroad. Another change is that there are many more program options than there were in the past; there’s increased competition. Finally, more researchers are studying the learning outcomes of study abroad programs, so we’re starting to better understand the impact of our work on students and on our hosts. CET has some unique features like local roommates and language pledges, and we’re also starting to study how these features affect learning outcomes.
I think in ten years, these changes will all work together to benefit students. There will be more program options that target students’ individual needs, and the academic quality of programs will continue to improve.
Which study abroad destination is most underrated? Conversely, which is most overrated?
I don’t believe any place is underrated or overrated: they all offer incredible learning opportunities! I am a strong believer that Americans should learn foreign languages, so my personal hope is that students will choose destinations where they must gain some language proficiency in order to thrive.
If students are considering several different destinations and they’re unsure where to go, I’d urge them to consider destinations where there are relatively few Americans. Places like Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Catania (Italy), or Harbin (China) offer such rich learning experiences for students who are ready for them.