Staff Member Spotlight: Cara Lane-Toomey

Title
Assistant Director for Education Abroad Programs

Photos

What position do you hold at AMIDEAST, and what's been your career path thus far?

I am the Assistant Director for Education Abroad Programs in the Arab World at AMIDEAST. Following my graduation from the University of St. Thomas, I served as a Peace Corps Youth Development Volunteer in Morocco from 2005-2007. After an incredible experience in the south of Morocco, I returned to the US to put to use my BA in Political Science while I worked for a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 2009 I decided to embark on a two year journey in the heart of the Arab world in order to complete my Masters in Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo. I was first introduced to AMIDEAST when I conducted my master's research on increasing numbers of U.S. students studying abroad in the Middle East and North Africa. In the midst of writing my thesis, I realized a career in study abroad in the Middle East/North Africa was an ideal way to combine my passion for this particular region of the world and for international education. After completing my MA, I found a position with AMIDEAST in the Education Abroad department and have been joyfully working with in our Washington D.C. office since the spring of 2011.

Did YOU study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?

Originally from South Dakota, I took a huge step out of my comfort zone by setting off for an experiential education trip through Southeast Asia in 2001. I chose to take part in a “gap year” program, in part, because I felt there was so much to the world that I had yet to be exposed to after growing up in quiet western South Dakota. This, my first time abroad, opened my eyes to the beauty of travel and cultural exchange. This passion has led me to Central and South America, the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Since that trip, my desire to explore our earth and my place in this world has continuously grown. Throughout my time at university, I studied abroad as much as possible: participating in short-term programs in Ecuador, Honduras, and Guatemala and doing semesters abroad in both Northern Ireland and Egypt. Always eager to learn about cultures, I wanted to stay longer and longer in the countries I visited. After I received my degree I decided to volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps, partially because I would be able to spend two full years living and working in a different culture. During my service I lived in Qelaât M'Gouna, an indigenous town on the edge of the Sahara in Morocco, and worked on community projects ranging from photography to women's rights education.

What does the future hold for AMIDEAST - any exciting new programs to share?

The political events of the last decade and the Arab Spring have made it more important than ever for students to understand the language, culture, and history of the Middle East/North Africa (MENA).

Study abroad is one important method that can significantly increase students’ understanding of the Arabic language and the culture of MENA. During the last decade, the number of U.S. undergraduate students in the MENA has increased dramatically. In order to offer more diverse locations for students, AMIDEAST has launched our inaugural semester program in Muscat, Oman. In addition to our programs in Morocco and Jordan, our Oman Area & Arabic Language Studies semester program offers both Arabic language and Middle East related courses. Oman is a unique historical setting in both the larger Arab world and the Arabian Peninsula.

In this distinctive environment, students explore a range of issues related to the Middle East and Oman and the Gulf region in particular with their professors, their fellow AMIDEAST students, and their local friends. Participants have the opportunity not only to improve their Modern Standard Arabic, but to also learn Omani Arabic. We also look forward to implementing our 2014 summer Intensive Arabic programs in Oman, Jordan, and Morocco.

What about the future of the industry? How do you think study abroad and international education will change over the next 10 years?

Over the past decade I have been excited to see a growing number of students choosing non-traditional destinations for their education abroad experiences. As more and more students look for destinations off-the-beaten-path, I think study abroad programs have the opportunity to guide students through meaningful intercultural journeys in some truly unique locations.

How have you changed/grown since working for AMIDEAST?

I have grown immensely since working for AMIDEAST! Perhaps the most meaningful way in which I have developed is by learning about and improving my own cultural competence. I am lucky to work for an organization that has made intercultural learning one of the pillars of our education abroad programs. As a result, I have had opportunities to take part in wonderful trainings, workshops, and creative group efforts; all of which are aimed at providing a more coherent and useful intercultural learning experience to our students.