Did YOU study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?
Chris: I lived and taught abroad in lieu of doing a traditional study abroad or exchange program. Dual majoring in French and in Economics in college I really wanted to live in France and improve my language skills. It seemed natural to jump in feet first and figure out the rest on the way which made sense only because I was a hyper-independent student with sufficient training in French to work through the administrative and cultural obstacles that I would face.
Today I find myself reliving some of those same challenges and experiences vicariously through our students. I find the most pleasure when a student describes feeling more lost than when s/he arrived. As strange as that may sound it indicates increased awareness about the complexity of the world and active questioning of their place and identity. And that’s why I do what I do!
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
Chris: Living abroad is one thing. Teaching and advising students living abroad, through their successes and challenges, is a whole other. Teaching CEA’s Communication & Global Competence course has been a real eye-opener in terms of gauging student’s cultural growth, in more objective terms, while they are abroad.
The course is a forum for making sense of the experience through the lens of cultural competence. Most students who leave the course feel empowered to frame their experiences, “the good and the bad”, in objective terms and guiding them through that process has been instructive for me as well.
What country have you always wanted to visit?
Chris: I want to respond to this question because it seems contradictory to our mission. “Visiting” a country is a weekend or vacation experience in the sense that the cultural contact is by definition superficial. You go look at the architecture, engage minimally with the local inhabitants, try the food, etc.
My friends give me strange looks when I say that, given the means and liberty, I would take a year sabbatical and volunteer as an educator somewhere in the Middle East. The tension between East and West is one I have only experienced as a Westerner and I feel limited by that. Furthermore experiencing the world through yet another set of eyes, as romanticized as it sounds, is my daydream and Arabic is a beautiful language.
What was your favorite traveling experience?
Chris: In 2010 I traveled, with my partner, to Palma de Mallorca, Spain to visit my in-laws. We stayed with his family for 10 days during which we had meals together, visited the the island, met family friends, etc. While the trip had the makings of an extended getaway it was different because of the interactions we had.
My cousins-in-law taught me a little Spanish, the least-useful of which I still remember today (isn’t that always the case?). While the family was mostly multi-lingual: Catalan, Spanish, French and English most of the family’s friends spoke “only” Catalan and Spanish.
So navigating communication was a challenge but reminded me a lot of my first days as a teaching assistant in Blois, France when I understood nothing but had to communicate a lot. While the context was informal, friends and family tend to be patient and engaged, the challenge of it all made the experiences so much more rewarding!