Staff Spotlight: Sophie Switzer

Title:
Assistant Director of Recruitment

Photos

Sophie has worked in a variety of roles within higher education, but is thrilled to finally be working for an international education company. She received her BA from the University of Iowa in International Relations and studied abroad twice in Pau, France and Fribourg, Switzerland. She is now concentrating on completing her MSc in Applied Psychology – Multicultural Learning and Development and hopes to continue working in International Education in the future.

What is your favorite travel memory?

It’s definitely hard to pick just one, but as a general rule, my favorite experiences occurred when I stopped following a schedule and guidebook and took the road less travelled. During my own study abroad trip, I took a trip to Paris and decided to stop into the tiniest jewelry store I’ve ever seen. The shop was probably about 7’x7’ and every inch of the ceiling, walls, windows, and shelves were filled with very unique handmade pieces.

I started talking with the shop owner about his business and it wasn’t until I left the shop 20 minutes later that I realized I had had the entire conversation in French without even realizing it! After years of studying the French language, I had finally reached a point where I could speak the language without having to concentrate too hard, which was unbelievably exhilarating. It also added a layer of comfort when I travel now that I didn’t fully have to rely on finding an English-speaker to help me understand everything.

What language have you always wanted to learn and why?

This is probably an unusual answer, but I would love to learn Yiddish. Many of the older generations in my family still understand Yiddish and will use it sparingly in conversation, but the culture of using it as a means of regular communication is dying. My father grew up in a strong Jewish community in Bronxville, NY and tells quite a few stories about his Great-Aunt Frieda and Grandma Gus speaking Yiddish with their friends.

Yiddish is unique in that it is not officially spoken in any particular country, but rather, has a strong cultural connection and implication for those who grew up hearing it. As language like Yiddish fall out of vogue, it’s hard not to feel a little sad at the idea of a particular culture losing part of its identity.

What changes would you make to the study abroad industry?

I would make international education mandatory. Some universities and graduate programs are moving in that direction by requiring at least 1 international experience to graduate, but there are still a vast number of study abroad opportunities available that many students are not yet aware of. Students who travel abroad find that the act of living and learning in a different culture enhances their education in unexpected ways.

For instance, the experience of realizing that your cultures social norms are not universal will force you to understand someone else’s perspective in ways you never would have. Many of our students return from studying abroad to find that they are significantly more mature and more attuned to the complexities of the world than their stateside peers. Not to mention the strong bond they cultivate and maintain amongst friends who have travelled as well.

What does your home-country's culture value that is taught in your program?

Our program really strives to integrate a message of independence and competency that students will be able to use as they leave school and enter the workforce. American and western cultures are known for being highly individualistic in ways that many Eastern cultures may not be.

This means that success in American culture is defined by an individual’s ability to lead and demonstrate self-sufficiency. At CIMBA we offer 3 different leadership workshops and certificates that allow students to really reflect on how they can achieve their desired level of independence. We also offer our students a wealth of independent travel opportunities, which encourages them to grow as they navigate cultural differences, new languages, and unexpected travel detours.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

The quality and integrity of the people employed. In most organizations, the technical skills of any given job can be taught fairly quickly. It’s the intangible qualities – initiative, communication, competency, passion – that really make the difference in moving an organization forward. At CIMBA, we try to cultivate those intangibles through our semester-long leadership institute and push our students to practice techniques such as mindfulness and self-analysis to further develop their professional potential.