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Meet Danielle O'Leary: CEA London On-Site Ambassador

 CEA London On-Site Ambassador, Danielle O'Leary (left) with friends.

If there is one thing that I have learned in the past three years, it is to believe that the seemingly impossible is ALWAYS possible. No matter how far-fetched an idea may initially appear, there is always a way to transform that "idea" into a reality. My life is a perfect example of this belief.

Let me begin by introducing myself: Hiya! My name is Danielle O'Leary, and I am an outspoken and shamelessly unfiltered twenty-two year old from California. This past June, I graduated from California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo with a degree in Communication Studies, concentrating in both Media Studies and Women Gender Studies. I think my love for people and the communication that brings them together is what ultimately led me to stray away from my suburban upbringing and seek out city life.

The first city I lived in was London when I studied abroad with CEA during the Spring 2013 semester. To say that I "enjoyed" my study abroad in London experience would be an understatement. I fell madly in love with the city. From lush, green royal parks to the bustle of the West End, to the hipsters in Shoreditch, London captivated me; my mind, body, and soul. I knew within my first month of living in London that this would forever be my true home.

Unfortunately, all study abroad experiences come to an end. Days turn into months, and before I knew it I was on my way back to the States. I can still remember standing in the middle of Baker Street Underground station, surrounded by suitcases and tourists, LITERALLY sobbing my eyes out. At that moment, I promised myself that I would move back to London right after I graduated from university. There was no one and nothing that could stop me. I begrudgingly boarded my airplane with the faith that I would touch down in Heathrow in just over two years. And back to California I went…

 CEA London On-Site Ambassador, Danielle O'Leary, with Cal Poly mascot at the study abroad fair.

If I'm being entirely honest, my transition back to my Californian life was not seamless. To start, I cried the entire plane ride home (at least ten hours of ugly crying). My arrival back to the U.S. was even more traumatic. My re-entry culture shock (UGH. Yeah, that's a thing) was extremely severe. I often found myself locked in my room watching anything British on Netflix (Sherlock, Skins, Love Actually, etc.) while nostalgically Facebook stalking all of my photos from abroad. For the first time in my entire life, I felt true homesickness. It is still one of the most painful transitions I have gone through in my life.

Luckily, CEA presented the ideal opportunity to my London homesickness: the CEA Alumni Ambassador Program, an opportunity for study abroad alumni to develop their own skills in marketing, PR, managerial, social media, and communication-related fields. The program forges a network between students from all across the U.S., all of which have an undying love for international education.

For two years as an Ambassador, I spread my love for study abroad and London. I organized events for my study abroad office, held information seminars, managed a group of fellow CEA Ambassadors nationwide, and promoted via social media and other online verticals. It was my ideal internship. The most beautiful aspect of the Ambassador Program is the opportunity to inspire students to study abroad by sharing precious memories from your own study abroad experience. I finally felt like I could express my love for London and travel in a way that was beneficial for me and others.

But in the back of my mind, in the depth of my heart, the only thing that mattered to me was making my way back home, to London. Every internship I took, every dollar made, was all done strategically to get me back home. There was a constant whisper in the back of my mind saying, "Will this help you get back there?" and if the question wasn't an immediate, "YES," I didn't pursue the opportunity.

 CEA London On-Site Ambassador, Danielle O'Leary (right) and CEA London Program Director, Cassandra Peacock (left), with Fall'15 CEA London students.

I always had a gut feeling that CEA would be the beginning of my international career, and it turned out that my instincts were right. Just before graduating last spring, CEA offered me the opportunity to become the first On-Site Ambassador in London. As an On-Site Ambassador, I would return to London and help facilitate the study abroad experience for CEA students studying abroad at the same university I attended just two years ago. I could barely grasp the thought of not only having an opportunity right after graduation, but that it was in London! I accepted the offer almost immediately. I found my ticket home.

So where am I now? Well, I am currently sitting in a small walk-in cheese shop/café called La Formagerie situated in a Mew off of Marylebone High Street in Central London. If I told my twenty year old self that I would be swooning over a smoked salmon cheese board in London just three months after graduation, I'm almost certain I would either laugh in my face or start sobbing tears of pure happiness. Me? In London?! Right after graduation?!? HOW? But here I am, gobbling down an obscene amount of smoked salmon and French cheese down the street from the student residence hall I called "home" just over two years ago.

I am entirely unsure of where I will be a year from now, but I'm learning that is exactly what is so exciting about being an On-Site Ambassador and pursuing a career overseas. This is just the beginning of my international career and I can only imagine all the bizarre places it will take me in the years to come.

So, yeah. There it is: My little fantasy turned a reality. My legit PROOF that you can make any dream come true as long as you try hard enough. And now you can follow me on my journey as a newly graduated, young professional, who somehow managed to land my dream role in the city that I love more than life itself. Who knows what London has to offer this time around…

Let the adventure begin.

Danielle O'Leary is a CEA London alumna (Spring ’13), recent grad from California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo (Spring’15), and is currently a CEA Alumni On-Site Ambassador in London, England.

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