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From CEA Student to CEA On-Site Ambassador

About two years ago in Fall of 2015, I left New York, and hopped on a plane to Paris with two large suitcases, and an overly-stuffed bag that barely passed as a “carry-on”. What can I say? I was super excited, had no idea what to expect, and wanted to be as prepared as possible for my semester abroad in Paris! It was my first time traveling abroad alone, and I was excited for all that was ahead.

During the semester, I took an International Marketing and International Human Rights course taught in English at the CEA center twice a week. However, I spent a bulk of my time at a partner institution, a branch of the prestigious Sorbonne University. Here, I was enrolled in an intensive French grammar and phonetics class. My favorite part of studying abroad was that I had the opportunity to be exposed to several different types of people.

 My classmates and I at the Sorbonne settling in a few minutes before class starts.

At the Sorbonne, my classmates were other students who came from all over the world—Japan, Russia, Brazil, Sweden, etc.—and who were all different ages, but were all brought together with the common goal of wanting to learn French. Apart from all that I learned through coursework, I learned so many cultural nuances that I never would have been exposed to had I not been part of such a diverse class that was so open to discussion. In addition, being a part of the student community at the CEA center helped me to feel more at home.

Like many students who fall in love with their study abroad experience, I found myself searching for an outlet to keep my journey alive after returning home to America. Initially it was hard trying to bridge the gap between what felt like two separate lives. However, I soon learned that CEA was looking for alumni to join their Alumni Ambassador team, and so I decided to apply. Within a month of returning back to New York, I was officially an Alumni Ambassador, representing CEA and study abroad on my university campus.

 Fellow Alumni Ambassador, Lesly Garcia, and I representing CEA at our university’s study abroad fair.

Being part of the program gave me the opportunity to connect with other like-minded individuals across the United States who felt passionately about travel and had wonderful stories to share. Every other week, a small group of other Alumni Ambassadors and myself met through a video-chat meeting to discuss how we were promoting study abroad on our campuses. After a year in this role, I took on more responsibility as a Senior Alumni Ambassador. In this position, I led and facilitated the bi-weekly video chat meetings, and also connected regularly with the professional staff at CEA Phoenix to discuss other initiatives CEA was rolling out. Through participating in the Alumni Ambassador program, my study abroad experience evolved into a professional leadership opportunity.

During this time, I learned more about an opportunity that CEA offers its ambassadors: the possibility to return back to your study abroad site as an On-Site Alumni Ambassador. I was fortunate enough to have my application accepted, and transitioned into the new role in June 2017 back in Paris! For about ten weeks, I had the unique opportunity to work alongside the CEA Paris staff, and to experience study abroad again from the other side.

 Fellow Alumni Ambassador, Andrea Suarez Navarro, came to visit at the CEA Paris Center!

During this part of my journey, I learned to be much more independent and developed courage in the process. Working at CEA offered an incredible learning moment that opened my eyes to all of the work that goes into creating a great study abroad program for students. I got to do everything from preparing for student arrivals, to planning cultural food tasting events, to designing promotional marketing material.

This part of my experience with CEA helped me to realize how diverse and dynamic the work behind study abroad can be. The ambassadorship has helped me to re-shift my professional goals towards pursuing a career within the field of international education. A few years ago, I was only curious about the prospect of studying abroad—I couldn’t have ever imagined that I would live overseas twice in two short years. My journey with CEA has been nothing short of incredible!

Susan Zhang is a CEA Alumni Ambassador that studied Marketing and French at Marist College and studied abroad in Paris with CEA in Fall 2015.

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