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CEA Alicante On-site Ambassador: Study Abroad From the Other Side

Hola from the CEA Alicante office!

It’s been a busy start to my On-site Ambassadorship experience with new students arriving, helping them acclimate, and participating in excursions. In just two weeks as the On-site Ambassador, I feel like I’ve already seen and learned so much about CEA as an organization and the energy they put forth for every one of their students. I now spend my days preparing pre-departure documents for incoming students, sharing my knowledge of the area, and motivating students to challenge themselves by stepping out of their comfort zones. Everyday has been a blessing here in paradise and I am eternally grateful for the opportunities CEA has provided me. I’m a travel nerd who just can’t seem to get enough!

 Taylor Stoeckler (center left) with May Alicante students

When I was meeting the students for the first time just recently, all I could think about was how I was exactly like them one year prior. I knew how excited they must have been to finally be here after all the planning and hard work. Although their tired faces and jet lag seemed otherwise, I knew they were itching to get settled in and start living the “Spanish way.”

The students conveniently arrived in Alicante on a Sunday, also commonly known as a popular tapas night. It was the first meal we all shared in Alicante and also the first traditional Spanish food everyone ate. Tapas bars are very popular among locals because they offer quick and affordable service in a welcoming and friendly environment.  The waiters walk around with trays holding every kind of tapa imaginable for customers to grab as they choose. The tapas generally are a piece of sliced French bread with a meat or seafood garnish. Additionally, many locals complement their tapas with a 60 cent cana, or a little beer.

It didn’t take long to recognize the culture shock overcoming and confusing the new students. It was funny and interesting for me to observe the process this time because of how familiar I am now with the Spanish culture. Tapas y Canas is something that my local friends and I do regularly together. The first night is always the most shocking for students. By the end of the four weeks, everyone laughs at themselves about the first few days they lived here.

Classes began on the second day, and as part of the internship, my role is to also act as a guide for the new students. I showed everyone how to use the public transportation, where to find their classes, and what resources are available at the university. Now that I am on the other side of the study abroad process, I realize that the work doesn't end after the students arrive. It is the onsite staff’s responsibility to help students get the most out of their time abroad and ensure a complete cultural experience. The satisfaction of having a direct impact on the students’ experience is significant and worth all the time and work.

Within the first two weeks, the students mastered navigating the city, prepared for upcoming midterms, and participated in four cultural activities organized by CEA. One of these cultural activities was climbing the Castillo de Santa Barbara to give the students a sense of where they are living. This iconic site displays the history surrounding the area and provides some of the best views of the Costa Blanca.

In the following days, we visited the MARQ Museum to expound upon Alicante’s vibrant history, and visited Tabarca, an island off the coast of Alicante. This trip offered a scenic and tranquil hideaway from the excitement of city life. We had a relaxing afternoon exploring the island and bathing in the beautiful weather by the soothing Mediterranean Sea.

On our most recent excursion, we visited the coastal fishing town, La Vila Joiosa, to tour the first and only chocolate company native to Spain. The students enjoyed seeing how the products were made and tasted some samples.

Although the cultural activities may be over, the immersion doesn’t end. After two weeks, the May students are already adapting to their new environment and pushing their boundaries by enjoying new foods, salsa dancing, and exploring the Costa Blanca all on their own. Since they only have four weeks, they have more pressure to do as much as possible, while still enjoying the new places in Alicante.
In this on-site Ambassadorship role, I’ve learned that there is a lot of preparation and planning that goes into studying abroad. For example, the onsite staff must prepare all the housing for new residents and homestay families, manage multiple programs and pre-departure materials, deliver health and safety information, answer questions, and gather information the university needs before students begin their coursework as a transfer student abroad.

When I was a student, all I had to do was pack my suitcase and make it to my final destination. However, now on the other side of the spectrum, I see that the work is never-ending and constantly changing. But I realized that it’s not really work when you love what you’re doing and when students appreciate the time and effort you put into help making their experience unforgettable.

Next up for us is a weekend excursion to Madrid and when we return, we will be welcoming nine more students to Alicante!

Taylor Stoeckler is a third-time CEA alumna (Prague & Alicante Summer '13 and Alicante Spring '14). She is an Alumni Ambassador and a senior at Iowa State University.

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