A Worldly Career

Study abroad leads alumni to careers in international education

June 17, 2010

Dean "Rocky" Rockwell, ’10, believes every student should study abroad.

“I really believe it’s an important experience to have,” says Rockwell, who studied in France, Spain, Argentina, and Chile during high school and college. “The best way to grow as a person is to be out of your comfort zone in another place and to reexamine yourself in a foreign context. It is key to growing as a person.”

Today, Rockwell is a study abroad advisor at the University of Florida where he assists UF students studying in Spanish-speaking countries. He is one of many Richmond graduates who are so deeply influenced by their experiences studying abroad that they choose a career in international education. Their backgrounds, majors, and experiences vary, but these alumni have one thing in common: a belief in the transformative power of international study.

Matt Washburn, ’95, was an international studies major at Richmond. He studied abroad in France, then taught English in the small village of Ketsoprony, Hungary, for a year after graduation as part of a program supported by UR.

Currently he works as a program officer in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Education. “I represent accredited universities to establish links with other universities abroad trying to establish study abroad programs for Americans,” he explains.

At Richmond, international studies majors are required to study abroad for at least one semester — a requirement Washburn appreciates. “That helped me to get my feet out the door and start seeing the world,” he says. “Even if studying abroad is not a requirement for [a student’s major] do not miss the opportunity to do it.”

After his year in Hungary, Washburn traveled around Europe, trying everything from working in a Bosnian refugee camp to a German factory. He got his masters degree at Central European University in Budapest, then returned to Richmond to work in the Office of International Education as an international program coordinator.

He then worked at the Peace Corps’ Washington headquarters before taking on assignments in Mongolia from 2004–06, then Kyrgyzstan from 2006–09.

“I loved watching how Americans from all different ages and all different backgrounds were able to adapt to living in very challenging circumstances and make the best of the challenges that were presented to them,” he says.

Opening Doors

Lindsey Ryan, ’06, has just returned to the states after working in Mexico for the past four years, most recently as coordinator of international programs at a university in Zacatecas, Mexico. At Richmond, Ryan was a double major in sociology and Spanish with a minor in women, gender, and sexuality studies. She spent a semester during her junior year in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“Studying abroad opened my eyes personally, academically, and professionally,” she says. “I was able to take an inside look at the relationship with our closest neighbor and use that new knowledge to broaden my goals and abilities. I became fluent in a language that is very relevant in today's globalized world and opened new doors once I left UR.”

Abigail Ward, ’03, joined Richmond’s Office of International Education (OIE) in 2005 as a study abroad adviser. She is responsible for Richmond's study abroad programs in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, and Russia, and she also works with incoming exchange students from these countries.

She began working in the office as a student assistant after returning from a semester in Germany during her junior year. This student position was followed by an internship.

Ward majored in political science and German, and during her internship, discovered she was interested in working in higher education. She left Richmond to work at The College of William and Mary’s law school, where she found she missed having an international connection. She returned to Richmond to take on her current role and has since earned her Master of Education degree from William and Mary.

“I like seeing the change in the students after they have an international experience because one way or another, they all are changed by it,” she says. “… I like seeing how it affects their career choices and their lives afterwards. Sometimes it changes the outlook of what they want to do with their lives.”

Preparing for a Career in International Education

Michele Cox, Richmond’s director of study abroad, herself studied in Poland as an undergraduate at Muhlenberg College. She advises students who think they may be interested in a career in international education to apply for an internship in the OIE, or to work as a peer mentor or a volunteer with the Ambassador’s Club, which pairs Richmond students with international students.

Students who are interested in working in international education should also have strong computer skills, experience with intercultural communications and at least an introduction to international studies, she says. And of course, they should also have firsthand experience living abroad.

“Accumulate experiences,” she advises. “Not just the study abroad experience, but work abroad or teach abroad during a summer, volunteer abroad — try to gain as much experience as you can.”