In 2010, alum Jay Stokes embarked on the journey of a lifetime and headed to Rome, Italy to study abroad with AIFS. Little did he know that his experience would have such an impact that he would eventually go on to work in the field of study abroad for a major state university in New York. Jay is proof that going abroad and being passionate about international education can help land you the job of your dreams. We recently ran into this alum at the annual NAFSA conference, and he was kind enough to answer some questions.
How has your study abroad experience impacted your educational goals and career (including your current job, if applicable)?
More than I ever expected! Working backwards: I’m currently a Program Coordinator for Education Abroad at the University at Albany, SUNY. I’m humbled to say that I was recruited for this position in December of 2016. The person who recruited me has been a mentor since I studied abroad in Grad school in Summer of 2012. They led a course on comparative higher education where we visited universities in China, Korea and Japan. It was an outstanding experience and I maintained my connection with my mentor since then. I was a Residence Hall Director at Northern Arizona University previously and was able to integrate my cross cultural understanding to that role as well. And I may have NOT even studied abroad in Grad school if I didn’t spend a semester in Rome, Italy in undergrad. AIFS and the [my host university] helped launch me onto a path that, years later, directly impacted my professional career.
How has your study abroad experience impacted other areas of your life?
Academically, I was able to take courses like Ancient Roman History and meet for class in the Colosseum, or Art History of the Renaissance and meet for class in the Sistine Chapel! Experiences like this are impossible to replicate on a screen or in a book. And thus, ignited my interest in history and the culture within it. Professionally, I’m in the job I am today partly because of my study abroad experience! Personally, I’m a more cross-culturally competent person who enjoys engaging with difference and I’m also more confident in my own skin because of this. Finally, the friendships I’ve made have been invaluable. My roommate from Rome is going to stand up at my wedding!
Have you been back to your study abroad location since your time abroad?
No! But I would love to. Unfortunately, without the assistance of financial aid, it’s difficult to return. I hope with my new role in international education, I will be able to visit soon to build partnerships with universities in Italy. I think this is a key point for college students – go now, because you might not be able to later! And applying financial aid, scholarships and grants, as well as getting academic credit for it, is quite a deal!
Are you still in contact with other students or anyone you met during your time abroad?
Yes, almost every single person! I just met my Resident Director at the national NAFSA conference and connected with other AIFS staff! My friends on the program and I also have a very active Facebook page. I’ve gotten together with a few folks in person, too!
Are there any activities or traditions from your time abroad that you have continued back in the US?
I would regularly vlog my experiences in Italy and I’ve kept this practice up since returning. This has turned into a life practice of digital video journaling for me. I’ve also tried to walk more or take public transportation. And I even cook Italian food occasionally!
What are your top destinations for future travel?
Definitely back to Italy! But also to other destinations in Europe and Australia – I’ll be working with exchange students from many institutions there, as well as sending US students to those same institutions!
Any advice for students who are considering studying abroad?
You don’t know now how much of an impact this will have. It could be years before you really see the benefits. However, if you go into it with an attitude focused on soaking it all in and reflecting intentionally, I guarantee this will change your life. It might seem expensive, but think of it as an investment in yourself and your future. Remember that you can travel later, but you can never go back to where you are now in life and in your own growth again – so, do it! Still making up excuses? Go talk to your study abroad office at your campus and ask them all the questions and discuss all the barriers. If you have “FOMO” for all the things at your current school, reverse that and think about what you’ll miss out on abroad if you don’t go! Trust me, all the stuff you are doing now can wait a semester until you get back. The students who graduate college and studied abroad always list it as a highlight. The students who didn’t list it as one of their biggest regrets. So ask yourself: what are you willing to regret?
Any advice for recently returned study abroad students?
If you don’t actively and intentionally engage in reflection on your experience, you will miss out on more than you realize right now. Please don’t tell people “it was awesome!” when they ask, “How as it?” Instead, find a way to inspire them through a story or specific experience you had. Please don’t talk about the food – no one cares. But you could talk about how taking that cooking class helped you network with locals and understand the culture. Finally, ask your university staff how you can be involved as a returnee and global ambassador for your experience. Students who are considering going abroad want to hear from YOU!
Anything else you want to add?
AIFS did an excellent job putting together a valuable and memorable experience for me abroad. If you are reading this and want to chat please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
This post was contributed by Jay Stokes, an alum who studied abroad with AIFS in Rome, Italy in 2010.