We caught up with Joe, an AIFS alum who spent his Fall ’91 semester in Spain almost 30 years ago. Despite nearly three decades having passed by, he still feels incredibly impacted by his study abroad experience in Salamanca and is grateful that his experience led to a change in career paths, long-lasting friendships, and new discoveries about himself and his familial ties to his host country.
How has your study abroad experience impacted your educational goals and career?
My experience studying in Salamanca completely altered my life path, and that is not hyperbole. Up until that semester I was a West Virginia kid at a small technical college, on a set trajectory that included working in a printing plant as a plant manager (undergrad B.S., printing management), most likely in a small-market city in the south. That semester exposed me to so many different people and experiences and completely changed my worldview (not to mention finally enabling me to visit and talk to my relatives in Spain, who didn’t speak English).
After my Salamanca studies, I changed my career path. After graduation, I moved back to Spain (Oviedo) to live and teach English, and then I worked in editorial management for magazines in San Francisco for many years. Finally moving back to the Washington, D.C. metro region, I changed specializations again to nonprofit management and ended up at NAFSA, helping to promote and sustain international education, which seems only fitting, given my transformative experience with study abroad.
How has your study abroad experience impacted other areas of your life?
It really opened up my eyes to people who were completely different to anyone I’d ever known. Honestly, I had a better understanding of Spain and Spaniards from my familial connections there than I did of New York, New England, and California—places I had never been at that point in my life. For a kid from small-town WV to meet students from NYU, Cal, etc., who represented all ethnic backgrounds under the sun was transformative. And I’m 99% sure I was the first West Virginian many of them had met, so it was real cross-cultural exchange even before we left JFK airport!
Have you been back to your study abroad location since your time abroad?
I’ve been back to Spain many times (I still have family in Asturias and Madrid), but alas, have not yet made it back to Salamanca.
Are you still in contact with other students or anyone you met during your time abroad?
The best man at my wedding (and my best friend to this day) was my roommate from Salamanca. Additionally, I am still in close contact with many of my fellow students from that trip, both in the program and Spanish students as well. The long-lasting relationships with people from around the world are really my number one takeaway.
Are there any activities or traditions from your semester in Spain that you have continued back in the US?
Well, my family is Spanish, so we already had a lot of Spanish food and customs around the house.
What are your top destinations for future travel?
Roman ruins in Italy; Japan; Australia/New Zealand
Any advice for students who are considering studying abroad?
Be prepared for this semester to completely change who you thought you were and the course you thought you were on in life. Also, be open to everything and everyone. Be safe, have fun!
Any advice for recently returned study abroad students?
Don’t be “that person” who compares everything at home to everything in your host country. You’ll know what I mean when you get back.
Anything else you want to add?
I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to study abroad. Part of my work at NAFSA is helping to ensure all students have that same opportunity and I’m very proud to be a part of that work.