In honor of International Education Week (IEW) 2021, I was asked to share some personal reflections on my professional journey. I would sum up my journey in international education as languages, locations, and love of learning. Combine that with a healthy dose of dedication, persistence, and adaptability….. and I’m very fortunate and inspired to have achieved my role as CEO & President of USAC and to lead such a unique organization and extraordinary worldwide team.
I’ve always enjoyed studying languages, especially Italian, and have always been fascinated by the beauty, music, and complexity of words and language – both spoken and on the page! To me, languages are like secret codes or puzzles to be cracked open to reveal intricate stories and histories of cultures, countries, and people. Language and cultural competencies are among several indispensable skills which students develop by studying abroad.
Fun fact: Airports are among my favorite places for the array of languages and cultures you can encounter during your travels. Students can study more than 30 languages on USAC programs with excellent professors, language partners, and homestays for optimum language and cultural immersion.
My first (eye-opening) experience with international education was in high school and that quickly snowballed to study, research, internship, and work experiences abroad during college, graduate school, and beyond. My profession has taken me to more than 30 countries, spanning from Europe to Central America to Asia, North Africa, and South America. A very fulfilling part of working at USAC is to be able to support thousands of students per year on their own study abroad journeys! Creating meaningful, affordable, authentic, and academically-strong programs is at the core of our mission at USAC.
Fun fact: I love James Bond movies for the stories and fast pace, but mostly for the fascinating worldwide locations. It’s exciting to catch glimpses of exhilarating corners of the world — including Cuba, Italy, London, Shanghai, Scotland, Germany. These are several USAC program locations to choose from!
Love of Learning:
I highly value lifelong learning. At USAC we aim to inspire this in students before, during, and after their time abroad. I’m most motivated when I’m learning something new or in an environment where learning is not only possible but encouraged. As we’ve learned during the pandemic, that can take place anywhere now: from a traditional classroom setting to an in-person or virtual internship such as those USAC offers. What’s so valuable (and beautiful!) about study abroad is that meaningful learning can result from countless types of experiences and environments. Imagine looking out an airplane window to absorb the geography, navigating large cities and tiny towns, discovering Europe’s cobblestone streets, admiring Thailand’s temples and night markets, exploring Costa Rica’s rainforests and waterfalls, experiencing China’s tea gardens and South Korea’s ultramodern skyscrapers. There are countless opportunities, places of culture, beauty, art, worship, business, history, science, sport, and so much more! Plus, USAC scholarships can help you get your feet on the ground in more than 50 cities and 30 countries!
Fun fact: Keep an open mind to unexpected opportunities. USAC students have the unique chance to volunteer and give back to their host community, have dinner with local families, join campus clubs, learn how to surf and paint, take part in local festivals, and much more. And surprises do pop up. Did you know that actor William Peterson of CSI Vegas attended USAC’s program in San Sebastián, Spain, and actor Jude Law visited our Viterbo, Italy program while filming a movie nearby? You never know who you may meet along the way.
Persistence is a lesson the pandemic has taught us. However, I find that people in the world of education have an internal drive and commitment that shines in their work with and for students. Often, that is the same fuel that inspired them to pursue their studies abroad.
Education is a world of giving of oneself and sharing one’s love for learning. For international educators, that often means the adventure of lifelong learning, branching from their own time studying and working abroad. I have never met more passionate people than those in this field (including the amazing USAC team who all have their own international life experiences!). Their eyes shine as they share their energy and personal reflections on their studies and travels. Most of all, they are eager to give back and facilitate similar opportunities for a new generation of students.
Being open to learning, collaborating, and adapting is essential to achieving personal and professional goals. Through years of teaching students, working as Resident Director abroad, and now as CEO, I greatly value the opportunity to learn from students and colleagues across USAC and the field of international and higher education.
The pandemic may have slowed us down as a field, but fortunately, the world is reopening and once again revealing its treasures and meaningful opportunities. Students, this is your time. The world — and USAC — are waiting for you and ready to guide you on your adventure.
Check out usac.edu for a world of opportunities!
Alyssa Nota, PhD
CEO & President
University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC)