We are pleased to announce the 2015 Ambassadors of the year, Alyssa Suhm (Beijing, Spring 2013) and Nikki Varitimidis (Rio de Janeiro, Spring 2013).
Currently a senior at Villanova University, Alyssa’s interest in China began in high school when she started studying Mandarin Chinese, and has developed into a lifelong passion for the language, people, and culture of China. She explains, “I began to understand that China would be a defining global power during my lifetime, and I became determined to immerse myself in a country so vital to international relations and global climate change.”
And so she did just that when she went to Beijing to study on the Contemporary Issues in China Program (now Contemporary China & Chinese Language). Outside of classes, Alyssa practiced Mandarin with her homestay family, took part in IES Abroad field trips, and developed friendships with local students. “The IES Abroad Beijing Program enabled a cultural exchange that lent immediacy and relevancy to my education as I began to understand my relationship to the world as an ambassador of my knowledge and of my country.”
When she returned to Villanova as a junior, Alyssa became actively involved in the IES Abroad Ambassador Program. She also helped Villanova’s Office for Education Abroad create its own student ambassador program. By leading and organizing information sessions, predeparture orientations, and other on-campus events, Alyssa was able to encourage fellow students to take part in study abroad programs. She has further proven herself an excellent Ambassador by helping with online projects, such as emailing future Beijing students and participating in social media outreach. After she graduates in May, Alyssa plans to return to China to continue her professional and academic career.
An alumna of the University of South Carolina, Nikki was one of the first students on our Rio de Janeiro Study Brazil Program in Spring 2013. Given her interest in International Business, Rio was the perfect location for Nikki because of its diverse culture and position as an emerging economic and political power. “I felt I had an obligation to not be a tourist, but to engage myself as a traveler and active resident,” she explains. Nikki immersed herself in local life by taking courses alongside Brazilian students, living in a homestay, and getting involved in Brazil’s social change movements. Nikki soon came to appreciate the impact that cultural immersion can have on a person’s worldview. “I think that the ability to feel at home in a foreign country and, most importantly, to feel one with the people there is the ultimate way to obtain global understanding.”
When she returned home from Rio, Nikki became actively involved in international education outreach at the University of South Carolina. She served as a Peer Advisor at her Study Abroad Office, led numerous predeparture orientations and information sessions, and spoke to Portuguese language classes about her time in Rio. Nikki further exemplified her Ambassador Program commitments by sharing advice with future Rio students, and taking part in social media outreach.
Nikki is now working as a Financial Analyst at Eaton Corporation in South Carolina. She says, “As my international business career begins, I know that I am now equipped with a global perspective that cannot be solely taught in a classroom but is necessary to be successful.”
Watch videos of Nikki sharing her advice on our IES Abroad Rio YouTube Page:
- Why Rio is a great place to study abroad
- Health and safety in Rio
- How is the education system different in Rio?
- What it’s like to live in a Brazilian homestay
IES Abroad Ambassador Program
Alyssa and Nikki are part of a group of 800+ alumni volunteers known as the IES Abroad Ambassadors. Each term, IES Abroad Center staff nominate students who made the most of their time abroad to become Ambassadors. Their most significant contributions include study abroad outreach on their home school campuses, responding to student questions via email, and participating in social media outreach. To be considered for the Ambassador of the Year award, a nominee must serve as an Ambassador for at least one year and submit the Ambassador of the Year Application.