IES Abroad: As an undergraduate at the Bowdoin College, what inspired you to study abroad in Freiburg, Germany? Was this your first time traveling abroad?
Jeffrey (Jeff) Neill (JN): When I arrived at Bowdoin, the school had recently made the decision to require all students who wanted to study abroad to do so in a program related to their declared major. I thought I would be an Economics major – but that changed after Econ 101 and 102! But because studying abroad was a part of why I picked Bowdoin, I picked up German, which I had studied throughout high school, as a double major to ensure my ability to study abroad. Then when the time came, there had been a steady stream of Bowdoin students who went to Freiburg and had great things to say. I think there were four or five of us from my class at Bowdoin that went to Freiburg. I ended up switching my Economics major to Government & Legal Studies, and so the coursework at Freiburg was a perfect fit for this. And, yes, this was my first time out of the USA, other than a family vacation when I was young to the Caribbean.
IES Abroad: You’re now a college counselor at international schools and are based in Brazil. What brought you there?
JN: My wife and I were fairly well established within the U.S. boarding school world, and then I was contacted by a consultant looking to fill a role as Director of College Counseling at Taipei American School in Taiwan. We talked about moving our family — including children of four and six at the time — overseas and decided to take the leap. We loved it right away and even regretted not having done it sooner. After a few years in Taiwan, we grew eager to explore other schools, so we searched across the globe and landed at The International School of Dakar in Senegal. We had a wonderful seven months there before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everything. We were locked down there and made the decision to find a new home. When we examined what we were looking for, we quickly targeted South America, and we were soon connected with Graded. Things worked out, and we’ve loved our experience there.
IES Abroad: Can you also tell us a bit more about your current position? What path led you to become a counselor and what is the most rewarding aspect of your job working with students?
JN: I began my career as an English teacher and as a coach. Early in my career, at the schools where I was working, the vast majority of my students on my boys lacrosse and girls soccer teams aspired to play college sports, so I became very involved in their recruitment and college search process, eventually taking over as their college counselor. I had been writing letters of recommendation throughout my career, and then one day a head of school asked me to make the move fully into college counseling. I love the work because it gives me the opportunity to work with and to get to know students at a much deeper level. I think there is little more gratifying than discussing with a student what they want their future to look like. I soon found that this was a great fit for me. While I truly love working with students, over the years, I developed a comparable love for working with schools and other counselors as well. So while my day job is as Director of College Counseling at Graded in São Paulo, I also work with a number of groups to train counselors, including UCLA, Cialfo, and BMI/Times Higher Education. This is rewarding in a very different way and allows me to feel that in growing the skills of other counselors that I am impacting even more students’ futures.
IES Abroad: How did your study abroad experience “plant the seed” to be open to living and working abroad as an adult?
JN: My time in Freiburg was truly formative. I remember vividly getting off the plane in Frankfurt, flying in from Detroit, and being struck by how different everything was from what I was familiar with. The language, the architecture, the food, the culture. It was intoxicating. And certainly my time in Freiburg further allowed this fascination with travel to flourish even more. Trips to Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, other parts of Germany and more allowed me to grow a better sense of myself and what I hoped for in life. This experience in Freiburg planted the seed for the life I live now. I love visiting new places, and my family and I have done an amazing amount of travel. My professional work also facilitates a lot of travel. Just in the past year, professional opportunities afforded me the chance to visit the Czech Republic, Spain, England, Switzerland, Singapore, India, Guatemala, and Colombia. Germany was the third country I had visited, and when I visit Portugal later this year, I’ll have visited 45 countries around the world, and I look back to my time in Freiburg as having planted this seed and love for travel. Of course, when we moved abroad, these opportunities accelerated, and I found the same attraction and appeal of living in foreign countries and learning local cultures. While my German is awful now after many years of not practicing, I have picked up basic Chinese and French as well as more advanced Portuguese, though I am still learning.
IES Abroad: What benefits do you believe individuals gain from study and/or living abroad? Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about study abroad?
JN: Living abroad taps into my love of learning. There is always more to learn, from language to culture, but I am always struck by the ways in which living abroad, like travel, challenges me to reflect on my own identity, my own privilege, and my own impact on the world. I have grown and developed in more ways than I can possibly count in living outside of the United States. And coming back to my time in Freiburg, it all started there for me. As such, I would strongly recommend every student seriously consider studying abroad as way to see the world, but also as a way to get to know themselves better. There really is nothing like it!
Learn more about studying abroad in Freiburg, and check out all of our Alumni Spotlights and Alum of the Month profiles to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives and careers of our past students.