What started as a summer studying abroad in Mexico has turned into a career in international education for Madrid Summer '02 alumnus and IES Abroad employee John Colhouer.
Meet our alum of the month, and learn about what led him from Mexico to Madrid, and software trainer to study abroad professional!
What led you to Madrid for your study abroad experience?
After studying for a summer in Mexico, I realized how interested I had become in the history of the language. In order to diversify my background, I wanted to travel to Spain where I could learn more about a culture that had impacted such a large part of the world. My study abroad adviser played a major role helping me identify Madrid as the epicenter for what might be considered by many as the hub for Spanish culture.
When you first arrived in Madrid, did you have any career goals in mind for after college?
Like many students, my future after college was fairly nebulous. During school I initially envied those students who clearly knew what they wanted to do. However, I'm incredibly grateful that my willingness to experiment educationally and professionally fostered situations that allowed me to pursue a field that is meaningful and personally relevant. Flexibility is a strength that many students underestimate when pursuing their degrees, myself included.
How did studying abroad influence you in your career path?
After returning from Madrid, I recognized that international education had undeniably changed my perspective. Until I was 18 years old, I lived in a rural part of Southeast Missouri that remained fairly isolated from other more populated areas in the Mississippi Delta. To my surprise, each study abroad experience reaffirmed that while local culture, language, and food may be different in other geographies; all human needs mapped similarly and were fairly universal. It was this observation that motivated me to consider the importance of studying in foreign contexts and how to present the idea to others.
Before working in international education, I worked in both the government and technology sectors as a software trainer. In these roles, the absence of study abroad became increasingly apparent in my professional satisfaction. When the opportunity presented itself to work in study abroad, I leaped forward. For the past six years, I’ve been fortunate to work in almost every aspect of the field: college relations, student advising, resident director (on-site), student services, as well as faculty-led programming.
What does your job at IES Abroad involve? What would you consider to be the highlights of your career?
As the College Relations Manager for the Southern United States, I travel throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi while serving as the IES Abroad main contact for study abroad offices. In my position, I recruit students, manage curricular integration (identifying course matches), as well as advise prospective and accepted students. I also coordinate orientations, student information sessions, and work with IES Abroad Ambassadors to host events relevant to prospective students and alumni throughout the semester.
Working with different colleges across a geographically diverse area fosters the opportunity to share the impact of study abroad. This is one of many highlights in my current role. By presenting study abroad as a tangible reality, I am grateful that my personal experiences help me to present the importance that international education may have on a student.
What advice would you give students who are thinking of going abroad?
Take ownership of your experience while making it yours. When taking those first uncertain steps, take them with purpose. By taking chances, you may discover passions that were never familiar yet become foundations of interests that define the rest of your life.