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Study-abroad opportunities inspire life of travel

Wendy Mason ’01 had never left the United States until a St. Norbert music tour. The travel bug bit, and she embarked on a semester abroad; then a graduate education in international travel; and on to her job at SIT Study Abroad School for International Training, where she is assistant director of admissions. On a recent visit to campus, Wendy spoke with John Devroy (Office of Communications). (This was not the first time the two of them had chatted: Devroy is Mason’s uncle.)

Q: What first gave you the itch to travel?
Study abroad was something I really wanted to take advantage of during my college career, and I knew St. Norbert had a great international office that worked with students that had that interest and had a lot of offerings. I had heard from a student that had just come back from Japan at the time, and that just made me more excited about the prospect to go to SNC.

Q: Your experience at St. Norbert College really influenced your life in a rather large way. Can you talk about that?
The first time I actually left the U.S. was with the music department at St. Norbert, Dr. Michael Rosewall and the crew took the entire instrumental and vocal to Europe for a tour. We went through Austria, Germany and Italy; and I knew then I had the travel bug. So then I started researching. I ended up directly enrolling at University College Cork in Ireland. My experience abroad was amazing. I had a great international office at UCC in Cork that were very supportive as well. I remember sitting in their office with one of the women there once, thinking, this is such a great job. 

When I graduated, I actually started in a career more in the photography, digital imaging realm, working with a photo lab for about three years before I got that [travel] itch again. Somebody mentioned to me that I ought to look into graduate programs, and so I started to look at international studies or international education, doing a master’s; and SIT Graduate Institute came up. I asked Rosemary Sands [then study abroad director] about SIT. They have actually had interns from SIT work in the international office at SNC. They were well aware of the program and spoke of it very highly, and that sort of sealed the deal. I decided to move out to Vermont and got accepted into SIT and began my graduate work.

Q: You went through the program and then what happened?
Part of the program included a practicum. I looked at opportunities there and the first thing that came up actually was working with the SIT Study Abroad Program based in Dublin. The program theme was Peace & Conflict Studies. I applied for that and I was very lucky to be able to work as a program assistant in a two-person office in Dublin, and we ran it for a semester together with nine students from various colleges around the U.S. I traveled a lot of Ireland with them, speaking with people about peace and conflict studies. Somewhere half-way through that practicum (it was a six-month practicum) a job opportunity in the admissions office at SIT Study Abroad, based in Brattleboro, Vermont, came up. So literally a week after my practicum ended with SIT, I returned to Brattleboro and began full-time as a staff member in their admissions department.

Q: What are you doing now?
While I do admissions and work with students procuring visas and preparing them for a semester abroad, I also have an opportunity now to use my communication and even graphic arts skills doing some of the marketing, email marketing and outreach to potential students who would be a good fit, good matches for SIT. It’s a great field because you are really never quite sure what skills you are going to end up needing, besides a passion for international work and trying to give students that opportunity you’ve had in the past.

Q: Can you share a little more about SIT? 
SIT Study Abroad is a third-party provider that creates study-abroad programs and markets them to college students throughout the U.S. We send students out the door and hope they come back with their lives changed, basically. Our programs include a lot of primary research. A lot of students sometimes afterward will go back to continue their research in the country where they had studied abroad. They’ll end up with Fulbright scholarships; some of them will use their projects for graduate work later on. It is really great to see what they do afterward.

Q: You’ve had a lot of opportunity to travel, as part of this. Can you tell me about some of the places you have been?
I’ve been to Iceland, the Netherlands, of course Ireland, Northern Ireland, Argentina, let me see… India, China, Vietnam. I’m heading to South Africa soon and who knows where else, yeah! France, Spain, …

Q: We recently heard of an incident where a student studying abroad in Italy was killed by a stranger. When something like that happens, does your office get a lot of calls from parents of prospective students about the safety of these programs?
We do get that often, from parents and schools and students themselves – especially if they are planning to go to the region or the country where the incident happened. The Nepal earthquake last summer was an example. We have three programs that run in Nepal and were preparing to send students to Nepal for a summer program right before that happened. Risk assessment is a big deal in international education and the study-abroad world. We have close relationships with people in U.S. embassies in each location where we run programs, and it helps us keep our ear to the floors. Common sense is a part of it, staying knowledgeable about your location. I mean even New York City ... that’s often an example we bring up when speaking to parents. There are parts of New York City you would not want to go by yourself at night. It could be Johannesburg, South Africa, or it could be another place you are sending your students, and they just have to be aware of where safe zones are … traveling with others, even down to if there are taxi companies that are more reputable than others. We are always thinking about it. Safety is absolutely first and foremost on any study-abroad program.

Nov. 1, 2016