Meet Megan Lee, Director of Study Abroad and Content Development at GoOverseas.com and Team Sparky cheerleader! Megan studied abroad in South Africa, Namibia, and China before returning to China to work abroad. She joined the Go Overseas team in 2011, where you can find her editing and creating original content and providing resources to encourage and support meaningful travel abroad! Megan tweets about all things study abroad at @StudyReviews and @peglegmeg (though as you’ll learn, she’s pretty sneaky when it comes to staying active on Twitter). You can learn more about her experiences abroad by checking out her spotlight! Be sure to like GoOverseas on Facebook and follow @GoOverseas on Twitter too!
1. You’ve studied abroad multiple times and even worked abroad in China. Do you feel like you became a study abroad “pro” or was each experience as new/exciting/scary as the first?
I feel so fortunate to have been able to study abroad multiple times. Each trip was different than the former, so even if I walked into my new experience with a bit more confidence, it was usually demolished in the first few days (though luckily recovered eventually!). My first trip was a faculty-led group with other students from my college, next was an island program with American students from all different colleges, and the last was an independent trip with other international students. Through my varied experiences, I learned about the different types of study abroad programs out there and how the design greatly affects a student’s ability to succeed and immerse themselves while abroad. Studying abroad should be new/exciting/scary! Life happens outside of your comfort zone, after all. :-)
2. One of the pieces of advice you give in your spotlight is to engage with the local culture. How did you engage with your local cultures (all of them!) while abroad? What advice would you give to students looking to engage with their host country’s culture?There is a misconception that going abroad is enough, that students — when exposed to different cultures — will be struck so deeply they will modify their current lifestyle in exchange for a more “open” or “multicultural” one. The reality is, educators can’t simply rely on students hopping on a plane and heading elsewhere. Our efforts in encouraging these students to spend their time effectively is what enables real change to happen. Increasingly, the conversations on “the benefits of studying abroad” are turning in this direction: challenging providers and universities to create experiences that enable students to immerse, interact, and engage with local communities. I love this.
If, on a very personal level, you hope to engage with the local culture, I would suggest doing a homestay, signing up for a local club or sports team, trying your best-est to make friends with local university students, and avoiding the temptation to travel somewhere new EVERY weekend. Explore your country Friday-Sunday as well as Monday-Thursday. Become a regular somewhere. Have your new friends teach you slang. Sign up and use local social networks (like QQ in China!). Score a trip to your new friends’ grandparents’ house smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-nowhere. Don’t hide, even unknowingly, in your American shell!
3. You mentioned that studying abroad helped you better understand your own culture and how to better represent the U.S. How did this new understanding manifest itself?
It is true that removing yourself from American culture for an extended period of time can help you see things a bit, er, clearer (for better or worse). Witnessing American news, politics, trends, etc, with the lenses of a life abroad, helps you realize just how SILLY a lot of what we (unfortunately) focus our time/efforts on is. I think the biggest lesson I learned in this respect is the transience of it all, and how not to get overly caught up in the hype of things.
Traveling also helped me become less materialistic in my everyday life (though I do have the occasional rebound at Target, come on, I am a woman after all!). I realized that consumerism is a part of American culture (step 1) and challenged myself to make it less centric to my overall well being (step 2). Making shopping less of a hobby and more an activity borne of necessity is not an easy transition, but I’m a work in progress. Another unexpected manifestation of my newfound perspectives on our culture derived, in part, from the behavior of other American expats, travelers, and tourists I met on the road. For whatever reason, it seems more striking when you’re all tossed into a foreign culture. You’re not only comparing them to the locals, but other internationals, as well as yourself. I’m very conscious of my actions now, especially when abroad.
Traveling also helped me have a lot more American pride! Now I relish in the idea of being “an American different to the stereotypes” (sorry, no Hollywood bod here!) and serving as a small ambassador for our country. We are so fortunate to live in a country where most individuals live comfortably and have their basic needs met. We have freedoms other individuals can only dream of. I strive to never take any of these gifts and privileges for granted.
4. What is a “typical” day in the life (if such a thing exists) in your role as Director of Study Abroad at GoOverseas.com like?
Working in a startup environment means that most days are unlike the others – there’s always some new problem to be solved, new project to experiment with, new relationships to form (which is exciting and invigorating!). Most of my mornings are spent tackling my inbox and editing / publishing the content that you find on our blog each day. This is my most creative outlet for work, so I enjoy it quite a bit. I spend my lunch hours at a nearby yoga studio each day, which is the perfect break from crouching over my laptop!
Afternoons are spent increasing my knowledge of the tech and study abroad space, reaching out to universities and alumni, managing the providers/users in our study abroad section, checking over reviews, and, as you may have noticed, tweeting up a storm. :-)
5. What’s the most challenging aspect of your work in international education? The most rewarding?
The most rewarding part of working in international education is the life changing transformations you see happening in young people every day. Studying abroad is an easy first step, a gateway drug (if you will), towards creating a generation of individuals looking to explore communities outside their own. These organic changes in students’ mentality is so powerful and important, and I love being a (small) part of it.
The most challenging aspect of my current role in international education is getting long-standing institutions, like universities, on board with the emergence of study abroad and tech. Personally, I struggle with thinking of study abroad as a business or an industry – in my head, we should all just promote the good word of study abroad, regardless of how a student gets there (company XYZ versus program PQR versus [insert acronym]). The biggest struggles for the industry as a whole are making better quality programs abroad (increasing students’ engagement and ability to deeply learn), diversifying the types of students studying abroad, and combatting the cost restraints that limit accessibility.
6. You’re very active on Twitter and always sharing new posts and articles within the IE community. What do you do when you’re not thinking/tweeting/working on study abroad-related stuff? Is that even possible?
To be honest, I don’t even have a smartphone, so Twitter, etc is not an ongoing part of my day. I use different apps to space out my posts (and trick everyone into thinking I am up at 5am every day and still tweeting at midnight!). When I am at the office, I am literally “Go Go Go,” but have found a good balance outside of it. I don’t usually bring my computer home and I rarely use it on the weekends. I blame the beautiful sunshine in the Bay Area for this (I feel so guilty sitting inside!).
I really enjoy being active, so you can usually find me on my bike exploring a new neighborhood, enjoying a beer, practicing my guitar, rooting for Chicago and San Francisco sports teams, booking my next flight to somewhere new, and treating every day like the adventure it is.