GoAbroad Interview

Eike Gundersen - Director of Institutional Relations

Eike Gundersen - Director of Institutional Relations

Born and raised in Germany, Eike has worked at the U.S. Embassies and Consulates in Frankfurt, Germany and Kiev, Ukraine as well as the US-Norway Fulbright Foundation in Oslo, Norway. Since then, she has pursued her passion for International Education, establishing partnerships between European and U.S. universities, facilitating student exchanges, and marketing study abroad and internship programs to U.S. and international students. In her free time, Eike loves to travel, play volleyball, and spend time on the beach with her family. 

You grew up in Northern Germany, spent time on a study exchange in Texas, and have worked in Germany, Ukraine, and Norway. How did you get connected with Atlantis Project?

I believe that, in addition to determination, much in life is sheer coincidence. If I hadn’t grown up in a small fishing town in Northern Germany, I may not have had such a strong urge to go out and explore the rest of the world. If I hadn’t studied in Texas, I wouldn’t have gotten my first real job at the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, where I met my husband, a U.S. Foreign Service officer. If I hadn’t moved to different countries and worked at various Embassies, I might not have become interested in international education. If I had not gained the experience I have now, the Atlantis Project might not have offered me the position as Director of Institutional Relations.

Atlantis Project staff at the University of Georgia study abroad fair

Eike at the University of Georgia study abroad fair with their bulldog mascot.

What does a typical day look like as the Director of Institutional Relations?

The first step is to check any new e-mails or voice mail messages that may have come in overnight. My goal is to respond to inquiries from advisors and faculty members at U.S. institutions within 24 hours. I then proceed with various ongoing projects (e.g. conference and fair registrations, conference session proposals, introducing the AP to new partner institutions) before I move on to more complex assignments, like working with faculty and advisors on the design of group internships and drafting MOU’s for various customized programs. As you can imagine, every day is different as new requests and projects come in, but I enjoy the variability of my position. 

Your educational background is in American Studies, Spanish, and Economics. These are all very different subject areas, how do you apply them to your work establishing partnerships with international institutions?

Growing up in Germany but living and working in the U.S. has created a lifelong interest in and fascination with transatlantic relations. My major in American Studies helped tremendously by exposing me to U.S. history, culture, and language. It taught me to understand the differences and the similarities between the U.S. and Europe. Although my Spanish is a bit rusty, it is helpful to have studied the language in order to motivate students to pursue foreign language learning. Understanding at least the basics of Economics is useful for any professional position.

For my position at the Atlantis Project, it is important to comprehend the often difficult financial and economic situation of students at U.S. colleges and universities. Keeping international experiences affordable while maintaining a high quality of programs and services is an important mandate for the Atlantis Project. Our goal is to facilitate substantial growth in study/internship abroad participation numbers which corresponds to the mandate or goal many U.S. institutions have.

You speak four languages, German, English, Norwegian, and Spanish. How is language learning incorporated into Atlantis Project’s internship programming? What is the importance of language learning to you?

I am a big believer in language learning! We are all familiar with the argument that English is spoken all over the world so why encourage students to acquire a foreign language? Well, there simply is no better way to reach deep into another culture and society without the effort to understand or speak its language. Even the most minimal attempt of language learning during short-term programs like ours is appreciated by the host country and enriches a student’s intellectual toolkit.

the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador

Eike in the Amazon forest of Ecuador.

How did your time as a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) student at the University of Texas-Austin impact your path to working in the field of International Education?

I can honestly say that this year-long scholarship provided by the German government changed my life and opened up so many new avenues. First of all, it provided the financial means to live and study in the U.S. for an extended period of time. Nothing allows you to gain so many insights about your home country than venturing outside of it. In addition, my English language skills increased dramatically, and I became more independent young adult as well as a better thinker and writer.

The time spent at the University of Texas also led to my first “real” job in the American Consulate General in Frankfurt because the position called for a native German who was fluent in English and had lived in North America (i.e., had a deeper understanding of the American way of life). I am convinced of the positive impact of study abroad and really feel the urge to “give back” by providing the next generation of students with similar opportunities.

You spent time working for the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in both Frankfurt and Kiev, as well as time with the Fulbright Foundation in Oslo. These are quite heavy hitting organizations. What are some of your biggest takeaways from your time in these roles? How have they helped you in your work with Atlantis Project?

My work in U.S. Embassies and Consulates was invaluable in gaining an insight and understanding of how international diplomacy is conducted, how issues are resolved, how mutual respect between nations is developed. I have a deep appreciation of the often difficult and challenging work Foreign Service Officers and Embassy staff do. My position at the U.S.- Norway Fulbright Foundation Office and U.S. Education Advising Center made me realize how important honest and expert advising about international opportunities is. Seeing students’ eyes light up when they have identified a program that fits their needs perfectly is immensely gratifying and keeps me motivated to this day.

the Equator in Ecuador

Eike at the Equator in Ecuador.

You’ve worked for a few other large international education and student exchange providers, what prompted your move to a smaller more program provider focused on hospital internships abroad?

I believe in change and in challenging myself. After working in student exchanges for over 10 years, I was eager to learn more about the field of international education and to remind myself what our efforts are all about…enabling students to have all different kinds of opportunities for an international experience. I really enjoyed the direct and personal contact with students and university advisors in my role as Regional Director for a large general study abroad provider, but I now cherish the challenge to “create and develop” new relationships between U.S. institutions and the Atlantis Project. My task is not only to familiarize institutional partners with our programs, but also to convince them of the quality of experiences we can provide for a students in health sciences who generally have a difficult time to find suitable programs.

You also worked in International Fares for Delta Airlines for a little over a year. Granted it was many years ago,what travel/airport/ticket booking tips do you have for students?

Traveling is my passion! I do all the airfare booking and travel planning for my family and love finding a good deal. A few tips: Use different search engines that compare airfares and providers and if you are looking for a specific trip and dates, enter a search alert so you get notified of airfare increases or decreases. If you see a cheap airfare, book it, don’t wait! Airfares vary widely and are often unpredictable. Check often and check in mid-week rather than on weekends only. I could go on and on…

You love to play volleyball, bike, and spend time at the beach, what beach would you recommend students visit while in the Azores Islands? The Canary Islands?

I have not been to the Azores, unfortunately, but hope to visit soon. However, I have spent time on two Canary Islands a while ago: Tenerife and Lanzarote, both beautiful and very different. While Tenerife is larger and probably more varied in landscape and vegetation, Lanzarote is fascinating because of its arid volcanic landscape. There are great beaches on both islands so go and visit!

the U.S. Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C.

Eike at the U.S. Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC.

With over 11 years of experience in the field of International Education and tons of travel, what has been your biggest accomplishment?

Knowing that I’ve helped students participate in international experiences that will change their own lives and their understanding of the rest of the world. I truly believe that there is not a single student who is not positively affected in some way by his or her time abroad. Perhaps I am also a bit proud of the fact that over the years I have gained the respect and trust of quite a few colleagues in the field. So many of them are incredibly dedicated and hard-working, it really is a privilege to work with them on a daily basis!

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your job with Atlantis Project?

Being able to contribute to Atlantis Project’s growth in student participation numbers and program options by establishing connections and collaborations with U.S. universities. Using creativity and ideas to design new programs, like customized group internships for individual institutions, or faculty-led short-term programs for undergraduate students. And last but not least, developing close relationships with advisors and faculty members to promote meaningful international experiences for students considering a career in health professions.