Sarah Burrichter - Ambassador Program Coordinator & Rio de Janeiro Program Advisor
Sarah earned her Bachelors in Political Science and International Relations from Hope College, and is currently pursuing her Masters of Education in International Higher Education at Loyola University Chicago. During her undergraduate studies, Sarah studied abroad in Brussels and India, and interned in Washington D.C. Prior to her work at IES Abroad, she pursued her passion for social justice and adventure through Americorps, WOOFing, and teaching English in France through TAPIF. Sarah now lives in Chicago.
How did you originally get connected to IES Abroad?
Through studying abroad in undergrad and teaching English in France after graduation, I realized my passion for cross-cultural learning and the profound impact international experiences can have on individual’s identity and worldview. It wasn’t until after college that I realized there was a related career path for this passion - international education. My sister-in-law had studied on the IES Abroad Vienna Music Program, and recommend that after I return home from France I pursue professional opportunities with IES Abroad. I did just that, and I have now worked at IES Abroad for almost three years.
You have two separate roles at IES Abroad, Ambassador Program Coordinator and Program Advisor. What does a typical day look like for you?
As the Ambassador Program Coordinator, I communicate with 800+ IES Abroad Ambassadors through email regarding events on their campuses and Ambassador Program projects. I enjoy coming up with innovative international education outreach projects for Ambassadors, and working with students from over 200 schools in the United States. In a typical day, I communicate with students through email about the Ambassador Program, track Ambassadors’ participation in our program, and assign Ambassadors projects to do electronically or on their campus.
One of my favorite parts of my job is when I travel to college campuses to train Ambassadors. It is so fun getting to hear their stories and learning how excited they are to encourage their classmates to go abroad.
As the Rio de Janeiro Program Advisor, I speak with students through phone calls and emails to help them prepare for their studies in Rio. I talk to them about everything from Brazilian culture, to the extensive Brazilian visa process. The Rio students are a motivated, adventurous, and open-minded group. I really enjoy helping them prepare for what’s likely to be the best semester of their college experience.
You work with over 800 IES Abroad alumni in the Ambassador Program, what question/concern do you hear most often from returnees?
Most of the alumni in the Ambassador Program are looking to help with international education outreach, because they want other students to have the same transformative experience they did. Most students are looking for direction with projects or hosting events on their campus.
What role do your Alumni Ambassadors have in marketing IES Abroad programs and in student recruitment?
Ambassadors have a crucial role in bringing the student experience to life for other students considering studying abroad. We encourage Ambassadors to share their genuine stories when speaking with students at on-campus events or through email. Their enthusiasm and expertise is one of our best marketing tools.
You prepare and present pre-departure information to students about to head abroad. What are the five most important things you always include in these presentations?
Not in order: Visa considerations, health and safety considerations, academic information, budgeting tips, and cross-cultural resources.
In your Program Advisor role for Rio de Janeiro, you advise and support students who are preparing to head to Brazil. What characteristics would make someone a good fit for this program?
In my opinion, the most successful Rio students are open-minded, motivated, adventurous, curious, and tolerant of differences.
You speak French and taught English abroad in France, why do you think language learning is such an important part of education abroad?
Language competency is key to understanding and participating in other cultures. Foreign language acquisition is also a great way to show your respect and interest in other cultures, while also giving you a greater context for understanding people.
Learning a foreign language can be difficult, and it is easy to feel frustrated when using your language skills abroad. I had many moments while living in France where I would use the wrong word or the incorrect verb conjugation, and ended up saying something completely ridiculous. It’s important that we laugh and learn from our mistakes. We must recognize that through overcoming challenges, we improve and strengthen our language skills.
In my opinion, making the most of your study abroad experience includes using the host language whenever possible and trying to become an active part of your local community (even if you feel embarrassed along the way). The embarrassment will all be worth it in the end!
You’re currently working on a Masters degree in International Higher Education. What skills have you been able to apply from your degree program to your role at IES Abroad?
Grad school is improving my understanding of social justice within higher education, and has made me passionate about underrepresented students in the United States studying abroad. It has also given me a better understanding of the U.S. higher education system, internationalization within higher education, and frameworks for study abroad programming.
As part of my graduate studies, I am required to take part in two international field studies to Beijing, China and Rome, Italy. While abroad in China last January, I learned a great deal about international students studying in the United States, and study abroad programs in other countries. I am looking forward to my Rome field study this summer where I will visit many universities and study abroad providers, including the IES Abroad Rome Center.
You’ve been with IES Abroad almost three years, what has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
Through changes made to the Ambassador Program, we increased our Ambassador participation rates in all projects, and increased the amount of Ambassadors involved with on-campus international education outreach. The most significant accomplishment is a 300 percent increase of Ambassadors helping at study abroad fairs since the previous semester. It’s great that more Ambassadors are taking the opportunity to share their story on campus, and further outreach efforts for IES Abroad and their Study Abroad Office.
What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
I love hearing stories from our alumni about how study abroad changed their life. I am continually impressed and proud when I hear Ambassadors speak of transformative experiences abroad, the challenges they overcame, and the personal development they experienced. The best part is that I not only get to hear their stories, but I get to help Ambassadors use their stories to connect with other students and promote meaningful intercultural opportunities across the United States.