GoAbroad Interview

Tara Maher - Alumni Relations Associate

Tara Maher - Alumni Relations Associate

Tara Maher grew up in Pleasant Hill, California and graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in June 2014. She studied abroad with CEA Study Abroad in Paris during the Fall of 2012 and became an Alumni Ambassador during her last year at Cal Poly. Tara loves playing soccer, hiking, biking, and anything outdoors that involves an adventure. She aspires to live and work abroad, improve her French, and eventually learn Italian and Spanish. 

You studied abroad in Paris in 2012 with CEA Study Abroad, what about this experience prompted you to transition from participant to staff two years later?

While abroad, I became interested in the field of international education in hopes of returning to Paris, so I joined the CEA Alumni Ambassador team as well as other international groups at Cal Poly to gain an understanding of the international education field. When Kristi Ellison (Alumni Relations Coordinator) shared the Alumni Relations Associate description, it seemed perfect! One of my favorite parts of being an Alumni Ambassador was engaging with students and fellow alumni, and my current role allows me to connect with ambassadors and alumni every day.

CEA Alumni Ambassadors at the Cal Poly 2014 Study Abroad Fair

Tara (right) as a CEA Alumni Ambassador with fellow Ambassadors Danielle (left) and Monique (middle) at the Cal Poly study abroad fair last spring

What did your role as Alumni Ambassador for CEA entail?

I did a lot of promotional outreach to encourage students to study abroad in order to gain a new perspective and expand their horizons. I also participated in study abroad fairs and pre-departure orientations, spoke to clubs, and collaborated closely with my study abroad office and fellow Alumni Ambassadors on campus.

What is the most important part of being a CEA Ambassador?

I think one of the most important jobs as a CEA Alumni Ambassador is to promote studying abroad and guide prospective students through the process by answering questions, being a peer resource, and sharing their first-hand experience.

What does your role as Alumni Relations Associate look like on a daily basis?

On a daily basis, I collaborate with Kristi in order to better manage the Alumni Ambassador Program, provide more career development resources for ambassadors, and begin to create an alumni network. I also work closely with Anna Ebert (Social Media Specialist) to develop CEA Alumni Relations’ presence on the CEA blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Your academic background is in English, French, and linguistics, but you also have a TESL certificate. How do you apply these skills and this knowledge to your work at CEA Study Abroad?

My background in English and linguistics is helpful when editing blog posts from ambassadors or creating Twitter content (with the help of Anna too!). Additionally, I always encourage ambassadors to look into the TESL certificate if they are thinking of teaching English abroad or in the United States. I would love to incorporate French more into my work at CEA, but haven’t quite figured out how yet.

Visiting Volpiano, Italy

Tara visiting Italian cousins in Volpiano, Italy during Fall break

What do you feel the value of language is for students who are study abroad bound?

I think speaking a second language is extremely important, especially while studying abroad. Generally, the locals will have more respect for you if you try speaking their language, even just basic phrases, and you are capable of connecting with them on a more personal level.

Learning another language is also a very humbling experience because you have to be willing to put yourself out there, make mistakes, and go with the flow. It’s not easy, but it’s very rewarding.

You’ve traveled a bit of Europe, if you had to hop on a plane tomorrow, which CEA Study Abroad sites would you most like to visit?

I would definitely start out with Paris to visit CEA’s onsite staff, old friends, and the city. Afterwards, I would tour the rest of our France sites because I haven’t explored France very much, and I’ve heard incredible things about each program from our ambassadors.

Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France

Tara’s Europe trip last August included a four day stop in Paris (she actually interviewed for the Alumni Relations Associate position while there!).

What’s the most important tip you could give to CEA Study Abroad students as they are preparing for their return home from abroad?

It’s going to be difficult as you will miss your study abroad life, friends, and new home, but don’t let that hold you back from enjoying life in the United States. Go to a study abroad returnee conference because they provide great resources for reverse culture shock, articulating your abroad experience, and learning how to go abroad again. Take microadventures to hold off your wanderlust, start planning your next trip abroad, and never stop exploring.

Reverse culture shock is common among study abroad returnees, what type of re-entry programming is available for CEA alumni after they return from abroad?

The CEA Alumni Ambassador Program is currently our biggest initiative to support returning CEA students with culture shock. It aims to help our alumni transition to life back in the U.S., while learning how to connect study abroad to daily living and apply their abroad experience to future aspirations. However, we also have a CEA Alumni Network LinkedIn group where we post travel articles, upcoming returnee conferences, resume tips, and other career building tools. Our goal is to create more resources and expand these ones while further developing our alumni community.

What is the most frequently asked question you receive from alumni, and what is your response?

Many study abroad alumni ask: “How can I go abroad again?”

My main suggestions are teaching English abroad (ideally with a TESL certificate), attending an international school for graduate work or to take language classes, or applying for summer positions or internships with international companies, because they may lead to full-time employment. Another great resource is your international friends or CEA onsite teams; never underestimate the power of networking.

You’ve been with CEA Study Abroad less than a year, what are your goals for 2015?

My goals for 2015 thus far are to stabilize the Ambassador Program while continuing to expand it, and to support Kristi with the growth the CEA alumni community (furthering alumni engagement and re-entry resources).

What is favorite part about working for CEA Study Abroad so far?

The people - University Relations team, Phoenix staff, and onsite teams. Some of the most rewarding work is also with the Alumni Ambassadors as they grow throughout the program, plan for life after graduation, network with each other, and become friends. 

Dinner in France

Mingling with French students at a CEA Study Abroad cultural activity