GoAbroad Interview

Chelsea Raschke - Site Specialist

Chelsea Raschke - Site Specialist

Chelsea has bounced from the Midwest to the Southeast and now resides in the Southwest, where she serves as a Site Specialist for CEA Study Abroad. With a love for both exploration and communication, she spends any free time outdoors, traveling, and editing videos for independent projects. These days you can find her road-tripping around Arizona or shooting weddings in Tennessee.

You were a CEA Seville student, Alumni Ambassador, and now you are a staff member. How did you make the transition from student to employee right after graduation?

At the end of my semester in Sevilla with CEA Study Abroad, I was pretty desperate for a way to keep my Sevillana experience alive. Right away, I joined the Alumni Ambassador team and loved collaborating with Kristi Ellison and other students like me who were returning to the U.S. from the best four months of their lives.

As college came to an end, I kept an eye on CEA Study Abroad for open positions, and the site specialist role perfectly fit my interests and skillset, so I applied without hesitation. One thing led to another, and I drove across the country for this job on the day I technically graduated!

Eating gaufre in Brussels, Belgium

Trying (and loving) a gaufre in Brussels, Belgium

As an alumni ambassador, what were you able to accomplish at the University of Tennessee after your program?

Ambassadors hold extremely important and valuable roles for a third-party provider like CEA Study Abroad and for a university. One of the best ways to calm your nerves in your planning to go abroad is to talk to one of your peers. Over and over, I saw myself and other ambassadors drastically change the way that students approach study abroad programs, and it constantly felt like we were able to encourage more students to go abroad, especially students who never thought it would be possible.

How are you able to use your experience as a CEA Study Abroad Alumna in your current role?

This is similar to my previous answer, but by having studied abroad with CEA Study Abroad just a few years ago, I believe that students can feel more comfortable with being open and honest with me (and themselves) in their preparations, because they know I’ve gone through the exact same steps. They’re quite candid with me about their concerns, which in turn allows me to counsel them better so that they’re more prepared to take on the rest of the world. They respect my guidance as an experienced, relatable peer rather than fear me as a stranger/authority figure.

As a CEA Site Specialist, you focus on making the pre-departure process as seamless as possible for students. What does a typical day at work look like for you?

It’s pretty exciting coming into work each day, because we never know what we’re going to be facing. Maybe someone is having a last-minute student visa crisis, or there was a death in the family two weeks before departure, or an onsite student is having trouble adjusting to his or her new surroundings. The challenges that a site specialist faces are unexpected and endless, but we mostly spend our days emailing and calling students, international staff, parents, and universities to proactively prepare or quickly respond. We also meet with other teams at CEA Study Abroad HQ to reflect on our processes, reevaluate our programs, strategize for better communication, and respond in times of crisis. We really dip our toes in every area of this organization.

Hiking along cliffs in Lagos, Portugal

Checking out the cliffs on a CEA excursion to Lagos, Portugal

What is your favorite thing about your role?

It’s so much fun being able to relive and talk about my study abroad experience essentially every day. Regularly talking with students who are gearing up for the most important and memorable experiences of their lives thus far is such a blast and a treat, and I couldn’t imagine a more fun way to spend my time right after college.

What advice would you give a student headed abroad for the very first time?

I always ask my students to clear your mind of expectations and learn to go with the flow, especially because each country (and every city) has its own way of life, and if you don’t try to assimilate it can be a rough ride. I always feel that my success in studying abroad came largely from all the research I did before I ever left the U.S.; I wanted to learn about the place that would be singing me to sleep each night, and I wanted to learn the words so I could sing along on day one.

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

There are three main areas that we’re asked about day in and day out: classes, housing, and visas. The main idea of my responses is essentially not to over-think or drive yourself crazy with worries. Everything works out one way or another, and as long as you’ve done your research and followed the necessary steps, then everything’s going to be okay, it always is. Meet with your advisor, complete your housing form, and apply for your visa as the consulate has outlined on their website. You’ll do the best you can, and the rest falls into place!

Sevilla, Spain

Enjoying the most iconic view of Sevilla at CEA’s Farewell Reception with a classmate

Your academic background is in communications, how do you use this knowledge in your current role?

Communicate is what I do all day, every day. Throughout college, no matter what class, our professors always emphasized the importance of understanding your audience. It doesn’t matter how well you can articulate if you can’t adjust your style to match that of the person you’re working with, and for me, that has been a very interesting part of this job.

Within 15 minutes, you can go from student to parent to university advisor to a CEA VP; in order to be successful, I have to be a kind of communication chameleon to make sure everyone’s understanding the information I’m providing. And let’s not forget the variety of cultures we’re working with; a New Yorker certainly doesn’t live the same as a Spaniard. It’s kind of a communication studies dream!

What is the most challenging experience you’ve faced in your role thus far?

The most challenging times are the moments of educating students and parents on cultural differences. For many people, the American way is the only way, and it’s hard to see past this lifestyle that we’ve grown used to for the past 20 to 60 years. These can be difficult conversations and concepts, but when it clicks, it feels like a massive success.

You’ve been with CEA Study Abroad almost a year, what has been your biggest accomplishment?

A handful of breakthrough moments with students have been the biggest accomplishments. It’s great to check items off a to-do list, like revamping program requirements or updating communication methods, but nothing surpasses the feeling I get when a student says, “Ah-hah!” and switches gears based on your personal advice and counseling.

When a student truly uses his or her Site Specialist as a resource, it will expedite the physical and mental preparation processes in a way you won’t find elsewhere.

Cooking class in Sevilla, Spain

Learning the culinary ways of a Sevillano at a cooking class organized by CEA

What is the best part of your job?

Especially since I studied abroad with CEA, my favorite part of this position is reliving my experience on a daily basis through my students. It’s so easy to remember my exact feelings in the pre-departure process when I’m advising students on visas, courses, and housing, and I remember myself on campus running around with different forms and meeting with different advisors in order to make the dream a reality. It’s funny because I don’t think students realize how serious I am when I say, “I went through the exact same process just a couple years ago, so I know what it’s like to be in your shoes.” I remember these details very well, and I love the chaotic preparations and hard work that go into spending a semester abroad.