GoAbroad Interview

Cristina Valles - Prague Center Director

Cristina’s passion for travel has taken her around the world, she has lived and worked for different multinational American companies in Barcelona, Brussels, and Milan. Her drive to keep learning has led her to gain experience in areas of expertise such as Sales & Product Training, Marketing, Corporate Education & Operations Management, Talent Management, and Leadership Development. After nine years living in Prague, Cristina still thinks of the city as one of the most exciting and beautiful in the world – and a place where every day is the start of a new adventure. Her experience in Prague makes her an incredible resource and source of inspiration for students participating in CEA’s Prague programs.

CEA Orientation in Prague int the Fall of 2014
CEA Prague Orientation, Fall 2014.

How did you get connected with CEA?

In 2013, I was looking for a job and CEA approached me. At that time I didn’t know much about the study abroad industry, since I had been working mostly for industrial and consumer industries. As I started reading and learning about this field, I immediately realized that it was a field I wanted to work in. Study abroad is related to my educational background (Bachelor’s Degree in Education Studies); I could apply my working experience in business, operations, and marketing to the field; and (mostly) I liked the fact that I would interact with students. I love the human dimension of this work.

What does your day-to-day look like as the Prague Center Director?

During a typical working day, I may be busy with a wide variety of tasks that range from planning the following semester, meeting with students, connecting with CEA international centers and colleagues, welcoming University visitors, looking for new apartments or revising housing stock, overseeing academic matters, meeting with staff, conference calls with the home office, health and safety-related issues, talking to parents, recruiting new staff members, etc. Every day is a challenge – I juggle many different topics and having a very strong staff/team and being able to multitask is key.

Student arriving for a study abroad program in Prague.

CEA Prague Arrivals, Fall 2014

You have a background in finance and talent management, how did you apply these skills to your work with CEA?

My background in finance has given me the ability to look very critically at all operations, keeping efficiency and costs in mind. We are always trying to improve processes and do it within the company budget framework.

Talent Management enables me to spot the skills and talent within my staff, assign them projects for which they have the corresponding skills, and help them develop. It has also helped me assess the students’ skills, allowing us to provide them with the right volunteering/internship placements so they can have the best possible experience and grow as future professionals.

What’s the number one tip you would give to a student applying to CEA’s program in Prague?

Come to Prague to discover a city anchored in different historic, cross-cultural times; studying abroad with CEA provides you with a wide English curriculum to choose from and an extraordinary on-site team that will support and guide you through your life changing experience.

Thanksgiving dinner.

CEA Prague Thanksgiving Dinner, Fall 2013

What is the current population of CEA students in Prague?

We currently host around 500 students annually.

You speak five languages, how does CEA work to incorporate and foster language learning at the Prague Center?

Languages are key to working and interacting in the current multilingual world. At CEA Prague, the whole staff speaks very good English and are all native Czech/Slovak speakers. We encourage our students to learn the Czech language through our popular “Czech language and Culture” courses offered at our partner university.

From your own experience, what is a typical day like for a CEA student in Prague?

Usually our students have classes in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Before or after class they typically drop by the CEA Center (located two minutes walking distance from our partner university) to use the computer lab, complete assignments, print, consult on topics with CEA staff, or gather in the Center before participating in a CEA-lead cultural activity or excursion. In their free time, our students enjoy exploring the city; they also like to travel and discover Europe on the weekends.

How do you ensure the security of CEA’s students in Prague?

Prague is a very safe city, but things do happen, from pickpocketing to taxi scams and lost wallets, etc. During our Student Orientation, we provide a comprehensive presentation that makes them aware of possible Health & Safety risks and provides advice. We also bring in the Vice Consul of the American Embassy as a guest speaker, giving students valuable advice from his daily experience. 

We also cover Health & Safety in our weekly CEA Newsletter, providing our students with recommendations and advice on a range of topics that vary according to the season. These may include topics such as how to travel safely, how to avoid the flu, or what to do if you get sick, etc.

If issues arise, we provide the CEA 24/7 emergency phone number that students can call for assistance. We also follow very thorough Health & Safety protocols, based on the Forum on Education Abroad’s Standards of Good Practice. 

Do you have plans of expanding your specific program in any way?

For the past year and a half, we’ve been working on expanding the program with two main objectives: to support students’ integration into the local community and to provide students with a strong active learning experience. With these goals in mind, we have implemented a series of co-curricular initiatives including the Internship Program, the iShare Volunteering program, a Photo Contest, a Buddy Program, and a Career Development program.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your job with CEA?

For me, the most fulfilling aspect of working for CEA is the human dimension of the job -- from working with amazing people, excellent CEA professionals, and University visitors, to working daily with American students and their dreams, challenges, and everyday worries.