GoAbroad Interview

Cydney Giroux - Program Advisor

Cydney Giroux

Cydney started working for USAC as the Program Advisor for Costa Rica, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, and South Africa in 2016. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in a small river town in California, and earned her degree in international affairs from the University of Nevada in Reno. During her undergraduate studies, Cydney studied abroad in Puntarenas, Costa Rica with USAC. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, rock climbing, snowboarding, rafting, and backpacking with her husband and two dogs. Cydney brings travel experience throughout Latin America, Western Europe, and Africa to the USAC team.

As an alumni of USAC’s Costa Rica study abroad program yourself, what did USAC offer that you didn’t find in other study abroad providers?

As an international relations major, I needed two years of a language in order to graduate. Being able to take two years worth of Spanish in one semester was a huge draw for me. Having the option to live with a host family was a big plus as well. In addition to the language track and other course options, the affordability of the program was really important. As a California resident going to the University of Nevada, Reno, it was actually cheaper for me to study abroad.

Tourists standing with locals and llamas in Peru
My husband and I hanging out with some locals in Peru.

I also really liked the idea of the non-traditional locations USAC offers. I knew I didn’t want to live in San Jose. Puntarenas is so off the beaten tourist path, so I was able to have a more authentic experience and make lots of local Tico friends. 

What made you want to join USAC?

I’ve worked in a variety of different fields and professions, however I’ve always been drawn to the nonprofit world. I truly believe that if everyone studied abroad that the world would be a better place. I wanted to work at USAC because I believe in the mission and hope that by helping prepare students for their study abroad, I’m doing my small part in making the world a kinder, more understanding place. 

Girl standing by a sign at the border of Chile and Argentina
Hanging out at the border of Chile and Argentina

How do you use your experience as a participant with USAC in your current role?

Having gone through the process and experience myself, it helps me better prepare students for study abroad as I’m better able to empathize and provide support to nervous students and their families, since I was once in their shoes. 

What does a typical day look like for a program advisor?

This is something I especially enjoy about working for USAC; while there is the routine of checking emails, making phone calls, and having meetings, really, no day is the same. Generally the bulk of my time is spent corresponding with students and their families via email, phone calls, or in-person meetings. When I’m not directly advising students, I’m working on creating and editing the pre-departure documents for my programs, planning and creating webinars, and tracking program deadlines.

I also advise for a lot of USAC partnership programs, which have the extra step of going through the host university application process. A lot of my time is spent tracking these processes, collecting required documents, and corresponding with host university international office staff. 

In your own experience, what do you think the biggest barrier to study abroad is? How does USAC help students overcome this challenge?

I think the financial aspect is often the most daunting for students and families. It’s a common belief that studying abroad is expensive and only accessible to people at a certain economic level. Because USAC is a nonprofit, we’re able to keep our programs really affordable. Another benefit of the non-traditional locations often means a lower cost of living than in the major, more well-known tourist cities.

Girl preparing to zipline in Costa Rica
Zip lining is a must-do in Costa Rica!

USAC also offers scholarships and actually has a dedicated scholarship coordinator who can help students apply for not just our scholarships, but for external ones, like the popular Gilman Scholarship

Why do you think study abroad is important in the world today?

I think building cross-cultural relationships is more important than ever. Studying abroad is an important tool to foster continued understanding by cultivating a global community. Students who have studied abroad have a broader understanding of the world around them, which gives them the skills to be a contributing global citizen. By learning and living in another country, students gain valuable problem solving and critical thinking skills. These skills are crucial if we want to solve the problems we face today.  

You’ve been to USAC's program locations in Western Europe, South Africa, and Costa Rica. Of all the program locations you’ve been to, which one would you most highly recommend?

I think it really depends on the individual student I’m advising, since each program is so different. It would really depend on their major and goals for studying abroad. I have to get to know someone before I can recommend one program over another.

For me personally though, having just gotten back from South Africa, I’m pretty excited about our Stellenbosch program. While Stellenbosch might be very different from the stereotypical view of Africa, it’s still very much Africa and a beautiful location. There’s a wide array of classes students can select from, and there are a ton of extracurriculars that students can participate in to get to know local students. 

Fruit stand in Marrakech, Morocco
Nothing like fresh squeezed orange juice in Marrakech!

What is your best piece of advice for future participants?

You can never start planning early enough. Also, the key to a successful study abroad is having an open mind and being flexible. Realizing that the best part of studying abroad is learning and living in a different cultural environment. You will have up’s and down’s and that’s totally normal! 

In the end, it will be an amazing life defining experience. 

Why do you enjoy working for USAC?

Aside from the altruistic view of making the world a better place, I love working with students and helping them prepare for such an important life experience. I also really enjoy the people I work with at USAC; it’s a great work environment filled with kind and dedicated people. The monthly potlucks aren’t bad either!