GoAbroad Interview

Madelyn Sullivan - Program Manager

Madelyn Sullivan - Front Desk Coordinator

Madelyn graduated from Temple University with a degree in international business, and even spent a year studying abroad in Korea, giving her ample personal experience and inspiration to help her in her current role. During her undergraduate career, she participated in the Global Living Learning Community and language exchanges, worked as a Peer Advisor for Education Abroad, a Conversation Partner for international students at the writing center, and a Campus Cousin for newly admitted international freshmen. Now, she works with students planning to study abroad at Temple’s campus in Japan, as well as their Asian Exchange programs. She enjoys working for her alma mater so she can help other students embark on the same type of journey that changed her perspective on the world.

You are a Temple University graduate and study abroad alumni. Why was studying abroad meaningful to you during your undergraduate studies?

I actually chose to attend Temple because of its study abroad programs. I was the student who came into the office two years too early to start planning! I had dreamed of studying abroad since high school, so study abroad was a huge priority for me. In a lot of ways, my undergraduate studies revolved around study abroad, before, during, and after.

Before I went abroad, I made connections with recently returned students who studied in Korea along with Korean exchange students. I left for Korea nervous and excited about what was to come, and came back to the United States confident and ready to take on the next challenge. Finally, after my year abroad, I stayed involved with the study abroad office to stay as connected with my experience as possible.

A woman getting ready to paraglide in Danyang, South Korea
Getting ready to paraglide off the mountains in Danyang, South Korea

How do you use your own international experience, in locations as different as France and South Korea, in your current role?

Besides offering advice to students looking at going to Korea for their study abroad experiences, I use my knowledge of other locations as well to better understand students’ goals and what they want to get out of their study abroad experiences. By doing so, I can better help them when they are looking for a program that fits their needs, and also connect them to alumni who recently returned from those locations.

As my role has changed, I work primarily with students who have already decided that they want to go to Japan or on an Asian Exchange. For these students, I talk to them about what it’s like to live in an Asian country - practical advice, learning the language, and resources available to them. Particularly with homestay students, I’ve seen some anxiety about living with a host family; for these students, I tell them about my own experiences and reassure them that most host families are kind, well-vetted, and open-minded. It’s amazing to see the relief on some students’ faces when they meet someone who has gone through it!

Why do you think studying abroad is more important than ever in the world today?

There are many reasons why study abroad is so important now more than ever. We are in an increasingly global society, interacting with many different kinds of people on a daily basis. Study abroad allows students to experience a culture beyond their own - to really experience what it’s like to live in a completely new environment. By overcoming the fear, culture shock, and, in many cases, isolation that comes with study abroad, students become more confident, independent, empathetic, and open-minded. These are truly important qualities to have as we interact with more people from different backgrounds, and as these students graduate and move on to the next phase of their lives, whether it’s a job, graduate school, or professional school. 

Also, study abroad has grown tremendously, and there are so many opportunities for students to take advantage of. After graduation, there really aren’t that many opportunities to be living as a student in another country!

A woman eating udon in Seoul, South Korea

Enjoying sushi and udon in Seoul

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

I primarily start the day by checking my email and catching up with things that happened overnight. Since Japan is 14 hours ahead, I’ll often get emails overnight from our staff there regarding various aspects of our program. From there, I’ll do some application processing, making sure that all new applicants to our programs are ready to continue working on their applications, and then I will start with whatever project I am working on during that time.

Right now, I am working on preparing pre-departure materials for our upcoming summer and semester terms, reviewing applications for those terms, and also working on some curriculum integration particularly for our exchange partners, in order to promote them better to our students.

What is the most frequently asked question you receive from prospective study abroad students?

“I want to study abroad; what do I have to do?”

In terms of prospective study abroad students, we probably get asked this question the most. Many students have never been abroad before and are totally confused by the process, costs, and what they need to do. We assure them that they should attend our Foundations of Study Abroad info session first, as it gives them a starting point. We will also tell them to start looking at programs in their location(s) of interest, so they’re planning as far in advance as possible.

As a program manager, I receive different questions now than I did when I was at the front desk. Now, the most frequently asked question I get from prospective students is:

“I’m an x major, can I study at Temple Japan?” 

The answer is usually yes! While every major has different requirements, and not all majors are offered at Temple Japan, we offer a variety of GenEds and electives that students can choose from to make study abroad fit in with their requirements.

You took language classes while studying abroad in South Korea. Do you recommend that students learn the local language while abroad? Why do you think this is a valuable part of study abroad?

Absolutely! It was probably the most difficult, yet rewarding, part of my study abroad experience. It’s extremely valuable to take language classes or even learn the basics of a language when going to a different country, not just to expand your own horizons, but to connect with the people from the country you’re in. My experience abroad was much more memorable because I was able to speak to my friends in Korean rather than dealing with significant language barriers. One of the things I loved the most about my language classes was that it was full of students who were from different countries and spoke different languages. Since Korean was our only common language, we had to It was also encouraging when Korean people would compliment me because of it!

Temple University staff at a study abroad fair

Wrapping up the first day of Study Abroad Week!

How does Temple foster language learning during study abroad programs?

We always encourage students to take language classes if they are going to a country that does not primarily speak English. For our semester in Rome program, students are required to take Italian 1001 if they have not yet taken a basic Italian course. We do not have the same requirement for Japan, but it is highly encouraged. We also have a number of programs that are language intensive, where students live with host families and are in situations where they are forced to use their language skills to get by in everyday life.

Despite not having a language requirement for Temple Japan, we do offer many different courses that promote language learning during the study abroad program. One of our courses, Practical Japanese for Study Abroad Students, is a class which focuses on the practical aspects of Japanese language, rather than building up language proficiency from the ground. This course teaches students language that will help them survive in Japan, and also incorporates cultural elements and excursions to really learn more about Japan and the Japanese language. It’s also taught by the most excitable professor you could ever imagine!

You were quite involved in the international community at your home campus after studying abroad. What opportunities do study abroad alumni have to continue being involved when they return home?

At Temple, there are a number of programs that exist that are focused around internationalization. Here at the study abroad office, we have some recently returned students work in our office as Peer Advisors, and we also have a Study Abroad Ambassador volunteer program, where students will volunteer at some of our events. Some other opportunities outside of our office include the Conversation Partner program for international students to practice English with native speakers, International Student Association, and more.

What is your best piece of advice for students considering study abroad?

If you’re thinking about studying abroad, don’t wait; start planning now! By planning early, you will allow yourself to get everything prepared from your application to your visa without worrying about completing things at the very last minute. You will also be able to plan better academically, making sure you are on track to graduate even with that summer, semester, or year abroad. Also, it pays off too; the sooner you start saving, the more money you will have abroad, and the more scholarships you will have access to and be prepared for.

A woman at Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Taiwan
Visiting Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Taiwan! The xiaolongbao (pork soup dumplings) were the best I ever had.

Why do you enjoy working for Temple University?

I enjoy working for the study abroad office at Temple because all of the staff is so positive and uplifting, and the university is a big advocate for internationalization. Everyone working in this office want students to go abroad and to succeed, and are here to help every step of the way.

What is Temple University doing in 2018 to continue expanding opportunities for more students year after year?

We are working hard to make sure our programs are visible to the Temple student population, making sure they know the opportunities available to them. We want to bring curriculum out to the forefront, trying to highlight that “Yes, you can study abroad as a biology/engineering/finance/etc. major, and here are programs that will work for you.” On top of this, we are doing scholarship advising for national scholarships, as well as offering scholarships through our office, trying to make study abroad accessible for more students.