GoAbroad Interview

Mary Alice Soriero - Academic Director, Seville

Mary Alice Soriero - Academic Director, Seville

Mary Alice has suffered from a severe bout of the travel-bug. Since her first international trip to Portugal with her sister, Mary Alice has lived, worked, and explored culture in six different countries (Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Perú, Spain, and the U.S.), while traveling to over 30 different countries throughout Asia, South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. She is intrigued by the intricacies of everyday life around her work and knows it is a privilege to continue to be awed on a daily basis.

You’re from the U.S., but have worked in Spain for over 10 years. How did you originally get connected to CEA’s programs in Seville?

When CEA first started to have their own classes on-site, I was approached to develop a course on cultural values. It was a wonderful opportunity to share my theoretical understanding of culture and how it plays out on a daily basis. I have so enjoyed helping students appreciate Spanish culture on a more profound level.

Hiking in the lowlands of Andalucia, Spain

Mary Alice hiking in Andalucian lowland

Your role involves managing academic processes and policies, as well as supporting faculty. What does your day-to-day life at work look like?

WOW, that is not an easy question. It really can vary. I teach three courses a year, so sometimes I am found in the classroom with students. Other times, I am resolving academic issues or developing courses or programs. Sometimes I get to take a trip with the students too!

You studied and speak several languages, what advice would you give to students coming to Spain who want to improve their limited Spanish language skills? What do you think the benefits of learning the local language are?

One of the most rewarding and fun things ever is to learn a language. However, I have to say, it is not an easy thing either. Learning a language really is the only way to understand a culture. Language many times defines thought. It is essential to understand the structures and concepts that a language reflects in an effort to understand the culture. So, jump in 100 percent, take chances, practice often, AND be sure to have a sense of humor.

What are the typical characteristics of academically successful CEA Seville students?

Those students who move outside the box are the ones who capture the most from the experience. Those students who take chances and engage the local culture are the ones that thrive.

Hilltop view in Murcía, Spain

Hilltop in Murcía

What’s the most important tip you give to CEA students headed to Spain for the first time?

ENGAGE yourself. Depart from the well worn path and go off the beaten track!

What makes Seville such a great place to study abroad in Spain?

Sevilla has it all. It has history, culture, nightlife, small-town charm, and big-city advantages. It is beautiful, the weather is great, and the CEA Study Center rocks!

You have an academic background in Japanese and studied abroad on an exchange program in Japan. How do you apply your international experiences to conversations with students who might be experiencing culture shock?

I completely understand what it is like to be far from family and home. I know how it can feel to suffer from culture shock, and experience those differences while trying to master another language and academic content too. Remembering those sensations is helpful when working with students.

You worked as a Peace Corp volunteer and as a language teacher in the past. how does this experience help you in your current role? What skills are you able to translate daily?

After two years of living and loving Thailand, and traveling around Asia (school breaks were great!), I have gathered a wealth of cultural experiences; some of them very profound. These experiences have provided a wealth of practical knowledge to help me frame my theoretical knowledge. I have been able to transform my understanding from anecdotal to anthropological.

Iberian pig on a street in Seville, Spain

Mary Alice prefers to interact with her Iberian pigs

You have more than 25 years of experience in the field of international education and the volunteer abroad sphere. What has been your biggest accomplishment with CEA?

Well, in comparison to those years, I am relatively new to my academic directorship. But, I often think my most prized accomplishments are when I see students having those ah-ha moments, where they transcend from cultural observers and wanderlusters to understanders and participants with meaningful relationships made.

What are your goals for the rest of 2015?

I strive to provide a bridge from the study abroad experience to the local community for as many students as possible. I am eager to help promote global citizenship for my students as I am quite convinced that peaceful global co-existence hinges upon this.

What is the most exciting part about working for CEA Global Education?

CEA provides a solid foundation to work with students. The company is aligned in their vision to provide quality study abroad programs to increase the world pool of globally competent and compassionate habitants. I am honored to form part of this initiative.