GoAbroad Interview

Victor Gonzalez - Center Director Seville

Victor Gonzalez - Center Director Seville

Victor’s life has been shaped by the fact that he has resided in three different countries, and that his passion for travel has taken him to over 35 countries. Born in Havana, Cuba in 1970, Victor’s childhood educational experiences were surrounded by a communist regime. In 1980, his family immigrated to the United States where he completed high school in Manhattan and his undergraduate degree at a liberal arts college in upstate New York, which included a study abroad program in Madrid, Spain.

You’re from Cuba, how did you get connected to CEA Study Abroad?

After studying at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid during my junior year abroad in 1992, I was pretty sure I wanted to dedicate my life to international education. I first began to do freelance work with several study abroad programs in Madrid as early as 1994, when I was an English teacher at a private school. Later, I worked in higher education administration at my alma mater, advising students on strategies for financing study abroad among many other tasks. I then collaborated with an organization specialized in developing custom and faculty led programs for 13 years before CEA approached me to consider leading the Seville Center.

Language exchange activity at CEA Study Abroad center in Seville, Spain

CEA Seville Language Exchange activity Spring 2015

What does a typical day as CEA Center Director in Seville look like?

Every day is different in my line of duty. I typically start the day reading and responding to a significant number of emails that come from colleagues at the home office or from our local partner institutions, parents, or colleagues at other CEA international locations. I then move on to attending to a myriad of special projects, including program development and innovation, planning or welcoming visitors to our center, and leading my team in their respective areas in student housing and support services.

Why should a student choose to study abroad in Seville over more popular cities like Madrid and Barcelona?

Seville is unique in Spain. Seville offers all of the opportunities and excitement of a large city, including varied and rigorous study areas at three local partner universities, but it is able to deliver these in a very manageable human scale, enshrined within a UNESCO protected historical center. Students can walk to most places and enjoy the color, smell, and taste of both the tradition and folklore that gives the city a solid identity, while also seeing how the technology and architecture of the 21st Century make the city and the region a reference point in renewable energy sources and research for aeronautics. Easy immersion and opportunities for experiential learning sets Seville apart!

Hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey

What advice would you give to CEA students preparing to go abroad for the first time?

The most important preparation necessary for study abroad is to reach a level of conscience that all things will be new and unfamiliar in most regards, and that one needs to approach the adventure with a willingness to participate in all opportunities offered by the program and do so with an open mind, and often with a sense of humor. In preparation for Seville, I would recommend that students spend a little bit of time reading on all of the civilizations that have influenced the Andalusian culture and folklore.

What are the typical characteristics of successful CEA Study Abroad students in Spain?

This one is easy. Commitment to fully participate on all program offerings, attending classes regularly, and balancing the energy placed on schoolwork and play.

You’re a tennis champion, how can students studying in Seville stay active while abroad?

Seville has hundreds of kilometers of bicycle lanes and thousands of city bikes that can be picked up and dropped off at different locations in the city 24 hours a day. There are several parks that offer running trails and many gyms that have easy and affordable membership. Best of all, the river offers kayaking, rowing, and plenty of kilometers of promenade to enjoy for walking, skating, or running. There is a local club that meets weekly to cross train free of charge and give like-minded physically active individuals an opportunity to connect over healthy lifestyle.

Your academic background is in political science and history, how does this help you in your role directing CEA’s Center in Seville?

My background in political science and history developed and sharpened analytical thinking and communication skills. Directing the CEA Seville Center, I am constantly challenged with interpreting complex data and called upon to make and communicate difficult decisions in many areas.

Man playing tennis at a tournament in Madrid, Spain

A backhand winner at a Madrid tennis tournament

You’re bilingual, what can you share with students about the value of speaking Spanish while they’re studying abroad in Seville?

Most students understand the professional value of speaking a second language. The number of Spanish speakers globally, and in the United States alone, ought to convince most that the Spanish language is a very valuable skill set to boast on a resume. To move from simply having a skill set, to truly standing out in a selection process, however, fluency or bilingualism is required.

Studying abroad in Spain is like having access to a 24-hour lab free of charge for becoming bilingual. All students need to do is commit to the effort to use the Spanish language as often as possible and the gains will pay off big dividends. Not only will students who do this truly impress during an interview, but during their study abroad experience they will reach a level of cultural immersion simply unrivaled when compared to students who choose to pass on Spanish language learning and usage.

You’re currently pursuing an MBA, how are you planning to apply this knowledge to your role as Center Director?

My hope is to apply the skills and knowledge obtained from the MBA in areas such as human resources and team leadership, as well as in strategic management and product services and design for program innovation and processes at the center.

You’ve traveled much of the world, if you had to hop on a plane tomorrow to visit another CEA site location, which one would you choose?

Without a doubt it would be Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I have yet to explore any sub-Saharan country in Africa, and visiting that region of the continent would allow me easy access to explore and engage in volunteering travel projects in education within a tribal community.

Visiting Petra, Jordan

A rest stop at Petra, Jordan

You’ve worked in study abroad for over 10 years, and even longer in education, but are new to the CEA team. What has your first impression been?

I have been very impressed with the palpable energy and support dedicated to program innovation and professional development within the worldwide CEA team.

What is the best part of your role as Center Director in Seville so far?

Keeping close interaction with local faculty and students to gauge the need for program innovation and develop experiential learning models and structures.