Alumni Spotlight: JoEllen Mueller

Stories that Shaped Us: How ISA and Costa Rica Started It All

JoEllen Mueller participated in ISA’s Intensive Spanish Language program in San José, Costa Rica in 2014. Inspired by her study abroad program, she entered the field of Education Abroad upon graduation from North Central College; however, she now works for a digital health start-up. She’s had quite the journey to get where she’s at, but most of her inspirations stemmed from her time abroad with ISA in Costa Rica. Check out what she had to share about her adventures and the lessons she’s picked up along the way! Talk about living the Costa Rican way of life, Pura Vida!

Study abroad ends up inspiring a lot of our participants to travel again, especially after they graduate. Can you share more of where you’ve been since Costa Rica? 

Me in Hong Kong!

Costa Rica was definitely the place that inspired me to keep traveling! It was the first trip I took abroad alone and set a fire in me to continue learning and exploring and experiencing different ways of living. I also found such a high by being thrown into a place that was so out of my comfort zone and being forced to figure it out. After Costa Rica, I went on to study abroad for a whole year in China, volunteered in Thailand, conducted research in Egypt, and ended up working for ISA right after college. To say studying abroad in Costa Rica left an impact on me is an understatement :’) 

What’s been one of the best lessons you’ve learned while traveling abroad?

Never try, never know. Not better or worse, just different. Those are two sayings that locals have said to me in many different parts of the world and have stuck with me forever. I am always down to try everything once, and the latter phrase has taught me to never ever judge anyone or any custom. You don’t know where people have been, how they grew up, or what their values are. They are all just different. This wouldn’t have been ingrained in me if I had never stepped out of the country and seen the many different ways to live. 

What do you do now? How has your time studying abroad and working with ISA impacted your professional career and goals? 

Well, right after college I ended up working for ISA! :D I was a Regional Director for two years partnering up with US universities to help build and promote study abroad programs that met the unique needs of their students. Although I’ve moved on from working at ISA, I still work managing and growing partnerships, just at a digital health startup now. I think I excel in this line of work due to my ability to adapt, communicate, and relate to a very wide variety of people. Studying abroad made me a more curious human overall, and taught me how to ask a lot of questions. Sounds simple, but clients will never feel more heard or understood than when you genuinely try to recognize their unique circumstances and how your company / product / service can be manipulated to meet those needs. These skills all stem from my study abroad experiences.  

What activities do you recommend students do when they study abroad to embrace the culture they’re experiencing? 

Understand the language and use it, even when you don’t have to. Don’t just memorize the vocab and learn the grammar for an exam. Every language stemmed from some sort of theory or line of thought. Understand the root of the words and how sentences fit together and ask yourself what that means about the culture. Or even better, ask the locals how their language represents their culture! Understanding how people communicate with each other (and then putting it into practice) is a guaranteed way for you to better put yourself in their shoes and more authentically be a part of the environment you’re in. 

Inspired by JoEllen’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in an intensive langauge program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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