Stories that Shaped Us: The Pursuit of Personal Interests and Professional Goals
Lexi Sullens is an ISA Sevilla alumna, former ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador, and former WorldStrides Professional Intern at Rhodes College whose experience abroad during Spring 2021 led her to pursue her passion for teaching while embracing the transformative experiences of living abroad.
We reached out to learn more about why she chose to go abroad with ISA Spain and how her experience abroad has impacted her long-term. Check out her unique story below and hear her advice for others wanting to follow a similar path!
What inspired you to study abroad in Sevilla, Spain?
LS: As a Spanish and Educational Studies major, I knew exactly what I wanted in a study abroad program. My sights were set on a program that allowed me to gain experience in teaching and perfecting my language skills, too. I also wanted a city with a lot of character. Sevilla was a unique place to learn because there are rich cultural influences and a distinct accent from the Castilian Spanish. While exploring the elusive city and language, I also had the opportunity to I teach English to 3rd graders at a local Spanish school through an ISA course offering. This course gave me the room to grow as an educator, since I could explore how students acquire a language in my native tongue before becoming a Spanish teacher in the US. I was shocked how much this prepared me, despite the class meetings being virtual, when I hopped into student teaching classes at my home university and volunteered in Memphis as an ESL/EFL instructor. Overall, Sevilla was the place that most aligned with my professional goals and my personal interests.
What did you learn about yourself through these experiences and how did your time abroad impact your understanding of the world?
LS: One of my favorite college professors always told me, “learning is uncomfortable”. That’s been my universal truth since I heard it, but I had not yet experienced it. In Spain, I found that you grow and learn so much from those uncomfortable moments. All the moments navigating public transportation (coming from a small town in rural Tennessee, this was new), trying snails and eating around fish bones, and adjusting to the Spanish accent were uncomfortable. However, by being uncomfortable, I learned strength, problem-solving, and adaptability while it also taught me a lot about the world outside my bubble. Life is much grander than I once knew. Traveling abroad during peak COVID times also highlighted this. I was in Sevilla even before the US had the first vaccine roll out. There were murmurs of a vaccine in Spain, but it was difficult to get your first dose. Meanwhile, in the US, all my family and friends had access to their first and second doses even before conversations began in Spain for older folks and healthcare workers. During my time abroad, I realized how many hidden privileges Americans have, from having a passport from the US in customs lines to access to the vaccine before other countries. This put a new perspective on what it meant to be an American. Positive or negative, I am more aware of the space I take up as someone from the United States now.
Do you have a favorite story or adventure from your time in Sevilla?
LS: My study abroad group was the first group of students back after COVID began, so we had a unique experience. There were weeks when the city would close as early as 6pm and travel was extremely limited. Despite all the restrictions, I would not change my experience for any other study abroad semester. This was not my favorite memory, because I have so many priceless memories sitting in the common room watching Elite, making popcorn in the Residencia kitchen, and laughing uncontrollably on the balcony, but it really emphasizes how special our time was in Spain. One weekend, our Resident Director Quique told us that we would be able to travel to Granada for the weekend. We were elated! After many weekends exploring Sevilla, we were excited to see another part of Andalusia. We took a bus to Granada, rented an AirBnB, and booked tickets for the Alhambra. Once we trekked up the steepest road I have ever seen in my life in the rain, we made it. All the sweat and being out of breath was worth it. I cannot explain the beauty of the Alhambra, and if I tried to, it would be a mockery. What’s more, myself and four of my friends (for life now) were the only people touring. We had the Alhambra to ourselves. We felt like the palace was ours. We were almost royalty. Once we got to the final castle, the rain stopped, and there was a rainbow peeking out from the clouds. There are moments in your life I know where you feel so small, for example when I saw the Webb Telescope pictures, but there are moments that are so indescribable, so important, and so unimaginable, you must think they were made for you to experience. This day was that moment. I will cherish that time, the people I spent it with, and the feeling always.
You are now a part of the inaugural class of interns at WorldStrides. What has that been like? In what ways has your study abroad experience impacted your internship and passion for experiential learning?
LS: My study abroad experiences helped me put my internship experience in a better context. If I did not have the experience studying abroad, I might not know what it was like accessing the Learning Management System or Micro-credential program that I work so closely on now. Before interning at WorldStrides, I knew I had a passion for curriculum design and experiential learning through previous experiences, and my time here confirmed that. I have loved thinking critically about the ways students learn, what they learn, and, most excitingly, the spaces where they learn. My experiences truly gave me the groundwork to better understand how to improve students’ access and engagement.
What are your plans for after this internship?
LS: I am moving back to Spain! In a few months, I’ll be a language teaching assistant in Basque Country. I am so excited to get back to Spain, travel around Europe, brush up on my Spanish, and get more experience as a language teacher. After spending a few months in Sevilla, I wanted to try something new in Northern Spain. As with my motivations behind choosing Sevilla, I chose Basque Country because they have such pride over their land, culture, and people. It will be exciting to try to pick up some Basque phrases here and there, too! If anyone is interested in learning more about this program, please reach out to me.
Do you have any tips for students interested in entering the International Education field after graduation?
LS: If you studied abroad with ISA, I’d say a great place to start is the ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador program. If you studied abroad independently or with another program provider, reach out to your study abroad office at your home university! I was a Study Abroad Ambassador for my undergraduate college, and it was so rewarding. Beyond that, look at the WorldStrides Professional Internship Program, connect with International Educators on LinkedIn, and look at the NAFSA careers page. There are so many opportunities awaiting!
Inspired by Lexi’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!