CT Dialogue: Rachel Dorsey of TEAN Abroad
“It is so important for us all to stay connected, make new friends, and see the world.”
Being able to study abroad was, as everyone says, one of the best parts of my college experience. During my third year, I was able to study abroad for the entire year in Lyon, France and travel around Europe. Since I have returned to America, my wanderlust continues and I have been able to visit various parts of California (and Las Vegas), as well as England and Peru. Although many people would think that that would satisfy my thirst for travel, my desire to see the world is far from over. This summer, I have been given the wonderful opportunity to study abroad a second time in Australia with The Education Abroad Network (or, TEAN).
Since I have now submitted all of my paperwork, and am all set to attend this summer after I graduate from UC Irvine, I have begun doing a great deal of research on Australia, as well as TEAN itself. My research has led me to meeting Rachel Dorsey, the Senior Program Manager for the Australia program that I am soon to embark upon. She graciously agreed to let me interview her to get some more information about the program and TEAN, as well as provide some background upon her own travels and how she was able to land her job.
1) As a Senior Program Manager for TEAN Abroad, what do you do on an average day?
The Education Abroad Network is a small company based in Chicago and we have purposely made our office a place that feels comfortable and open. As is the case with most positions today, I spend quite a lot of time emailing students and making bookings for our groups heading overseas. Since we work in locations in the Asia Pacific Rim region, many of our emails from partners come in over night so I always have a fairly large number of emails in my inbox when I start my day. I try to empty out my inbox in the opening hours of the work day and then settle in to focus on larger projects that will take focus and extra time. We will also have smaller team meetings throughout the week and informal discussions about program planning. On Thursdays, we hold a program quiz which gets pretty heated! We also have a kitchen in our office, so on Fridays, two individuals will cook lunch for the rest of the office.
2) Which programs and/or locations are you in charge of?
Currently, I work with a few universities in Sydney, Australia and our summer and semester programs in Thailand. I also coordinate “short courses” which are programs led by faculty members abroad for students, usually over the summer months. These programs last anywhere between two to five weeks and can be set in any country that we work with (Australia, New Zealand, China and Southeast Asia). I have been working with all of these programs for almost six years, which is hard to believe! When I began, I took the place of a woman who worked with the University of Sydney, and shortly after I was given more and more responsibility. Before working with TEAN, I had visited all of the places that we work with as part of a four-month backpacking trip, so I had familiarity with each country; by having experienced these places before, I was already able to have a feel for the culture when I started working.
3) Do you help plan the tour locations and events? (For example, do you do the itineraries for the groups or do you do more of the managerial side with making sure applications are in order, etc?)
Yes! This makes up quite a lot of my job currently. As an organization, we take pride in making sure that our academic programs (specifically the short courses) are not just “trips.” We want to add value to the academic content and we are creative with how we structure the framework of each program. I do everything with these programs, including initial brainstorming conversations with advisors, the creation of a budget, and then making sure all of the arrangements are completed overseas (hotels, coaches, guest speakers, meals, etc.).
For semester programs, I do also help with student applications and making sure they have their visas, plane tickets, etc., plus I assist with planning our optional excursions for those students. We are very hands on throughout the process and often one of our TEAN staff members will actually go to orientation to meet the students when they arrive.
4) When did you get infected with the travel bug?
I chose my undergraduate university (Valparaiso University) based on their study abroad program to Cambridge, England! That flight was my first out of the country and was a huge step for me. I have always been obsessed with travel, though. The story I begged my parents to read to me was about the SS Happiness which had a cruise ship landing on a Hawaiian island. While growing up, my 4-H projects were usually centered on the “Passport to the World” option where I creatively made maps and displays on India and Italy. My grandpa always entertained me with stories of his travels during World War II and I would come home after school to watch a show called “Travelers.” In high school, a mild (!) obsession with both Jane Austen and the Beatles paved the way for my semester in England. After graduation from college, I even taught World Geography to high school students. Sadly, I was not able to get all of them quite as enthused about maps! Since my early 20s, I’ve spent four months backpacking the Asia Pacific Rim, taught English in Japan for a year, worked in luxury travel, and have taken quite a few trips on my own to locations like Paris and Argentina.
5) Besides working at TEAN, how else do you indulge your wanderlust?
I plan adventures for myself on a regular basis, both abroad and within my own city of Chicago. There is so much to do in your own backyard, especially if you live in an urban area. Eating Ethiopian food, checking out a world music concert, or just watching people in an off-the-beaten path café can certainly help with the travel itch. My next personal trip out of the country is to Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in September and I will be joining about 100 students in Australia as part of my job with TEAN.
As I have been with our organization for almost six years, I also started a side business called Supporting Cast Travel as I really want women in their 30s to get out and explore the world. It is hard at this age to escape commitments (family, jobs, etc.), but it is so important for us all to stay connected, make new friends, and see the world rather than putting it off until retirement. I feel really passionate about this and hope that my “traveling book club” idea will eventually take women around the world. I love the creative side of planning itineraries and connecting with authors and book clubs around the world who are ready to welcome some American women to their homes.
6) How did you find your job at TEAN Abroad?
I think it was Monster or Indeed! I am so very fortunate to have my job and it truly was very random that I ended up finding the position and being qualified for it. Many people trying to get into international education do need to have master’s degrees in international education to find a job, so I am thankful that everything fell into place like it did.
7) Why did you choose to work at TEAN rather than another tourism company?
I did work in luxury travel before this job and actually in a weird turn of events was contacted by TEAN before I started working with them. However, I had just committed myself to the other position and told them I had recently gotten another job. When TEAN contacted me a few months later as a new position opened up, I was ready to make the switch. For me, luxury travel was not my passion. As a former educator and study abroad student, that was where I wanted to devote my energy. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to see students posting photos of their adventures abroad on Facebook and knowing you were a part of that…. and knowing how much they will be impacted by their experience!
8) Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into the travel / tourism industry?
TEAN is considered a “study abroad provider” since we work with many universities throughout the US and world and create inclusive packages. My advice for finding a similar position is to get varied experiences in travel and if you want to be in the “study abroad” industry, it is getting quite important to have further education. If you do complete a study abroad program, make sure to keep in touch with your advisors and if the opportunity is available, assist at fairs or serve in an ambassador role to chat with other students about your experience. Working in the study abroad office at your university is likely going to be a competitive job to get, but would do wonders for a resume.
If you are looking more into doing travel that is not study abroad, there are on-line study courses which I personally do not have experience with but they will teach you how to create bookings, market yourself, etc. The travel industry is in an interesting place in time with the ease of internet bookings but also the desire to have someone with experience still be a part of the process.
9) How does TEAN help local economies of the places in which it has study abroad locations?
TEAN does a “Fun Run” each year at the big international education conference, NAFSA. This year our run is benefiting the Thai Freedom House which is near our Chiang Mai, Thailand program. A couple of years ago, the funds went towards relief from the New Zealand earthquake. Our excursions to Fiji and Thailand, in particular, utilize local villagers so that a portion of student fees go back to the community.
10) What sets TEAN apart from other study abroad options?
TEAN doesn’t work with the more streamlined study abroad locations such as Europe or South America. We know and love the region we work out of, and consider ourselves experts on this part of the world. We want each student to find the place that is right for them and we spend a great deal of time getting to know students, parents and advisors. We also are happy to look at creative solutions for programming and offer unique housing and excursion options.
On a more personal note, everyone who works at TEAN really is a family, and it shows in our office! Our Friday lunches where we gather around tiny tables with our office dog, Kora, truly is the perfect picture of a company that also operates as a family.
11) Do you have any advice for someone who is going on their first study abroad trip?
First, be ready for never wanting to settle down again! You will always want to get out there and explore (which, speaking from personal experience, can be a bit frustrating for parents!). Make a list of things you want to accomplish before you go and don’t put off everything until the last minute. If you are given the opportunity to get out and do an activity with a local, do it! Even if you are exhausted or feeling lazy, it is so important to take advantage of those moments as you never know where they will lead you. And, finally. . .put down the cell phones and actually look around you!