LIMELIGHT INTERVIEW WITH ADRIANA SMITH
I grew up in Miami surrounded by a large Spanish-speaking population, so whenever I heard someone speak the language, I got really excited and wanted to understand what they were saying. My brother and I even formed our own type of Spanish just so that we could communicate and pretend like we were bilingual. What really solidified my interest in the language was hearing a black woman speak Spanish fluently while attending a summer camp. I just remember thinking – I want to be like her. It wasn’t until high school that I had the chance to actually study the language, but I never really connected that to traveling abroad. Miami has a really diverse population of Caribbean people, so I thought that was pretty much it.
When I went to the University of Florida, I took Spanish courses. During my sophomore year, a study abroad advisor came to our class to give a presentation about a six-week summer program. My ears perked up! At that time, I had decided to declare Spanish as a dual-major because I was already pursuing criminology. The study abroad opportunity was a perfect fit because the credits from the experience would allow me to graduate on time instead of taking on another semester.
I immediately went back to my dorm to apply. I didn’t talk to anyone about it, including my mom. I called her right after I submitted the application and told her I was going to Spain that summer. All I heard was silence. While I didn’t have that initial support, I was motivated by the opportunity to see the world and gain fluency in Spanish. After getting my passport and booking the ticket, I still didn’t know what I was in for. I had never left Florida, so I had no idea what to expect.
When I first arrived, I compared Madrid to Miami, and that was a huge mistake. I dismissed an entire country and culture to fit my reality and comfort. Two days into the program, I got lost and was immediately hit with culture shock and homesickness. I thought – oh my gosh, what did I do?! I wanted to go home, but ultimately, I decided to stay, and I was so grateful that I didn’t leave. By the end of the program, I had an overwhelming appreciation for where I was and the opportunity to study abroad.
In my senior year, I applied for a master’s program and decided to study abroad again through New York University’s linguistic program. I returned to Madrid, Spain, for an entire year- reveling in the country, appreciating local people, and making connections. I traveled to other parts of Europe, and I felt like that was the first time I really got to see the world. I was much more humble and I didn’t allow my arrogance or pride to get in the way. However, the idea of having a career in IE wouldn’t hit me until ten years later.
After graduating from NYU, I took a position teaching at a middle school through Teach for America. It was one of the hardest years of my life. I was teaching math and science, which was already difficult, but there were also a lot of behavior issues with the students and pressure from the administration. Looking back now, it was a blessing in disguise because it made me tougher. On April 8, 2014, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t sacrifice my passion for money or anything else - no matter what. I call it the day of rebirth and the moment I knew that I wanted to work in international education.
I came across an internship position with GoAbroad on SECUSS-L. I applied and got a six-week internship in Colorado. Things started to align for me after that. Spending that time allowed me to really get to learn the ins and outs of an international ed provider. It was the perfect place for me. It took two years after that to get a full-time job in international ed, but I continued communicating with my contacts, and I took another internship as an education manager with Inside Study Abroad. During that time, I responded to an RFP to present a poster at the NAFSA convention in order to establish credibility and enhance my resume. While taking a lunch break from the convention, I met a woman who worked at Presbyterian College. She told me about an internship position for graduate students in the international education office. I applied for the internship and was hired, and the rest, as they say, is history! The person I met at NAFSA, left her position ten months later, so I applied for that job and became the Assistant Director of International Programs.
Adriana loves sharing her journey into IE and travel experiences as the founder and blogger at Traveprenuer. Through her platform, she has become a speaker/trainer on the topic FIRST Step 2 Resilience. She also published a book called Studying Abroad for Black Women to encourage other students and young women of color to pursue study abroad opportunities and careers in IE. Adriana also recently published a guidebook in response to COVID-19 called 5 Ways to Reset & Refocus: Your Mindset During A Major Disruption.
- Interview by Global Leadership League member and volunteer, Kanette Worlds
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