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Kelly Holland

Kelly Holland - Author Interview

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An educator, traveler, fluent Spanish speaker, and passionate leader, Kelly has traveled, worked, taught, and studied across continents. She had become an expert in the field of international education and she is devoted to sharing her experiences with students and helping them find happiness throughout their education.

"You have to learn how to be yourself and how to share yourself with others. Whether it's in a different language or in your first language, you will struggle and you will grow."

Focused on your majors of International Business Management and Spanish, you chose to study abroad in Spain. Why is Spain a good destination for business students?

Being able to conduct business of any kind in a second language is a valuable skill, and the option to take major courses taught in that language is key to building your vocabulary. In my Spanish for Business class, we learned everyday business interactions, as well as some cultural and social rules that apply in the Spanish business world. For example, it's common to include a photo on your resume in the EU, which is not common in the US. I think the second language impact is the biggest benefit to learning business in Spain, as well as understanding how the financial situation in the EU is effecting Spain and its neighbors.

Why did you choose Spanish as your second language? 

Where I grew up, we had the choice of studying one of three languages: French, German and Spanish ... in seventh grade! Looking back, I think I chose Spanish because it seemed to be the one I would use most commonly in the workplace, and also because I loved the sound of it. Now I also appreciate the utility of knowing a romance language, because so many of the roots are similar and I can make my way through French and Italian as a result.

You recently moved on to a new job, but you were previously working as the Interim Director of Study Abroad at Eastern Illinois University. How has your study abroad experience helped shape your career endeavors? 

Studying abroad as a junior in college opened my eyes in many ways. I thought I knew Spanish, but then I lived with a host family that spoke no English. I thought I wanted to go into international business, and then I considered a career in education. Study abroad is often housed within academic affairs at a university, and I've had many students recently saying, "I want to do what you do." There is no traditional path to working in study abroad, which is a beautiful thing the field; colleagues hail from a variety of academic, personal and professional backgrounds. My own path included second language acquisition, several years working in higher education, a graduate degree, and a job abroad. In my work at EIU and now at Towson, I reflect on these experiences every day. Sharing that with my students makes for a powerful connection and reaffirms the fact that I am exactly where I belong!

From a B.A. in International Business Management and Spanish, you made a shift to a M.Ed. in Comparative International Education. What made you decide to pursue a Masters in the field? 

Although I started with an academic background in business, I've worked in education since high school. At a local community college I worked with a summer enrichment program for eight years - first as a volunteer, then a counselor, and ultimately as the program director. Once I studied abroad, I felt like I had to come home and tell everyone I knew (and didn't know) my experience, but I wasn't sure how to translate that into work experience. The answer was higher education. Ultimately, my career after college began in a university setting and I felt very in tune with the higher ed community and saw my own ideas reflected in the values of the campus. I enrolled in a master's program in Comparative and International Education and the work I did there is something I refer to almost daily in my work in study abroad.

Before becoming the Interim Director at the Study Abroad Department of Eastern Illinois University, you worked as one of the staff at Lehigh University. What do you think the biggest benefit of working in the University system is? 

Working in higher education is unlike any other professional experience, in my opinion. One thing I appreciate most higher education is the value system. As with any company, you'll find a wide variety of individuals working toward a common goal. In the case of a university the goal is to provide access to quality education, something I can get behind. I worked in two administrative offices at a private university for a total of four years before working abroad and joining a study abroad office at a public institution. I really enjoy working with a wide variety of people: students, faculty, staff, parents, and administrators. A university is a great place to work collaboratively with other departments and programs, and also to get a look at how each unit contributes to the larger organization. Advancement opportunities, professional development, and tuition remission are also highly valued and those benefits cannot be overstated.

After completing your masters, you went back to Spain and taught English. Which did you enjoy more studying or teaching in Spain? Or are they incomparable?

Studying abroad and teaching abroad could not be more different experiences. I think the similarities end at the schedule: approximately 12 to 16 hours a week for teaching and the same for coursework as a university student. When studying abroad, you have a responsibility to your teachers and your courses. When teaching abroad you have responsibilities to hundreds of students, as well as colleagues and program administrators. One of the biggest differences for me was my experience with the language. While studying abroad in an Intensive Hispanic Studies program and living with a host family, I rarely spoke English - a huge benefit to my Spanish. When teaching abroad, the goal of my professional life was to speak English to young students, an interesting match to the personal goal of speaking more Spanish. I enjoyed both for different reasons: study abroad for the intimate and intense experience of living with a host family, and teaching abroad for the opportunity to work in a second language and take the time to travel extensively.

How does Southern Spain compare to your hometown in Pennsylvania? 

Depending on the location in Andalucia, you could walk everywhere or take public transportation. Growing up, the answer to getting around was usually a car. This is something that I really enjoyed while abroad, as it let me see the city in a way I would have missed entirely if I was driving around on autopilot. I grew up in an area with 100,000 people, and the pueblo where I taught had 14,000 people. Sevilla is much larger with over 700,000 people. I think I experienced the distinct neighborhoods abroad more so than in my hometown. In the area where you live, work, and play you become a creature of habit. In Spain I was constantly pushing myself to explore, so I got to know a lot where I lived. I am also confident that Andalucia has a one up on Pennsylvania in terms of total hours of sunshine, and warmer weather!

You recently led the Spring Break Nicaragua program for Eastern Illinois University. What was your favorite part Nicaragua? 

The Spring Break program to Nicaragua was an intensive language program, and I accompanied eight students to the city of Granada. After studying abroad in a city of the same name halfway around the world, I was charmed by the idea of seeing another Granada (this one with volcanoes). The best part was traveling through a developing nation with my students, and seeing it through their eyes. They asked insightful questions, they learned more themselves, and we found our way around together in a Midwestern mix of Spanish, English, and sign language. Watching the sun set after climbing a volcano was a triumph for our group, and a sight I won't soon forget.

You have travelled extensively around Europe. What city would you recommend every student traveler visit during their time in Europe? 

I think every student needs to take a detour into their own country, at least once, rather than focusing their energy on checking countries off of their list. If you study in Barcelona and never see Madrid or Seville, you don't know Spain. If you study in Paris and never travel down to Nice, have you really seen France? It's so important to explore your own country, and it will help you better understand your friends, colleagues, and hosts. For example, while living in Seville I traveled north to Galicia, and enjoyed making comparisons between regional values, ideals, languages .. and food.

You like to talk how your study abroad experience changed your life and you are passionate encouraging students to study abroad. What is the best reason to study abroad?

The best reason to study abroad is because it's a challenge. There is nothing easy picking up your life and setting down in a brand new place whether you are studying, teaching, or living somewhere that is completely foreign to you for six weeks or six months. Study abroad is hard! You have to learn how to be yourself and how to share yourself with others. Whether it's in a different language or in your first language, you will struggle and you will grow.