Studying Abroad: Setting Off A Series of Dominoes Of Profound Change

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Jan 20, 2015 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Jesse Weisz is the Founder and Executive Director of Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO), a 501c3 non-profit organization that has sent over 1000 teachers abroad since 2008. More information about GEEO can be found at www.geeo.org.

 

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

I went abroad to Australia to study film at the University of of Technology Sydney (UTS) in 1998/1999 for the entirety of my junior year. I chose to study abroad because it seemed like it would be a rewarding experience and a change of pace from my previous two years at the University of Rochester (U of R).

I chose Australia because it seemed like an interesting place and UTS had a highly regarded film department. While I had traveled a bit in Europe before my year studying abroad, I was not at the time a passionate traveler. By the time I came home from Australia, I had completely changed my outlook on life and wanted to explore the world as part of whatever career I ended up in.

 

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

I had an amazing experience in Australia and it was by far my favorite year of college. While Australia is similar to the United States in many ways, it still has a different culture. I made many good friends that I remain in contact with today, despite my time there being during the pre-Facebook era. I was able to travel all over Australia, and some of my best memories were from exploring the diverse environments including the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree National Park, Magnetic Island, Uluru, Kings Canyon, and the Blue Mountains. I also got to go hot air ballooning in the wine country near Melbourne, sheared a sheep in the outback, rode my first horse on a cattle ranch, got attacked by magpies while riding a bike in Canberra, and had so many other adventures.

 

Jesse in Kings Canyon, Australia. From Studying Abroad: Setting Off A Series of Dominoes Of Profound Change

Jesse in Kings Canyon, Australia

 

In terms of academics, UTS had a top notch film production department, compared to the U of R, which was instead very strong in film theory. Combined, they gave me a balanced film education.

The biggest challenge in Sydney was finding affordable housing. My first semester, I rented a room over someone's garage called a granny flat. For my second semester, I had free accommodation the entire time! I shot a promotional video for a hotel/private student housing apartment building in exchange for a free suite. This was one of many times I was able to barter my film production skills for free stuff.

 

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? If so, how & why?

Being abroad gave me a whole new level of independence away from the relatively structured American university experience. Renting an apartment, cooking for myself, managing a budget, and relying on public transportation were all new skills I picked up that I hadn't needed previously. Experiences like shooting the apartment video let my inner entrepreneur emerge.

The biggest turning point of my time abroad and perhaps my whole life occurred in Melbourne. I had gone to Adelaide to visit a friend and visited Melbourne on the way back. While in Melbourne, I happened to walk by the office of a tour operator called Peregrine Adventures. On a lark, I walked into their office and decided on the spot to offer my services to them as a photographer/videographer in exchange for free travel. I talked my way through several layers of the company until I was in the office of the president. I had no portfolio to speak of, so they sent me on a hot air balloon ride to see what kind of skills I had. My balloon had a bit of a crash landing, but nothing I couldn't walk away from and they loved the footage I took (with equipment borrowed from UTS). They agreed to send me to Asia to shoot footage of their tours in Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, India, and Malaysian Borneo. Those three months were incredible! I got to hike to Mt. Everest and see it with my own eyes! I was mere feet away from wild orangutans! I went to the Taj Mahal and Ghats of Varanasi.

 

Prayer flags at dusk. From Studying Abroad: Setting Off A Series of Dominoes Of Profound Change

Prayer flags at dusk

 

It was the trip of a lifetime, and it set in motion a career as a professional photographer, followed by a career as an international marketing consultant (working and living in 16 different countries), followed by my current career of helping teachers travel abroad through GEEO. Studying abroad set off a series of dominoes that have had a profound change on my life.

 

Orangutans. From Studying Abroad: Setting Off A Series of Dominoes Of Profound Change

Orangutans

 

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? If so, how?

As I answered above, I started GEEO because of the chain of events set off by studying abroad in Australia. That year abroad made me fall in love with travel, and ever since then, I have chosen careers that allowed me to travel.

 

Man before the Annapurnas. From Studying Abroad: Setting Off A Series of Dominoes Of Profound Change, Jesse Weisz

Man before the Annapurnas

 

What advice (on finances, the experience, etc.) would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

Studying abroad can be cheaper than studying in the US. For my first semester I arranged my study through an American study abroad company and paid a relatively similar amount to what I was paying in the US for the U of R. My second semester, I figured out that I could enroll in UTS directly and cut out the middle man. It cost a third of the price! I would certainly recommend looking into enrolling directly into a school.

 

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

Traveling and living in different places has made me more conscientious of the role I play as a citizen of the United States and how the United States relates to the rest of the world. After studying abroad and traveling throughout Asia, I became much more interested geopolitics, environmentalism, and our education system. Over the years, I decided that I wanted to do my part to make Americans more outward looking and better, more benevolent global citizens. I felt that if travel had that impact on me, the most effective way of creating this change was to give more Americans the experience of travel abroad. I figured teachers would be the best place to focus my efforts, as they have a long summer vacation and are able to expose the next generation of Americans to the world around them. I started GEEO (www.geeo.org) with the goal of making travel something that all educators get to experience and then help them effectively share those experiences with their students to inspire them to be travelers themselves. I believe that there are many students out there that are traveling abroad right now because their teachers traveled with GEEO and showed them what a valuable experience going abroad is.

Rush Hour. From Studying Abroad: Setting Off A Series of Dominoes Of Profound Change; Jesse Weisz

Rush hour

 

And please finish a tweet using #StudyAbroadBecause...

I love #StudyAbroadBecause it changed the course of my life. www.geeo.org would not exist if I hadn't studied abroad! @geeotweets

 

 

 

 

This is part of a series on international education, as part of our commitment to #GenerationStudyAbroad and our commitment to the White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. You'll find many more inspiring stories here on Wandering Educators!

 

 

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Jesse Weisz

 

 

 

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