Becoming an API Road Warrior

Where to begin? Well, it was my junior year at Washington State University. Although I was well into my major and minor, I was also still no closer to a career path than I was as an 18 year old freshman. Seriously, the real world started to creep up on me (as everyone said it would) and I continued to be that kid who hid behind a book and campus life pretending like it wasn’t going to catch me.

I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say that, initially, studying abroad was extremely daunting; financially and personally. I wasn’t rich (I barely had money to pay for school, rent and Top Ramen), and besides the occasional jaunt across the border, I had never been outside the U.S. on my own. But I was determined to cross SOMETHING off my life’s “to-do” list. With help from my abroad office and API, I found tons of study abroad scholarships and was lucky enough to land a couple that changed everything for me in just a couple weeks. Literally, two weeks. After Christmas break I was on that 747 to Rome, Italy to find… something. Myself? A story? A career path? Who knows.

You can ask anyone who is or went abroad, it is a unique story to each of us, full of highs and lows. You come back stronger as an individual, which ultimately becomes the foundation for your career and life. I returned to the U.S. with a little more swag in my step and a laundry-list of tangible skills. So senior year, I signed up as a peer advisor at WSU’s Global Learning office and as a Campus Advocate for API! If you’re thinking about it, both are a great way to reflect on your experience and help others study abroad.

Fast forward four years. After building my resume for a few years, nothing felt quite as good as helping others reach for their abroad goals and seeing how much they’ve changed after coming back. -Side bar: People in International Education are a different breed! The perfect blend between trusted advisor, determined go-getter and free-spirited wanderer – I admire that, so I took the leap and tried to applying for positions in the field. Yet again, API was there to support me as an alumnus. Now, I travel the Northwest as a Campus Relations Representative talking with students about their goals and ways they can incorporate going abroad to achieve them!

Although people have been seeking experiential learning opportunities abroad for decades, the field of International Education is still young and constantly changing as it gains more traction within the U.S. Much of my time is spent building relationships with schools, planning and traveling to universities as well as working on API projects. But by far, the most rewarding part of my “job” is listening to students’ unique stories and watching that light bulb turn on! I see the same excitement and anxiousness in current students I had myself that junior year. Definitely makes the six hour drives across state lines worth it!

My goal is to continue being that one person who makes a student realize study abroad is a real possibility and a true investment in their future. No matter what your major is, who you identify as, or financial situation, going abroad is one of those defining opportunities in your youth that can help tip the scale in your favor. Whether building valuable connections in our global community, seeing the glass more full than empty or nailing that second-round job interview; why not?

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – St. Augustine

Leiann Mar studied abroad with API in Rome, Italy. She served as an API Campus Advocate at Western Washington University and is current an API Campus Relations Representative.

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