In Their Own Words - Cultural Vistas Staff

Anna Kovtunova, Program Manager at Cultural Vistas since 2010

Anna Kovtunova’s interests in language and travel were sparked during a semester abroad in Spain while studying at New York University.

The summer after receiving her Bachelor's in Linguistics and Spanish, Anna returned to Spain’s historically rich and diverse capital to work as a contracted teacher in the American School of Madrid.  Her time spent in the classroom fulfilled her desire to work in a dual-language environment and allowed her to develop the skills necessary for the success she has found in her current role.

At Cultural Vistas, Anna works directly to support our Alfa Fellowship Program in Russia, as well as our Internship Abroad programs that provide life-changing, career-focused international experiences similar to ones that led her to her current role.

How did your international experience impact you professionally?Anna Kovtunova

Both studying and working abroad helped me improve my Spanish and communication skills and develop a network of professional contacts abroad in the education field. I was also able to see international exchange programs from a participant's perspective, which is very helpful in my current position on the administrative side of similar programs.

The extensive time I spent living abroad is one of the major reasons that I decided to work in the international exchange field when I returned to the United States.

What do you feel was the most important takeaway from your time abroad?

Working in Madrid for two years provided me with an unrivaled opportunity to meet people from all over the world, travel extensively and learn about K-12 international education in depth.

The independent nature of working in Spain as an adult, rather than being a student in a formalized program with other students from my university, contributed learning a great deal more about Spanish culture and really understanding the way of life in another country.

Why is the opportunity to gain international experience important for young people?

In this increasingly more interconnected world, it is essential for young people to understand perspectives other than their own and to learn to relate to and communicate with people from other cultures.

It's especially important to gain work experience abroad, in addition to studying, in order to develop professional skills that are applicable internationally and to connect with like-minded individuals in another country in a professional setting.

Do you have any other advice or comments for prospective students?

My time abroad was a period of growth, not only professionally but also personally, which is one of the reasons that I would highly recommend spending an extended period of time in another country and culture.

Emily Wiechers, Outreach Coordinator at Cultural Vistas since 2006

After finishing her degree in Global Business Management at California State University, Emily found herself in the Student Services Office at the University of Saarland in Germany through a fellowship from Cultural Vistas.

This experience sent her career path in the direction of international exchange and gave her a desire to share the benefits of international work experience with others.

As an alumna of a Cultural Vistas program, Emily lends a unique personal perspective. Whether helping support our scholarship fund for students to go abroad or organizing intercultural events in the United States, the mission of our Cultural Vistas is near and dear to everything she does.

How did your experience abroad impact you professionally?

It led me to my career with Cultural Vistas. I had majored in international business but through my fellowship experience realized I wanted to work with people and give them the opportunity to have the same life changing experience I had. At Cultural Vistas, I am able to fulfill that goal each and every day.

What did you benefit from the most during your time abroad?

Professionally, I gained experience working with a diverse group of people. I also learned to become an intercultural listener, a skill developed through working outside of my native tongue.

Personally, I achieved a lifelong goal to become fluent in a foreign language. While this is an important aspect of my professional growth, it also brings me great personal joy and has allowed me to build deep personal relationships with people I would otherwise not be able to speak to.

Why is the opportunity to gain international experience important for young people?

International experience means you've been able to navigate through many challenges, which creates individuals who can look at problems from many different perspectives.

This is an important leadership skill for today’s competitive global workforce. International experience and learning a second language not only sets you apart from your peers it creates a lifetime of opportunities to connect.

Would you have participated in this program if you had not received a fellowship or scholarship stipend? 

No, I would not have even thought about being able to take this time between finishing my degree and starting a career had I not received a fellowship stipend. I am honored to have been selected and value the opportunity afforded to me each day.

German countryside 

At Cultural Vistas, we believe that a commitment to cultural understanding is the key to sustained success in today's global society.

Collectively, our staff speaks more than 20 different languages. For many of us, just like Emily and Anna, it has been the impact of our own personal and professional experiences abroad that have led us to careers in international exchange.