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JUST GO AWAY WEDNESDAYS COME TO JIMÉNEZ HALL

Education Abroad adviser Conrad Zeutenhorst connects studying abroad with cross-cultural competency and global careers.

Education Abroad adviser Conrad Zeutenhorst connects studying abroad with cross-cultural competency and global careers. 

Stop by Jiménez Hall 1211 on a Wednesday afternoon between 1:30-3:30 p.m. this fall, and you will see Conrad Zeutenhorst urging students to get out of his office...and study abroad. He is part of the UMD Education Abroad Just Go Away Wednesdays series, where advisers hold drop-in hours for students considering the plunge overseas. Though originally from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Conrad completed his undergraduate career in Washington state and traveled abroad to France and beyond before he landed his current job as Regional Adviser for France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Russia and Asia and Coordinator of the Maryland-in-Nice and Maryland-in-Berlin programs.

Conrad’s interest in study abroad began with his junior year in Rennes, France, an adventure he describes as “empowering,” and four times as long as he’d originally intended—he was only supposed to go for a quarter. But the relationships he was building with his host family, the progress he was making in his French language skills, and the “French identity” he was slowly adopting enticed him to stay the whole year. The second semester was even better than the first. After investing enough time and energy, he says, “Those relationships really blossom and come into their own.” One weekend, a friend invited Conrad to the family house in Normandy. Biking through the countryside and enjoying a barbeque with his friend’s relatives are experiences he’ll never forget: “I felt very much a part of that family, and I was just visiting for the weekend.” Bottom line, “If you can do a year, do it.”

After his long absence from the U.S., Conrad saw life back to normal in a new light. Equipped with the knowledge that he could truly thrive away from home, he says, “There were so many things that I was alive and paying attention to doing, and felt more confident taking on.” He returned to the University of Washington and volunteered at his study abroad fair, where he began an internship at the education abroad office. He spent the next nine months learning the ins and outs of the international education field. After Conrad returned to D.C., he interned with a large study abroad provider and served as a logistics coordinator for a 3-week program in Europe. These experiences made Conrad well qualified for an open position focusing on France at the UMD Education Abroad office. Conrad attributes his success not just to his extensive time abroad but to his capacity to network. “Study abroad is a fairly small field, and it’s fairly hard to get into,” he says, so it’s crucial to learn how to make connections, work in an office, and be a professional. For Conrad, asking himself, “What can I do to get my foot in the door?” eventually showed him the way through it.

Finding the resources to replicate a career trajectory like Conrad’s can be challenging, and UMD Education Abroad is well aware of the sticker shock that can give students pause. However, there are ways that students can finance trips abroad if the program cost is prohibitively high. Terps can take advantage of Maryland tuition rates overseas, resources in the financial aid office, and advisers who are “attuned” to students’ needs. And the benefits may outweigh the costs: as the world becomes more and more connected, employers are placing more and more emphasis on something Conrad refers to as “cross-cultural competency.” Could a prospective employee empathize with the needs of a client in a different culture? Does he or she have proficiency—if not fluency—in another language? Even something as seemingly inconsequential as navigating a public transit system in a foreign city strengthens the problem-solving skills that make a student marketable.

And what if a student’s foreign language skills aren’t quite family barbeque-ready yet? “If you want to go now, there are programs open to you,” Conrad says. The UMD Education Abroad office offers a variety of options for different skill levels, from beginners to advanced speakers. With manageable costs, opportunities for all students and a big boost to the resume, there’s no excuse not to just go away.