This month, Verto students embark on an incredible first year experience where they will spend the next semester exploring, creating, and learning about the world with our amazing Instructors, Program Leaders, and more.

Who are these phenomenal world travelers and mentors our students will be spending the next few months with? Our team members have pretty awesome adventures and achievements under their belts. Get to know them through a Q&A!

Greg Caso — Academic Success Coordinator, Costa Rica

Greg Caso headshotWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Greg Caso and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator in Costa Rica.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am most looking forward to meeting students and staff and working through any academic challenges together. Also, I am very much looking forward to practicing Spanish and learning about Costa Rica.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Traveling to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic in high school on conservation trips has greatly impacted my life. In Costa Rica, I spent two weeks building a hatchery for sea turtle eggs and patrolling the beaches at night for sea turtle nests. One night we were able to see a sea turtle lay the eggs before we collected them for the hatchery to protect from poachers. This was amazing but not the first time I had seen this as my family has a condo on the beach in Florida. As a young child I would routinely beg my mom each night to walk the beach with me to look for nesting turtles. We would usually get to see at least a few turtles nest each summer and would go out in the morning to talk to the “turtle patrol” (they would set up a barrier around the nest) about what we had seen. While in the Dominican Republic, I assisted in rebuilding the coral reefs that had locally been bleached. Both of these trips led me to pursue the career I did.

Along with these trips, in college over one spring break I went to Nicaragua with Global Medical Brigades (almost all my friends were pre-med). We travelled each day to a remote village (usually a bumpy 2-4 hour bus ride) and provided medical care and medicine to the families living there. For some families this is the only opportunity for them to see a healthcare professional. It was an eye-opening experience and one I will be forever grateful for.

What is your most adventurous moment?

I do not think I have single most adventurous moment but each summer that I have lived in Colorado has proven to be super adventurous! I am obsessed with backpacking and summiting 14ers (mountains above 14,000ft). I plan to summit all of the 14ers in Colorado eventually (there’s 58) and the highest peak in each U.S. state (besides Alaska as of now).

One funny story from backpacking is when my friend and I went to Utah for a short one night trip. We drove 7 hours, hiked 10 miles, and found the best campsite all in time for a beautiful sunset dinner! I had already put my PJ pants on and was boiling my water for dinner. When I went to the pour the boiling hot water into my meal pouch, the lid came off and the boiling water spilled all over my legs. I let out the loudest scream I have probably ever screamed and flailed around taking my pants off!! My friend had no idea what was happening but eventually put it all together. My ONLY pants were now soaking wet, my legs had nice red hot burns on them, and I had spilled my dinner all over the ground too. The sun was already setting and the temperatures were suppose to reach freezing, if not colder that night. There was no hope that my pants would dry and my friend did not have any extra either. Luckily, I had my big snuggly pitbull mix dog with me on this adventure. She would be personal heater for the night. I shared my sleeping bag with her and that is likely the only reason we did not end up hiking out the 10 miles that night. It was still a chilly night and that morning we woke up to frost covering the ground and our tents. I would do it all again because that sunset and sunrise was magical!

 Jacqueline Leshan — Faculty, Sociology, Hawai’i

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Jacqueline Leshan and I’m a Sociology Instructor.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

The shared experience of being in unfamiliar places to explore how people create cultures in response to environment, and the self awareness and transformation that often emerges when engagement with new ways of living and understanding encourages reflection upon on our own cultures of origin.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I love teaching. I want to inspire people to think critically and self-reflexively, rather than to just accept their lives and the contexts in which they craft their lives, as if it just a given. I believe that everything is political, in the sociological sense of this word, political, which means the struggle over the right to determine the distributions of resources, life chances and power. For me, ideology, or the shared ways of understanding the world, is political. I see that the consequences of how we understand our world are very real, or material, in their consequences. I want to illuminates alternatives to hegemonic ideology, and to amplify realities from the perspective of the those who are silenced, especially those voices that encourage us to act consciously to create a more egalitarian and peaceful world. To this end, I attempt to teach to provide analytical tools for understanding that evoke counter-hegemonic ideas and action, or praxis.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I bring over fifteen years of teaching experience in diverse settings, including both physical and remote classrooms, at College of the Marshall Islands, United World College Costa Rica, University of Santa Clara, National University, and Philadelphia University. I am bilingual in Spanish and English. I am a translator for immigrant children seeking asylum in the US, and their lawyers.

Because of my personal history, research, and teaching experience, I am strategically placed to understand the specific historio-geographic system of advantages and disadvantages that distribute of resources, power and life chances along the fractures of migration status, race, ethnicity, gender and more. I am dedicated to sharing this perspective with my students.

My first career was as a midwife who provided peri-natal healthcare for the under-served community in San Diego. I am also the first generation daughter of immigrant parents from Europe and the Philippines. Inspired by my mother’s survival of World War II concentration camp, I became a midwife and community activist. In this capacity I cared for women who journeyed far from their homes in search of a better life. These included women from Central America, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union, who fled the violence of poverty, armed and sectarian conflicts in their home countries often to find themselves in a harsh and hostile land.

In an effort to better understand the histories of the families I cared for, I became a labor rights activist beside maquiladora workers struggling for better labor conditions in Tijuana.

I first came to university to begin preparing for medical school, in my desire to find meaningful tools to contribute to the collective struggle for a better world. Instead, I found sociology as a method for understanding the world in order to change it.

I  earned an undergraduate degree in Critical Gender Studies and Ethnic Studies from UCSD, and Masters  in sociology at UC Santa Cruz. My research focused on community-based projects with midwives and women in indigenous communities in Southern Mexico. This work provided me with a unique perspective that enhances my understanding.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have lived in Chiapas, Mexico, where I traveled with indigenous healers and physicians to provide health care in rural communities. As a community-based researcher, I have lived in Comítan and San Cristobal, Chiapas. I went to Philippines to find my mother’s family who we lost contact with during World War II. I have had many glorious adventures in Spain, Peru, and Thailand.

What is your most adventurous moment?

Riding my mountain bike through the rain forest to avoid the military road blocks, carrying medical supplies and books to autonomous communities during the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

You will need to identify this yourself.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I want to assure students that their perception and experience of the world is meaningful, and to help them find words to express what they know. At the same time, I want to help them widen and deepen their understanding through sharing the creative process of thinking and imagining with others.

Shonda Foublasse — Academic Success Coordinator, Hawai’i

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Shonda Foublasse and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator in Hawaii.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am over the moon with excitement to be back on the Big Island! I came here as a National Student Exchange participant during undergrad and fell in love with the people, culture, aina, and myself. There is absolutely nothing like the aloha spirit and I can’t wait to shower the students and my colleagues with the joy that was so freely bestowed upon me. Hawai’i is the perfect place to learn and grow personally, academically, and relationally!

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

My parents were in the military so as a younger child I lived in Panama for a while and as I got older we’d visit my dad’s side of the family in the U.S. Virgin Islands. My favorite time abroad, though, was in 2015-2016 when I participated in an 11 month missionary journey to 11 countries. Each month my squad and I served alongside different ministries and organizations doing everything from teaching English to building houses to instilling entrepreneurship principles to working in orphanages. Other than that, I’ve been to Morocco and Colombia, and gone on a few cruises with friends.

What was your most adventurous moment?

Shark cage diving in South Africa, for sure! That was the one time that I almost let stereotypes to keep me from living life incredibly. I’m so glad I didn’t! It was one of the most amazing experiences! I felt like I was in an aquarium as I looked at all the sharks and fish swirling around us. Creation is truly fascinating!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

This semester has the potential to be the most amazing launching pad of your life! I highly encourage you to be all in, to challenge yourself to do the hard things, to step out of your comfort zone, to be open to learning from other’s perspectives, to give yourself permission to become whoever you want to be, and to have fun. Let’s be unapologetically great together!

Andrew Assini — Faculty, Psychology and Counseling Services, Costa Rica

What’s your name and position with Verto?

My name is Andrew Assini and I’ll be teaching (two sections of Psychology) and offering counseling services in Costa Rica this fall.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit over the last decade or so, including adventures in Asia and South America, as well as six months in an RV driving across North America. Most recently I spent eleven months in Thailand and two months in Guatemala.

What was your most adventurous moment?

I’d say probably my most wild and adventurous moments were in the Amazon with indigenous shaman. My first trip to India was pretty intense too.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

As an instructor, I have eleven semesters of experience teaching a wide array of psychology, mental health counseling, and addictions courses, in person and online, at the graduate and undergraduate level, and in university and community college settings. As a mental health professional, I have over ten years of clinical experience, where I’ve had the opportunity to work with mental health, substance use disorder, and dual diagnosis populations across the continuum of care and lifespan, in a variety of direct care and supervisory roles.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Perhaps the most valuable things that will be learned this semester won’t be in a classroom or for college credits. Be gentle with yourself and enjoy the adventure.

Abby Gray — Academic Success Coordinator, Costa Rica

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Abby Gray and I’ll be the Academic Success Coordinator in Costa Rica.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am thrilled to learn alongside students and to support them in developing skills that will bring them success beyond their Verto semester(s). Both staff and students will come with past experiences and unique perspectives that I look forward to learning more about and connecting with!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Verto’s mission makes it clear that our organization is not only unique, but also a game-changer. Verto understands that education abroad is not an accessible part of the college experience yet for many students. I studied abroad twice as an undergraduate and realized that very few college students can access the experience that truly shaped my priorities, expectations for life, and perspective on what it means to be an American and global citizen. Verto’s mission to expand access to study abroad opportunities aligns with my personal belief that international experiences are incredibly valuable and that all students should have the opportunity to pursue them.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I’ve worked with undergraduate students and junior/senior high school students in Maine, Rhode Island, and California in several different roles. I supported Upward Bound students in Maine as they explored college options and supported them as they developed skills essential for their academic and professional careers. In Rhode Island, I welcomed international students to the US and explored cultural differences between their home countries and the US with them. At that same university, I mentored first-year students and assisted them with their coursework, serving as a liaison between faculty and students!

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Since 2017, I have studied and lived in Cuba, England, and Italy. My international travels also include Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, the Bahamas, and Ireland. My junior year I spent in Florence, Italy taking courses and better understanding Italian culture. In Cuba, I studied study abroad program risk management and drove the length of the country with a group of graduate students and our professor. My international experiences range from personal travel with family to study abroad programs to research abroad!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Above all else, I’d shared with Verto students that nervousness or hesitancy is completely expected and normal. You have shown such tremendous courage and drive by pursuing this opportunity and saying YES! There is a reason that you applied, were admitted and accepted. You absolutely have what it takes to succeed as a part of the Verto community. We are so excited to meet you and recognize the bravery that you are demonstrating by showing up. Cheers to a fantastic semester ahead!

Honor Stoner — Faculty, Environmental Science, Costa Rica

Honor StonerWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Honor Stoner, and I’m teaching Environmental Science.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

The outdoor experiences I had as a child led me to chose an environmentally-focused career, and I believe Verto does an amazing job of curating experiences that can lead you to discover your passions in life and work.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have taught previously in Hawaii and Fiji with Verto Education. I also have guided many outdoor programs and restoration days for the general public and children.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am most looking forward to seeing wildlife such as turtles or sloths, along with the various excursions such as hiking, rafting, and surfing.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have worked with Verto previously in Hawaii and Fiji, which was a blast. Traveling to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic for conservation trips has greatly impacted my life. In Costa Rica, I spent two weeks building a hatchery for sea turtle eggs and patrolling the beaches at night for sea turtle nests. One night, we were able to see a sea turtle lay the eggs before we collected them for the hatchery to protect from poachers. This was amazing. but not the first time I had seen this since my family has beach condo in Florida. As a young child, I would routinely beg my mom to walk on the beach with me each night to look for nesting turtles. While in the Dominican Republic, I assisted in rebuilding the coral reefs that had locally been bleached. Both of these trips led me to pursue the career I did.

What was your most adventurous moment?

Anytime I am out in the Colorado backcountry hiking, backpacking, climbing, or snowboarding proves to be pretty adventurous. I have summited five peaks above 14,000ft while living in Colorado.

Abby Luper — Student Life Coordinator, London

Abby Super HeadshotWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Abby Luper and I am a Student Life Coordinator in London.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m most looking forward to making connections with students and watching them grow throughout the semester. Growth happens outside of comfort zones and moving to another country definitely is outside of one’s comfort.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

The summer I studied abroad definitely changed my life for the better. I grew more than ever, I gained a better sense of the world and I felt that was the moment I discovered myself. I know how transformative this experience can be and i’m excited to be apart of that for others.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have lived in Madrid, Spain the last three years and just recently moved to London. Since living in Europe I’ve done lots of traveling!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Be open to change. Acknowledge the differences in life abroad compared to what you are used to at home but do not label them as bad, just different. 😊

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have lived in Madrid, Spain the last three years and just recently moved to London. Since living in Europe I’ve done lots of traveling!

What was your most adventurous moment?

Probably running down the side of a volcano Pacaya in Guatemala. 🌋🏃‍♀️

Regina Roberts — Academic Success Coordinator, Hawai’i

Regina Roberts HeadshotWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Regina Roberts and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am most looking forward to connecting and learning with and and from the staff and students during this cohort, hoping to make lifelong relationships.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

My personal connection to Verto’s mission is the connection between travel and learning. It is my hope that both staff and students are learners each semester allowing the process of travel to greatly enrich each of us.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Yes, I’ve traveled abroad for the last 5 years more consistently and it has helped both my personal and professional growth.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have previously worked both in the traditional Higher Ed and Non-Profit sector with College Access Program, In which I believe has all prepared me for this moment.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

One thing I would share with Verto Students traveling this semester is to be open to the process, and make every effort to connect with others it will make the experience much more engaging and memorable.

Samantha Wasek — Student Life Coordinator, Seville

Samantha Wasek HeadshotWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Samantha Wasek, and I’m a Student Life Coordinator in Seville, Spain.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Meeting our Verto students and seeing how they grow (and grow to love Seville) over the course of the semester. 🙂

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Growing up, I had never traveled outside of the US, but it was the one thing I knew I wanted to do – so much so that I went to my college’s study abroad office the first week of my freshman year to see when I could go abroad! I had to wait until I was a senior, but oh, was it worth the wait. For me, a lover of languages, being immersed in a Spanish-speaking world was a dream come true. It forced shy me to use the language I’d been learning, and by doing so, to deeply discover another way of living life that was completely different from the only one I’d ever known. This experience transformed me, and I believe that any time spent abroad will give you a perspective on life that will change you in ways you cannot imagine.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

For years, I taught English to young college students, so I know what an exciting and challenging time this is. More recently, I worked in the international office at a private university, where I helped students from many different countries navigate their semester abroad here in Seville.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I currently live in the same city where I studied abroad – Seville, Spain! I’ve traveled throughout Europe, and I also participated in the Disney College Program in Walt Disney World (which is practically a study abroad experience).

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I’m a YouTuber! I have a small channel in English and Spanish all about Spanish culture and language, Seville, and even tips for studying and living abroad. It’s called De americanas maneras, so come check it out and say hi if you want a peek at life in Seville.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I want you to know that you’ve got a team here waiting for you that cares about you. It’s normal to be nervous and excited, but please don’t be worried. This semester is going to be fantastic – we’ve got your back!

Nicole Horvath — Program Manager, Seville

Nicole HovarthWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Nicole Horvath and I’m the Seville Program Manager.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Study abroad in college was such a pivotal moment for me, and I am looking forward to playing a part in that change for others and to supporting students in making their time abroad the most rewarding experience possible.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

When I was in high school, I spent a couple summers doing a volunteer program in El Salvador. Then, when I graduated I had the opportunity to live with a family in Ecuador for a month. In college, I studied abroad for a semester in Spain. And, I have now been living in Seville, Spain for 11 years! I spend all of my free time traveling, around the province, the country, as well as North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. For the last two years, I have been organizing my own short-term study abroad experiences in France to help with my French language skills.

What is your most adventurous moment?

This is a difficult one for me, but most of the things that come to mind involve some kind of endeavour where I am trying to reach an off-the-beaten path location using public transportation in a country where the timetables are approximations at best and I don’t speak their language!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Experiencing life outside of our home culture allows us to embark on intensive self-discovery, gain confidence, and develop a deep capacity for empathy. I love that Verto students will be able to begin their college experience by transforming in this way and be able to contextualize the rest of their college years (and life!) with this new perspective. I am so excited to support them on this journey!

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have been working in international education with American students in Spain for about a decade. Through my undergraduate and master’s studies, I have focused on language (studying Spanish, French, and Russian) and culture. And, I continue to take advantage of opportunities to learn and have exchange experiences in my personal life, especially through travel.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

That I used to play basketball? That usually makes people laugh.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Remember that you are in control of your experience- you are going to be exposed to so many new ideas, places, languages, meet lots of new people and have amazing surprises. You will try new things and get outside of your comfort zone, but you’ll also experience challenges and times where it’s not going how you thought it would. Embrace all of these moments with an open and positive mindset because they are exactly what make the journey so transformative!

Fabio Coelho — Academic Success Coordinator, Costa Rica

Fabio Coelho HeadshotWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Fabio Coelho and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Establishing positive and healthy relationships with the students, the staff, and the local community. Good interactions sustain us, and it always pays off to invest in them.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

What was your most adventurous moment?

Exploring the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador and Komodo and Lombok islands in Indonesia. As you’ve probably noticed, I am a big fan of beautiful islands.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I really believe that studying abroad should be a foundational and accessible part of college education and that it is a journey of self discovery. Probably the best journey I’ve been on because it never ends. Sometimes you go back home to rest for a bit and recharge, but the journey continues once you are out and about again.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have both studied and worked abroad, including assisting US students abroad and coaching foreign students heading to the US for college or grad school. I have learned a lot from students, their different perspectives, and their different needs.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I am a Brazilian-American (dual citizen). Not sure if this is a surprising thing, but I can’t think of anything else as I write.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Going into the study abroad experience with the right mindset can set you up for success early on. It’s important to know what you want to get out of the journey before it begins, but it is equally important to be open to surprises along the way.

Ramil Collier — Student Life Coordinator, Hawai’i

Ramil Collier HeadshotWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Ramil Collier and I am a Student Life Coordinator for the Hawai’i program

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m looking forward to meeting new people and having a grand adventure in Hawai’i

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Yes, I lived in Germany for a semester as a student and worked in Ireland for two months before the pandemic. I’ve traveled to Italy with students and visited Greece, Switzerland, Spain, France, and the UK for personal cultural immersion.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I love traveling and learning about new cultures and I want to help students learn about themselves and the world around them through these experiential opportunities. Becoming a global citizen is paramount to becoming a leader of positive change in our world.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I bring 5 years of event planning for students, staff, and faculty. I have planned fun and engaging events for first year students and race and gender training sessions for staff and faculty. I’ve hosted banquets with donors and facilitated career fairs for employers. Due to the pandemic, I made a shift into Student Activities supporting student clubs and organizations in programming and event planning during a pandemic. I empowered our student leaders to think out of the box and find new and inventive ways to interact and engage their peers, My first role included career coaching and mentoring and in many ways academic advising as well. I love lobbying my experience in DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) when mentoring students to help them see themselves and their environment differently to help them consider other alternatives when considering their futures.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Keep an open mind and say “yes” to new opportunities. You only ever regret the things you don’t do.

Jason Scott — Faculty, Cultural Geography, Costa Rica

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Jason Scott and I’m the Cultural Geography professor.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Being a part of a learning environment committed to experimental learning formats, that make learning more efficient and inspirational. What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I’ve never lived abroad, but I travel abroad quite frequently.

What was your most adventurous moment?

Experiencing the Jazz Festival in Havana January, 2020. Also, my recent and prior visits to the BriBri plantation in Costa Rica.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Spending time abroad has helped me realize the value of discovering one’s self outside of my comfort zone. I hope that such an experience will provide broader perspectives for students.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

My travels to Costa Rica and other countries has provided me with experiences that continues to help me render learning in a more comprehensive manner.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I’m a vegetarian (I don’t know why).

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

How migration, agriculture, geopolitics and urban design are tightly interconnected.

Karen Masters — Country Director, Costa Rica

Karen Masters Headshot

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Karen Masters, the Country Director in Costa Rica.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I look forward to meeting the students, learning about and from them, and hopefully having a chance to mentor them in return.

 

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I’m committed to making higher education accessible and relevant for young people coming into adulthood in a rapidly changing world, one that is in need of citizens who are energized by complex challenges facing society. My goal is to help others to celebrate and safeguard biological and cultural diversity through increased awareness, empathy, and empowerment. I believe this aligns closely with the Verto mission.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I’ve lived abroad for about 30 years, and have traveled extensively throughout the Americas. I’ve also traveled to other parts of the world, but I strongly identify with Latin America and love to spend time in this region.

What is your most adventurous moment?

I’ve had many outrageous travel adventures (including some that I wouldn’t recommend that you repeat), but I’m pretty fond of my memories of the Masters Awesome Summer Vacation of 2000. This was when my husband decided that it was a good idea for us to take our sons (twins, then 11 years old) on the equivalent of the American summer road trip across the county, but instead of doing something normal like that, our travels were by SUV across all of the countries of Central America and Mexico. The odyssey had a goal: to visit and climb as many Mayan ruins as humanly possible. It took on many surprising turns, especially since roads or bridges were often washed out by flooding, lacked signage, or had cattle blocking passage. The twins were awed by the temples and tales of the Mayan civilization, but equally floored by the sights, sounds, and smells of the markets and plazas of the tiny towns dotting the gorgeous landscapes. They learned the art of bartering, swam in cenotes, and explored partially excavated ruins. The journey wasn’t always comfortable or pleasant, sometimes tempers flared in the car, but it was hugely impactful, and we managed to get through 7 countries with only one sandwich hurled from the front seat to back. Not bad.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

My brothers are identical twins, my sons are identical twins, and we have identical twin West Highland Terriers!

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

For 20+ years I have directed and taught programs in ecology and sustainability in Costa Rica.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

There are so many things! Maybe the most important thing is a simple tip: Be open-minded. That’s how we learn best, and there are so, so many beautiful things for you to learn.

Marissa Ryan — Student Life Staff, Florence

Marissa Ryan HeadshotWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

My name is Marissa Ryan and I am a member of the Florence, Student Life Staff.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I can’t wait to meet the students and start helping them get to know this amazing city.

 

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

My personal connection with Verto’s mission is quite strong, because I studied abroad in Florence for a year in 2001 and it changed my life. I want other students to have an amazing experience and hopefully it will positively impact their lives as it did for me.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

Throughout my career I have always been connected with universities and higher education, especially study abroad. I worked as an RA in my undergrad, studied abroad as soon as I graduated, and worked for that school in student life as soon as I finished. Then, I continued to bring groups of students from the college where I ran my art conservation studio. I returned to Florence at 35-years-old to do a Master’s in Contemporary Art, and then I taught as an adjunct art professor here.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have been addicted to traveling since my grandmother decided I needed to see the ocean for the first time when I was 15. She took me on a cruise to Bermuda. After that, there was no holding me back. During undergrad, I went to London, and then Naples, Pompeii and Capri. As soon as I finished my degree, I came to Florence to do a Post Bac in art conservation. Now I’ve been living in Italy, on and off, for about a total of 10 years starting in 2001.

What is your most adventurous moment?

When I decided I was going to study in Florence, one of my dearest friends was supposed to come study with me… actually, the whole thing was her idea! At the last minute, her funding fell through and she backed out. I decided to come anyway and was terrified at the thought of not knowing anyone. I grew up in a small town in the countryside and this was going to be the furthest I had been away from home in my life for more than a month. My friend knew how nervous I was and came the night before to help me finish packing. The next day was my “sliding door” moment and I am so glad I worked up the courage to get on that plane, because it was an experience that changed my life.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

My boyfriend says my most surprising quality is my imagination, but along with that I would say my endless optimism… I try to find the good in any and every situation and always try to learn from it.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

The one thing I want to share with the students is to be open. Things will be new and different and it is important to approach a new culture with an open mind. You might find out something amazing about yourself in the process.

Amanda Cummings — Academic Success Coordinator, Seville

Amanda Cummings Headshot

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Amanda Cummings and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator in Seville.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have traveled to 18 countries: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru, Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Turkey, Morocco, and more. I have been living in Spain for the last six years.

Favorite city ever visited: Sydney, Australia

Most memorable view: Standing up top of the Xunantunich (Stone Lady) temples in Belize

Solo adventure: Volunteering at hostel in Hvar, Croatia

First big trip away from home: High school exchange to Tokyo, Japan for 1 month

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m looking forward to meeting all of you brave world-travelers… but mostly, I’m looking forward to ‘showing off’ Seville and other parts of Spain. It’s a truly wonderful culture and I’m sure you’ll love it.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I wholeheartedly agree with the goal of student-focused learning combined with an international experience. I know, first hand, what it is to have a desire to study, live, and simply be abroad. I’m here to help you do it successfully.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

Most people don’t know that aside from being fluent in English and Spanish, I also have a pretty good level of Spanish Sign Language (LSE). *But I don’t know American Sign Language.

What is your most adventurous moment?

Living on an organic coffee farm in the mountains of Costa Rica for a few months. I’ve never worked so hard in my life! We did a lot more than drink good coffee. 😉

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Keep your eyes, ears, and hearts wide open. You’ll learn a lot about the world and about yourself.

Dylan Stiegemeier — Faculty, International Relations

What is your name and position with Verto? 

I’m Dylan Dylan Stiegemeier Headshot and I’m an instructor in International Relations.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am most looking forward to being back in the classroom. Also, it is very fun to check out and experience new cultures and places. I have never been to Costa Rica. I am really looking forward to seeing a new place.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

My wife is Swedish, so I have been living in Sweden the last four years. I have taught English in Shenzhen, China for one year. I have driven a VW camper van across the United States and to many of the national parks in North America. Also, I have spent 8 months traveling from Bogota, Colombia to Punta Arenas the Southern most city in Chile by bus. Like most people I enjoy traveling.

What was your most adventurous moment?

I think my most adventurous moment was hiking in Patagonia. We hiked to a big metal cross that was the tip of South America. You had to time the tides and wade rivers. It was very beautiful and exhilarating seeing what Darwin and Magellan had seen centuries before.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I love the idea of experiential learning and getting students outside of the classroom making a difference.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have Doctorate in Political Science from Idaho State University. I have taught Global Issues at several community colleges in Idaho and Washington State. The last four years I have been living in Umea, Sweden with my family. I am really looking forward to designing a course that focuses on experiential learning.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I don’t think I have many surprises but I love to downhill ski.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I would say to take advantage of the opportunity. It is rare to experience new cultures and places for an extended period of time. Also, by doing so I think you can learn just as much about your own culture. You do not know what is different or strange until you see a different way of doing things.

Ayodele Campbell — Student Life Coordinator, Hawai’i

Ayodele Campbell HeadshotWhat is your name and position with Verto? 

My name is Ayodele Campbell and I’m a Student Life Coordinator.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Besides meeting and getting to know the students and staff, I am looking forward to being part of creating a nurturing and supportive community on our campus.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

In 2018, I went on a solo journey and traveled through 11 African countries for 6 months. I learned so much about myself and the world around me. Throughout the years, I’ve continued to travel mostly solo to countries in Southeast Asia and Central America. My plan is to return to the beautiful continent of Africa in 2022/ 2023 to explore some more countries.

What was your most adventurous moment?

While traveling through Africa, I bungee jumped off the Zambezi Bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I am a Licensed Master Social Worker. I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Social Work, concentrating in macro and organizational management. Most of my experiences involved working with youth in different settings. My passion is to support youth to succeed academically, but also to help them grow in their overall emotional, mental, and social well being.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I don’t like to fly. I am a nervous wreck on planes but I have developed a system for myself to keep me calm and distracted.

Nadia Sousa Garzón — Academic Success Coordinator, Seville

What is your name and position with Verto? 

I’m Nadia Sousa Garzón and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am really excited to join this new project here in Sevilla. I am sure all our students will love this wonderful city and its culture.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have traveled all around Europe and visited many countries in Latin America, Asia and North America. Travelling is my passion.I have lived in Germany and in the USA.

What was your most adventurous moment?

I spent a month in Bangladesh teaching Spanish at the University. I will never forget the experience living in one of the poorest countries in the world. It was very rewarding.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have been working with exchange students the last 10 years. I have worked with university students here in Seville, Spain and in Berlin, Germany.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I want to share with them my love to this city. I also want to live with them how amazing is the living abroad experience.

Paige Sturley — Faculty, Mathematics, Costa Rica

What is your name and position with Verto?

I’m Paige Sturley and I’m apart of the Math Faculty.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am looking forward to experiencing a new culture and country and incorporate those experiences into the classroom.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I traveled to Costa Rica before for a high school trip. I also lived in England for a year when I was a baby.

What was your most adventurous moment?

White water rafting in Costa Rica!

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I just finished a M.S. in Mathematics with an emphasis in Post-Secondary Education. I have also been tutoring and/or teaching college level statistics and math since 2014.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Be optimistic about new experiences and take advantage of every opportunity you get.

Stefanie Ramírez — Program Coordinator, Costa Rica

What is your name and position with Verto? 

I’m Stefanie Ramírez and I’m the Program Coordinator in Costa Rica.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m looking forward to learn more about Verto and be able to contribute more of my knowledge.

 

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have traveled to the United States and Honduras to visit my family.

What was your most adventurous moment?

In Costa Rica there are many places to visit, each of them is spectacular

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Experiencing other realities and getting out of our bubble really impacts our being and allows us to see beyond and be more empathetic when making decisions and behaving.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have a lot of experience in customer service since I have worked for more than 6 years in the tourism sector. In addition, I was a tourist teacher in a school with students between the ages of 16 and 17. However, the most important experience was given to me by life, since I am the mother of a 10-year-old girl.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I can be very generous.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Enjoy and discover responsibly, be grateful to our parents for all the effort they made to have this opportunity.

Andrea Bravo — Student Life Coordinator, Costa Rica

Andrea Bravo Headshot

What is your name and position with Verto? 

My name is Andrea Bravo and I am a Student Life Coordinator.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Creating a community with like minded people and being there for students when they need support but also when we celebrate their achievements.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I can’t point to a date when I realized I loved traveling. Opportunities came and I took them each time. I did one short exchange program in high school in NJ. Then I studied one year of high school in Quebec, Canada. Then I did one semester of college in Melbourne, Australia. Then I worked for a year in Bangalore, India. Since 2016, I’ve gone for three months each year to different countries to work in educational and service travel programs. I’ve had the privilege of staying in places longer than most people who go on vacations do and it is very special because you connect deeper with the culture, the people and the land.

What was your most adventurous moment?

Hard to choose one! I’d say bikepacking trips in Mexico.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I believe that experiences like studying abroad make us understand the world better and therefore become better people and better leaders.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have studied and lived abroad and I know how transformative this experiences can be. I have worked in the student travel industry for 5 years leading programs in Laos, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Perú and Puerto Rico.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I owned a yoga studio in Mexico City for two years.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

You get out of it what you put into it. Stay open and embrace discomfort.

Dr. Drew Attana — Faculty, English Language, Costa Rica

What is your name and position with Verto? 

I’m Dr. Drew Attana and I’m a part of the English Faculty.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

This question should be: What am I not looking forward to this semester? That’s simple: leaving my twin labradors for a few months. However, I’m trying to teach them how to FaceTime. Otherwise, everything about this adventure sounds amazing. From meeting and learning from new students and faculty, to exploring the wondrous world of Costa Rica, it is hard to imagine this experience will be anything less than a total blast!

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I grew up in Los Angeles, so I spent a good amount of time traveling and exploring Mexico. I’ve lived many different states and I’ve also travelled around the Caribbean.

What was your most adventurous moment?

I’ve done some wild things in my life, but I have to say, the most adventurous event in my life was marrying the incomparable Dr. Krista.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Being able to teach and learn from my students while immersing ourselves in Costa Rican culture: what more can you ask for?!

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I have a debilitating addiction to collecting vinyl records.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I’m sure traveling for an extended period might be a little nerve-racking (it is for me too!), but if we all go in with open minds and open hearts, I know this will be an unforgettable experience!

Claire Kibblewhite — Program Director, London

What is your name and position with Verto? 

I’m Claire Kibblewhite and I’m the Program Director in London.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Meeting the Fall 21 Verto London students and help them discover, be challenged and help develop their awareness.

 

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have travelled extensively but also lived in France working as a ski guide which was a transformative experience. I have also worked for a time in Sydney and Barcelona.

What was your most adventurous moment?

I have had most of my favourite adventures through skiing and meeting so many different people in so many different countries

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I’m a lifelong resident of London; a complex global city. Throughout my long professional career working in study abroad I have felt privileged to witness students adapt, discover, and engage in the community they have chosen to live in. I’m excited to help them explore this different culture through mindfulness and reflection so they can participate fully in the academic path they have chosen.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have worked in Study Abroad for almost 30 years and I’m still learning ! I have supported students to successfully complete their time abroad by putting in place structures and processes to aid their well-being and health. Creating these safety nets helps to enable students to advocate for themselves develop both on an academic and personal level.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

Perhaps that I ride a motorcycle to work each day ?

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Come with an open mind. Be prepared to be flexible and to question all you see that is different. Appreciate the diversity you see around you and know what an amazing adventure you are embarking on.

Matthew Hacholski — Faculty

Matthew Hacholski HeadshotWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Matthew Hacholski and I’m apart of the faculty.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Meeting the Students.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have traveled to many countries and places across our planet for both academic research and leisure yet many denizens of our globalized world do the same in our age.

What was your most adventurous moment?

When I meet a new person for the first time – who knows what will happen!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I believe college education is a transformative process where a student constantly strives to become more than a student rather seeks to become the ideal person they will be when they graduate.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have worked for numerous colleges and universities across the United States.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

Oh, I have no surprises. As a instructor, everything I do is written down in the syllabus before it happens. 🙂

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Learn for your fellow students as well as your professors!

Oscar Ceballos — Center Director, Seville

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Oscar Ceballos and I’m the Center Director in Seville.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

The exciting of welcoming students into my hometown, specially because for many of them it will their first trip abroad.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Yes… I spend part of my summers in Seattle, WA on a regular basis with my wife’s family. My kids have Spanish and American citizenship (they’re very likely). Also, I lived most of the 1990’s in London, UK, when I was an artist.

What was your most adventurous moment?

Moving to London with no specific plans when I was 22.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Equity and access in higher education, and indeed in education abroad is much needed, and that’s at the core of Verto’s mission

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have created programs for students and faculty for over 20 years. I have taught multiple courses, mainly on Spanish Language and Communications.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

People have confused me sometimes with the actor Stanley Tucci. Not that amazing!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

That they can be independent in a new city, culture and community; that they can take the challenge.

Dr. Krista Attana — Faculty, English Language and Literature, Costa Rica

What is your name and position with Verto? 

I’m Dr. Krista Attana and I’m an English professor. 

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I really want to see a sloth! More seriously, I can’t wait to meet my students and faculty and immerse myself in Costa Rican culture.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have never lived abroad, but I have been to almost every state in the United States, including living in Wisconsin, Washington, Louisiana, Florida, and Georgia. Internationally, I have spent time in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, France, Great Britain, Jamaica, Aruba, the Bahamas, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

What was your most adventurous moment?

I think leaving home, alone, at 22 to move across the country from Wisconsin to Washington, where I knew nobody, was my most adventurous moment!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I was drawn to the opportunity to immerse myself in another culture: learning, writing, and teaching experientially.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I grew up outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I earned a BA in English and Film Studies at UW-Milwaukee. From there, I moved to Spokane, Washington where I completed an MFA in Poetry at Eastern Washington University, and went on to complete a Ph.D in English (with a focus on Creative Writing and Folklore) at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. In addition to my degrees, I have taught at various colleges in Georgia and successfully published drama and poetry, including my first book of poetry titled Like Thunder, Like Daughter, which was released this summer through Dancing Girl Press. I truly believe my love for learning, writing, and reading will add some passion to my classes and help my students feel confident in their ability to express what they experience in Costa Rica and beyond.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I like to paint, I am obsessed with Harry Potter (Hufflepuff here!) and I like to think I’m a pretty decent cook, thanks to my mother who is a chef in Wisconsin.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I want to express how far a love for writing and reading can carry you. The most common comment I get from students is that they hate writing and reading. I always make it my mission to show students how versatile English is, and how much we depend on expressing ourselves clearly and honestly in whatever career path we choose. If I can make my students feel confident in their writing, then I feel I have succeeded as a professor.

Larry Gonzalez — Faculty, Photography, Costa Rica

Larry Gonzalez HeadshotWhat is your name and position with Verto? 

I’m and I’m apart of the Faculty/Photography.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

The opportunity to inspire and foster a new generation of talented students.

 

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have lived and worked as an artist and educator in The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Argentina and El Salvador.

What was your most adventurous moment?

During the past ten years I have had the opportunity to collaborate with Con-Textos, a non-profit organization in El Salvador that promotes literacy in rural schools by donating books, building libraries and training teachers. I created a promotional campaign through the production of videos and photographs. The opportunity to live and work with different communities throughout the country has been one of the most important professional experiences in my life.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

A belief in student growth through transformative educational experiences

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have been a Professor of Photography and Filmmaking at various universities during the past six years. I have also collaborated with non-profit educational organizations in Central America during the last ten years. One of the defining factors in my educational career is working with a culturally diverse student population. As a native Puerto Rican, I am the product of two cultures. Being born and raised in the island have shaped my greater identity as a citizen of Latin America. I have also spent half of my adult life in the United States as a student first and later as an educator. The scope of my personal, educational and professional experiences in both countries has given me a unique perspective: From my years as a student in Boston to my first job as a public school teacher in Harlem and finally, my personal artistic exploration of Latin America. I believe these professional and personal experiences make me an ideal candidate that represents the greater American experience.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

My constant ability to re-invent myself.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

To love and embrace you own particular journey.

Eliza Wilton — Student Life Coordinator, Hawai’i

What is your name and position with Verto? 

I’m Eliza Wilton and I’m the Student Life Coordinator in Hawai’i.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m most looking forward to creating a Verto community with our Hawai’i cohort and collaborating with students to make sure they get the most out of their experience.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I’ve been super lucky to travel widely with family, for study and work. Every new place has been amazing but Peru and Thailand would have to be my favourites. I also completed the last semester of my degree in Tokyo, so spent 6 months there eating all the sushi and getting some snow action!

What was your most adventurous moment?

I love all things adventure, but my most adventurous moment would probably be collecting bamboo in the jungle of north-west Thailand as part of a community development project. There was some serious jungle bashing going on, and I don’t think I was ready when a local passed me a machete!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Through my participation in study abroad programs in high-school and university, I gained an understanding of global citizenship and the importance of community engagement. It was also a time of significant personal growth, and encouraged me to build a strong sense of independence, grit and openness to the world around me. Verto semesters have been incredibly transformative for students, and it’s been amazing to see them immerse themselves in culture and lean in to new opportunities that the world holds for us. This is something that I love being a part of!

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

My career has been all about experiential education, supporting cultural engagement and building community. As part of this, I’ve been running student travel programs in Australia and South-East Asia for the past two years. I’ve also worked with Verto on two of their South Pacific semesters, spending time in Fiji, New Zealand and Australia with some legendary crew/angels!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

A key part of culture is living the local life, so I think it’s super important for students to come into the semester with an open and curious mind. It’s the moments off the beaten track and connecting with local people and places that will be truely memorable. Looking back on these moments, you’ll gain a first hand understanding that they are one of a kind experiences that not every traveler gets.

Along with the all excitement I’m also sure that there’s some nerves about the upcoming semester, whether that be about distance from home, living in a new environment, studying with new people or a combination of all the things! You’re certainly not alone here- many students will be having similar feelings, but SLC’s and your new friends are here to support you the whole way!

Clare Ling — Student Life Coordinator, Costa Rica

Claire Ling HeadshotWhat is your name and position with Verto? 

My name is Clare Ling and I am one of Verto’s Student Life Coordinators!

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I sure have! But certainly not enough. In college, I studied abroad in Santiago, Chile and later in Havana, Cuba. Most recently I taught abroad in Mérida, Mexico with the U.S. Fulbright Program.

What was your most adventurous moment?

I got heat stroke in the Yucatan and my landlady performed magnetic therapy on me! She later told me she began practicing as a magnetic therapist years ago after seeing it work like magic on her young daughter. Back then, my landlady was worried that her four-year-old daughter wasn’t growing, so she took her in to see a magnetic therapist. Right after the magnetic therapy session, her daughter apparently grew SO MUCH then and there that the buttons of her jacket popped off a la the blueberry girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!! I love that image.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I grew up always wanting to go abroad, buuuut who woulda thought — traveling overseas is EXPENSIVE. College finally made living abroad an accessible option for me, and I went on to learn so much about myself, my capabilities, and the community around me while studying in Chile and Cuba. At the same time, those experiences reminded me what a huge privilege it is to study abroad. Though it’s easy to wax poetic about the benefits of living and learning overseas, it’s a process that requires time, money, and support. That’s why I’m so passionate about Verto and its mission to promote equitable access to meaningful international experiences for all.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I’ve been lucky enough to work in a variety of client- and student-centered roles that really revolved around cross-cultural learning and communication. Whether it was teaching university students in Mexico on Fulbright, supporting refugees in their relocation to Chicago, or advising teachers looking to move overseas, my past work experiences have left me with a deep appreciation for active listening, and an eagerness to learn from others.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

Speaking of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I am very pro Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka! Love that hair. I do realize this is a controversial opinion and might be disconcerting for some.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Trust thyself! You are going to be in a gorgeous new-to-you locale with gorgeous new-to-you friends having the time of your LIVES studying abroad!! Right?? Well yeeeeees but…OJO (remember!): Study abroad is often glamorized as this life-changing, transformative, never-not-Instagram-worthy experience (which in many ways it is), but with that comes a pressure to always be thriving or making #memories or at the very least doing *something* 24/7, which let us admit is HARD. It is okay to not be having an adventure every single moment of every single day. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty if you just want to take it easy one day (or many!), and remember that you are not alone in feeling that way!

Ananda Casanova — Academic Success Coordinator, Costa Rica

Ananda CasanovaWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Ananda Casanova and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

My first experience was studying in Argentina, as part of an exchange program during my Master’s. I was 22 and was traveling alone for the first time, and that was very scary. I hardly knew how to speak Spanish back then! But I found beautiful and welcoming people who were really supportive and helped me a lot. After that, I spend some time studying in England, Norway, and Germany, traveling to India and Morocco, coming back to Brazil for a year, and then living for another year in Spain. My last experience abroad was working in Costa Rica for a couple of months, so I’m very excited to come back to this beautiful country!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

As someone who has been on the road for the past few years, I know by experience how living, studying and traveling abroad can trigger meaningful, sometimes even life-changing, effects on people. Encountering the unknown and becoming friends with it opens up the possibility of discovering the best version of yourself and how you can contribute to your community, locally and globally. I truly believe that starting college in an international and culturally diverse environment, connecting with yourself and others, gives you a sense of the world as a welcoming place to be, that you have to enjoy and also care for. To me, traveling teaches how our lives are interconnected and invites you to take responsibility on making the world a better place for everyone to live in.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I had the opportunity to study with an international community during my Master’s degree. We were 21 people, from 14 different nationalities, living and moving around Europe, for about 18 months. Each semester, we had to learn how to adapt to a completely new cultural and physical environment together. And what an intense experience it was! We had to learn a lot about listening, kindness, shared decisions, and dialogue over our divergent opinions. But mostly, we formed a community based on respect above all, we supported each other during challenging times and had lots of fun together. I also had the chance to work on the college level in Brazil, my home country, and in Spain, exploring experiential modes of learning and outdoor education.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

In addition to being passionate about education and an environmental activist, I’m also a rock climber. I started practicing it in 2014, in a small gym at my university, inspired by my colleagues who were outdoor instructors. I fell in love with the sport the first time I tried, but I only had the chance to fully practice in more recent years. Climbing helped me in many ways to build the person I am today and on that matter, I like to think that the mountains are, somehow, part of me, since they were active agents on that transformation. I see climbing as a philosophy of life, since it offers me lots of metaphors about overcoming challenges, fears, learning to listen, and connecting with the world on a deeper level.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Studying abroad is beautiful, but very challenging. There are so many things going on at the same time, so much to live, discover, and share… it can be overwhelming at times. I hope to support students when this happens, helping them find the best way to adapt to their new routines. I also want to help them discover what sets their soul on fire, what their dreams are, where their next adventure will be, and encouraging them to keep alive the flame of curiosity and enchantment about the world, developing the necessary academic skills to achieve their goals.

 

 

Carolyn Kovacs — Academic Success Coordinator, Hawai’i

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Carolyn Kovacs and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I look forward to seeing our students grow, both in terms of academics and overall as people. Immersive study abroad programs push you in ways different than any other experience, and the skills and relationships participants build are unlike anything you would usually accomplish in that same time period elsewhere. I am also very much looking forward to learning about the culture, ecology, and history of Hawai’i while exploring the island with the students!

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I spent the past three years living in Bocas del Toro, an island on the Caribbean coast of Panama, while teaching for the School for Field Studies. Prior to that I lived on a sailboat for four years while working for the program Sea|Mester. During this time I had the opportunity to visit over forty countries, with much of my time spent in the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and Southeast Asia. I also studied abroad while in college, spending the first semester of my junior year in Townsville, Australia.

What was your most adventurous moment?

Deciding to work for a study abroad program on a sailboat never having sailed before! I accepted the position, flew to the opposite side of the world, and learned sailing with the students while teaching marine science. Four years later, I finished my circumnavigation!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I have been lucky enough to travel around the world both with work and on my own, and the information I gained and lessons I have learned along the way have been equally as important as my formal education. I am a strong believer in the importance of study abroad and am passionate about student growth beyond a normal classroom. I love that our students will not only have a strong first academic semester of college, they will also learn more about a new area of the world and different ways of thinking – and be able to connect all of those learning experiences together.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have been working for experiential education study abroad programs for the past seven years and understand both the joys and challenges that students face during study abroad. I have primarily worked as an instructor, teaching marine science courses, but I have also served as a program manager, trip leader, and research mentor. I am excited to help students get the most out of their time abroad by feeling confident in the classroom and to prepare them for the rest of their college experience!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Be open to new ideas and to change, and make the most of the experiences offered to you. The majority of the things you learn and the most treasured parts of this experience are probably not what you are going in expecting to learn or do (because they will be even better!)

Manuel Ramirez –– Program Coordinator, Costa Rica

Manuel RamirezWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Manuel Ramirez and I’m a Program Coordinator in Costa Rica.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m excited to get to know everyone, as show students how we truly live in Costa Rica. I want to do my best to give them the experience of cultural immersion!

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Yes, I completed 2 years of high school in Germany.

What was your most adventurous moment?

Arriving in a very different country!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I want to show the students and Verto Staff the culture and wonders of my little country!

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have been working in the tourism industry for over 15 years.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I’m full of surprises!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I want everybody to come here with no expectations! This will help them build a great impression of how is life in different parts of the world.

Krista Rudiger –– Field Instructor, American Literature & Writing, Hawai’i

Krista RudigerWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

My name is Krista Rudiger, and I teach writing and American Literature.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am so excited to learn the language. For anyone who’s not aware, our program director, Miss Kelly, informed me that Duolingo has Hawaiian lessons on the app. Learning how to speak the language, along with discovering the rich history of the islands and the people, feels like X-mas and New Year’s and my birthday all wrapped into one giant gift box.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

After my second year of college, I traveled through Europe for the summer. I have been a foodie since forever and was so excited to gobble up all of the amazing delicacies I found. Some friends and I went bikini skiing in Innsbruck, Austria, I met up with a couple of old college mates in Greece and I caught a Guns N’ Roses show during the last leg of their Use Your Illusion Tour in Modena, Italy. Speaking of The Boot, Gianni Versace was my first love and as a preppy from small-town Portland, Oregon, I absolutely lost my mind when I was finally able to visit my first Versace boutique…in Italy, no less.

A couple of years later, after completing my undergrad, I worked in Japan so was now able to tour the other side of the world, including Singapore, Bali and Thailand. But it was Hong Kong that stole my heart: I attended the Handover in 1997, when the United Kingdom returned the territory to China, and what a treasured memory. Back then, everyone was still flying into the original HK airport, so I got a bird’s-eye view of the city at night, which is absolute magic. And every night, for a week, we had front-row seats to mind-blowing firework shows celebrating the return. Another summer my son and I visited Singapore, which serves up an outdoor zoo that is wild (literally and figuratively); heaps of animals just wandering free among the grounds. They also have a night safari, where groups head out at 10 p.m. to witness nocturnal beasts during their waking hours. After that little excursion, let me tell ya’, you see bright, glowing eyes in your dreams for days.

What was your most adventurous moment?

Without question, moving to Japan to teach English. I went there with no job, no friends, absolutely zero comprehension of the language…with my two-year-old son, Nikki, tucked under my arm. And we flourished!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Christopher Hitchens, one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century, was insistent that, instead of allowing the media to infect us with its paid-for agenda, we do the research and decide for ourselves what’s really going on with the subject in the story. True, the questions we need to be asking are numerous. Taking on the role of hard-hitting journalist at every turn may seem over-zealous (or paranoid), but as listeners, readers and followers, it behooves us to be mindful that, if we allow them a portal with which to do so, these one-sided stories will take over our consciousness. Thus, utilizing a multi-faceted method is the only way I want to maneuver through a classroom.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

Teaching at the university level in Japan saw me having to get super-creative for my students. The situation: Many Japanese students don’t really care about learning English because they don’t think it’s necessary for their life. But even if most of them will never utter another English sentence after leaving my class, I think snapping all of those extra neurons, by way of learning a second or third language, is helpful to one’s brain development. Plus I’d witnessed one-too-many boring classes taught by Western professors who were simply burnt out. I wanted to give the students something they could really sink their teeth into, so I partnered with another teacher to create our own textbook, based around simple, yet unique, conversations. The rewards were two-fold: First, the students were very engaged and having interesting conversations with each other; second, I loved that I was able to tap into a fresh way of delivering the information that kept both the students and myself entertained for an hour and a half while still making sure we all learned something that would stay with us.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

Probably that I look like an uptight soccer mum, but I love Motörhead and the premier class of motorbike racing.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I think it’s really important to trust your gut. I know that phrase gets thrown around a lot, but I’ve learned that instinct is like a muscle: The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. Listen to that little voice inside your head and never be afraid to speak about what it’s telling you. Traveling is the greatest teacher, but when we’re out of our element, that’s the time to draw from all of the lessons we’ve learned previously and put them into practice.

Maggie Musty — Senior Academic Success Coordinator, Costa Rica

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Maggie Musty and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator in Costa Rica.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I love how Verto’s learning environment creates a space for self-discovery and collaboration. My favorite part of each semester has been the opportunity for staff and students to learn and grow together. For this reason, I can’t wait to support students in the process of cultural exploration, navigating the nuances of communicating in a second language, and gaining a better understanding of self. At the same time, I’m really excited to learn from my students and for us to process this unique experience together.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

As a junior in high school, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone by studying abroad for a year in Italy. I was drawn in by the idea of a different type of education and immersing myself in another culture. From having the opportunity to live and breathe my daily coursework and stumble through awkward language and cultural mishaps, I really believe in the power of experiential education to transform perspectives and discover one’s self. For this reason, I really connect with Verto’s commitment to creating an accessible alternative to the traditional college experience.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I’m an enthusiastic traveler and have studied and worked in four countries! I studied abroad for over a year and a half in Italy, as a junior in high school and an exchange student in college. My passion for language and culture also inspired me to study for a semester in Oaxaca, Mexico, which sparked an interest in Latin America that remains true today. As part of my Master’s Degree in International Education, I chose to complete the practicum phase of my degree working for a year on education projects in Nicaragua. A year later I found myself back in Central America, leading groups of high school students volunteering on ecological coffee farms in Costa Rica and then as a Field Instructor for Verto Education. I’m incredibly excited to share my love for Central American culture and the Spanish language with students this Spring!

Isabel Burns — Student Life Coordinator, Hawai’i

Isabel BurnsWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Isabel Burns and I’m a Student Life Coordinator.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m looking forward to getting to know all the students and for us to get to explore the big island together! I love backpacking and I’m hoping to find time to squeeze in a night or two of camping.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

After high school, I took a gap year and lived in Tena, Ecuador for 8 months. It was challenging and amazing and I learned so much through the experience of living with a host family and working with a local organization. I later spent 4 months studying abroad in Oaxaca.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I worked at summer camp for many years near Yosemite and loved living in an intentional community with a shared purpose. As a result I have a deep love for group bonding, games, the outdoors, and learning through experience!

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I’ve traveled and lived abroad as a Google employ in India, Ireland, and San Francisco Sales conferences leader in Spain and Greece; as a teacher in Edinburgh and Lisbon; and as a storyteller in New Zealand.

What is your most adventurous moment?

Attending 40 theater shows in two weeks at the Fringe festival in Edinburgh.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I shifted from programming for Google to teaching film and English.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

You can be adventurous and safe!

John McGee — Faculty, Music in Multicultural America, Hawai’i

John McGeeWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m John McGee and I teach Music in Multicultural America.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’ve come to believe that the most impactful learning experiences occur through mutual sharing in community. Consequently, I most look forward to through developing amazing connections with my students, colleagues, and the local community, I known I’ll be a better student, teacher, and person by engaging with each of you.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I’ve traveled abroad extensively performing and various styles of music. I’ve also engaged in short term international mission work, and of course my tropical self care vacations. However, the Verto experience will be the first time that I’ve ever lived abroad for an extended length of time, so I’m excitedly nervous!

What was your most adventurous moment?

My most adventurous moment was actually in Costa Rica several years ago! I ziplined and went rappelling, which had my adrenaline rushing. When it came to jumping off a cliff into an active waterfall, I let fear hinder me –– I have regretted not taking advantage of one of my most adventurous moments since that day. I’m facing my fears, so if we have an opportunity to do something adventurous and extreme in Costa Rica or Hawaii, I’ll be the first in line!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I’ve always been the guy who defies what may be seen as “normal” for the pursuit of creative and unique opportunities to grow and become. Verto Education shamelessly promotes experiential education and cultural immersion as a more impactful approach to education than the standard university setting. I wish Verto had been around back in the stone ages when I graduated from high school (smile). I would have jumped headfirst to do something like this, because it’s different, unique, and intentional.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

In 2015, I traveled to Colombia for Centro Colombo Americano, an exchange program where music professionals from universities in the USA travel to Colombia to teach and perform jazz. In my travels, I performed in most major cities in the country of Colombia. It was cool to play soccer (football) with the local children, learn the language, taste new cuisine, and learn local musical approaches + share my own. This experience stands out to me as one that prepared me to live, teach, and learn in another cultural setting.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

As much as I perform and speak in front of people, I am very shy. Most people are very surprised by this.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

To be able to complete a portion of the whole of your freshman year away from the normal hustle and grind of ‘university life’ is the opportunity of a lifetime. Make the most of every moment, and maximize each opportunity to live, laugh, and learn!

Eliecer Vargas — Faculty, Macroeconomics, Costa Rica

Eliecer VargasWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

My name is Eliecer Vargas, and I’m a Professor of Macroeconomics.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m excited gain a deeper understanding of the Verto model, as well as consolidating interactions with faculty at the CATIE campus.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Yes! I’ve been to Hainan, China.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

As an instructor, this is my first experience of working with Verto. I am also working to connect academic faculty between CATIE and Verto in Costa Rica!

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I’ve been an instructor of several courses for Master’s programs at CATIE, mostly in sustainable development and tourism.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I’m 54 years old and still able to run after a soccer ball!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Learning to enjoy learning is the same as learning to enjoy life. Life is the best educator.

Guillermo Sanchez –– Student Life Coordinator, Costa Rica

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Memo Sanchez, and I’m a Student Life Coordinator in Costa Rica.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Create memories and positive impacts and hear that someday, we helped change a student’s life and now he’s paying back helping everybody else.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I traveled as Head Guide to Panamá, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

What was your most adventurous moment?

Once, in Ometepe Island in Nicaragua, I saw a cormorant (a type of bird). It was fighting to survive on the surface of the water, so I took a kayak out to try to free it. The bird was trapped in a fishing line, so I tried to rip the line with my hands. The cormorant fought back and kept biting me, which made it difficult to free the bird. I realized I was running out of time ––  so I went back to my hotel, found a knife, and went back to cut the net. I lost my kayak’s paddle upon freeing the bird, so I jumped into the water and pushed the kayak back to the beach, where 2 friends of mine were waiting. They helped me free this bird, and that was one of the best feelings ever.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Cooperate and achieve to produce multiple positive impacts in our lifes, families and the world.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I’ve worked as a nature and adventure guide for more than 15 years, which gave me a better view of people’s needs and the world itself. I’ve also worked with students through other companies, and this helped me realize that this new generation will be the ones in charge of the world, and that they have the key to save the world. It’s our job to help them develop into good people.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

The knowledge learned at college and working, lived experiences, and as much as possible of my hometown.

Sarah Hughes — Academic Success Coordinator, London

Sarah HughesWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Sarah Hughes and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator in London.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

London is truly one of the best cities in the world, so I am excited to share the culture, traditions, and food with students (and staff) experiencing it for the first time. And if I am being honest, eating lots of bacon!

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I previously lived in London for two years while attending the University of Surrey. I have also been fortunate to spend time in India, Egypt, South Africa, Dubai, Kenya, China, Japan, and Cuba just to name a few…

What was your most adventurous moment?

I think back to some of my travels…so white water rafting in Alaska, snorkeling in the Red Sea (Egypt) and the Galápagos Islands, and climbing the Great Wall (it is not as easy as it looks).

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I am starting a new career with Verto this year, having just graduated with a MS in Academic Advising from Kansas State University.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

Fun fact: I suffer from Coulrophobia (the fear of clowns).

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Great things never come from being comfortable. Remember to be open minded and inspired by the challenges you might face. We are all here to support you and help you succeed!

Fabricio Arguedas — Student Life & Club Coordinator, Costa Rica

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Fabricio Arguedas and I’m a program leader.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Im looking forward to having a good time!

I want us together to create a life changing experience based on respect, kindness, responsibility and fun.

I want to grow as an individual and collaborate to others (students and peers) to reach the best version of themselves.

I want to laugh until it hurts but I also want to be present and united during the challenging moments.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

“There is no perspective without distance”

Traveling and getting involved with other cultures gives us a good sense of who we are and a better understanding of what our role is in this world. It prepares us to become better leaders and to feel more connected to the world as one.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have been working with different companies and NGOs; delivering youth development programs in Asia, North America, Europe, and Central America over the past 10 years.

Majoring and working in the tourist industry in Costa Rica also provided me with a good understanding of how tourism can be properly managed to create a positive impact in the countries we travel to.

I also LOVE cycling and traveling in general so I have made a couple of long-term cycling and backpacking trips around the world which provided me not only with lots of stories but also very rich life lessons to share.

What is your most adventurous moment?

Probably the time I got lost and had to spend a night on my own deep in the forest in northern China with no camping equipment! The plan was to go camping on the Great Wall……. but I found it the day after!!

*My camping gear got lost too! 😀  If you would like to hear more about this story, I can share them with you in Costa Rica!

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I used to eat ketchup with papaya as a child! haha

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

A safe space for us all to feel comfortable being who we are, respecting each other, and creating an atmosphere based on trust and responsibility.

 

Andrés Zúñiga Romero — Program Director, Costa Rica

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Andrés Zúñiga and I’m a Regional Manager in Costa Rica. 

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I can’t wait to welcome the students to my beautiful country, and I’m really looking forward to creating a transformational experiences for them in Costa Rica.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I love to travel internationally and getting to know new cultures and try new foods. I’m very passionate about travel, and through travel I’ve been able to discover my true self. Exploring new cultures has opened my eyes and mind to new ideas and perspectives.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have 7.5 years of experience working in the experiential education field.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Yes! I have visited 21 countries in 4 different continents. I have traveled for work and for pleasure, but even when I travel for work I find fun ways to spend my free time connecting with the local culture.

What is your most adventurous moment?

Reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 ft) back in 2017 during a 6-day trekking adventure.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I learned English by watching TV shows with subtitles in Spanish

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what your background is, if you work hard for your dreams and hopes, they will become your reality sooner or later.

Leslie Matheu — Academic Success Coordinator, London

Leslie Matheu

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Leslie Matheu and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator in London.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am really looking forward to making great connections with the students as well as with the other faculty. I am really excited to share my love for Global Health, and for traveling and I am also excited to learn more from my colleagues. Can I take the critical thinking class!?

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

My life significantly improved when I studied abroad during college. During this time I really discovered myself, and I learned what I wanted to do in life. I think Verto’s mission is a really important one in order to bring these amazing experiences to as many people as possible.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

An academic experience that prepared me for Verto was teaching and learning in Problem Based Learning universities. This system focuses on active learning and on allowing students to be in control of their own learning. I think this is something that will be very beneficial for teaching with verto.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I studied abroad twice, and I also did my master’s abroad. I normally also travel really often! I have friends all around the world, and I love visiting them and spending time with them.

What is your most adventurous moment?

My most adventurous moment was going paragliding in Rio de Janeiro! I got jump off the tallest mountain in the city, and fly above the ocean! IT was so much fun, and I even got to control the para-glides and fly by myself for a little bit! (under the guidance of my instructor). A close second was walking from France to Spain because I missed my train and had no other options.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

Something that always surprises people is that I have been to many countries around the world, but I have never been to New York!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I want them to know that traveling is an amazing thing because it lets you understand the human experience. It gives you time to discover yourself, to understand people around you, and to really appreciate how unique and wonderful each person, place and thing is. I hope that they know that spending time abroad can be extremely difficult and challenging but it is always an amazing growth opportunity.

Matthew Paffhouse — Faculty Lead, Politics & Government, Costa Rica

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Matthew Paffhouse and I’m a Field Instructor for International Development in Costa Rica.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Connecting with a group of inspired students who are eager to peel back the seal on life. There are few things I enjoy more than a good journey, and sharing these experiences has always been a highlight of my life.

What is your most adventurous moment?

So many to choose from them, but the one that is rising to the top at the moment is a a two week solo hike through the Himalayan mountains after having studied in a Buddhist monastery for the previous five weeks. My mind was so greased up on mindfulness, it was like I was seeing the world for the very first time.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Time without phones while walking around the city. We are writing a story when traveling, and the details of life explode the more one is able to disconnect. So too the internal discoveries, which is hopefully some of what we’re talking about when going on these walking journeys.

Malia Wakinekona — Senior Student Life Coordinator, London

Malia Wakinekona

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Malia Wakinekona and I’m a Senior Student Life Coordinator.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Just like all of you, I’ve been bit by the travel bug. During my undergraduate time at Stanford I participated in three off-campus learning  opportunities 1) a summer seminar based in Dubrovnik, Croatia after my freshman year 2) a winter quarter study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa and 3) a post graduation summer internship based in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. That first summer in Croatia goes down not only as of of my favorite summers of all time, but also as one of the most enriching and thought provoking academic moments of my college career. The program was so meaningful because both of the faculty leaders were from the Balkans region. Not only did they provide deeply personal anecdotes to our conversations on identity, the 90s war, and art as a form of activism but they also introduced us to amazing local and profound scholars, students, and artists who spoke on their own lives growing up in Yugoslavia or coming of age during the war or post-war period.

Besides my academic based travel opportunities, I try and see as much of the world as I can. Here are a few fast facts about me:

Favorite city ever visited: Sydney, Australia

Most memorable view: Standing up top of the Xunantunich (Stone Lady) temples in Belize

Solo adventure: Volunteering at hostel in Hvar, Croatia

First big trip away from home: High school exchange to Tokyo, Japan for 1 month

What is your most adventurous moment?

Last summer I took a leap of faith and decided to volunteer at a youth hostel in Hvar, Croatia. I’ve been eyeing volunteer requests on the help exchange platform WorkAway for YEARS, so I decided to take the plunge and fly out to Croatia. I wanted to feel slightly in my comfort zone, so I chose a country I’d visited a few times before and had  a foundational grasp on the culture and a bit of the language. There were moments that I felt lonely-I wished that all my friends could teleport to the island so we could enjoy endless days swimming and soaking up the sun but that’s not how life works.

One lesson I took away from my time in Hvar is that you can’t always wait for others to chase your dreams. Sometimes you just got to go and keep your loved ones up to date along the way.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

For some of you Verto might have been your plan A for the fall. For others, Verto might be your plan B, C, D or even E and that’s okay! We all probably thought our September 2020 would have played out differently, but we’re all here together for the semester so let’s make the most of it. I can confidently say that if I were to teleport myself back to 2014 and my fall quarter of college, I had one singular vision of what my next four years looked like. There were so many unexpected turns along the way that actually lead me to groundbreaking moments like picking my psychology major or speaking in front of the incoming class of 2021 at New Student Orientation. Let’s embrace the unknown together and see what happens!

Verto Education