International Education Career Inspired by Australian Study Abroad 10 Years Ago
AustraLearn Alumni Reflection: Lewis CardenasBy Stacey Hartmann GlobaLinks NewsWire Editor
In making just one important choice ten years ago, Lewis Cardenas, then an undergraduate at Albion College in Michigan, uncovered the focus of his graduate research, laid out a road map to his career, constructed the beginnings of long-enduring friendships and explored cultural gems that still beckon from the other side of the world.
That one choice? To study abroad in Australia.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Australia ever since I was a little kid,” Cardenas, now 29, says. Reasons included “the stereotypical reasons, unique animals, the unique accents, the usual things you see from going to the library and reading books. I also had a good friend growing up who had family in Australia.”
Cardenas previously had traveled for shorter periods to Colombia, where he has family roots, and Africa and France during his first semester in college. “But this was the first time ever that I would be far away from home,” and as the son of a single mom who worried over her son, going away for six to seven months was no small decision.
But Cardenas, the first international studies graduate at his college, was intent on it. Through his campus study abroad office, he began working with AustraLearn, a study abroad program provider then 10 years old, to fill out an application and select a school.
“Most students would go to Cairns, Sydney, or Melbourne,” he says, “but I wanted something different. I also wanted to focus on Aboriginal and Australian history for the International Studies portion of my major.”
He chose the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, where he would study for a semester in 2000. When it came time to select housing, he chose to live in housing with Australian students rather than with other international students who, like himself, were studying abroad from the United States and other countries.
“I wanted to live with the Aussies,” he says. “I think I definitely made the smart choice.”
Once he arrived on campus, he moved into Evatt House – B 1st floor specifically – where everyone shared one television and sometimes their cooking skills. He quickly formed friendships with local students who exposed him to authentic aspects of Australian life and sometimes accompanied him on his many travels throughout the country.
“I really did travel a lot while I was down there,” he says. “The only territory I didn’t set foot in was Western Australia. So I didn’t get a chance to visit Perth, but I did make it all the way to Tasmania.”
Sometimes, Cardenas accompanied Aussie friends to their homes so he could meet their families and see how they lived, ate, worked and played.
“One of the neat things with AustraLearn is they really do want you to integrate yourself,” Cardenas says. “They encourage you to join clubs at the universities. I ended up volunteering for the Australian Red Cross while I was down there, and I participated in Ultimate Frisbee. Everybody in my hallway, we just became a family. We still refer to ourselves as the ‘B 1st Family.’”
Up until selecting the University of Newcastle, Cardenas felt some pressure from his academic advisers to study abroad in France or a French-speaking country because he was getting a minor in Francophone Studies.
He discovered, however, an important French connection in his Australian studies that brought everything together.
“The University of Newcastle had a French-Australian history course,” he says. “That course was phenomenal. I learned that the British beat the French in colonizing Australia by only two days. There are still pockets of French-speaking communities in Adelaide and other parts of Australia.”
He also learned during his Australian History course about the budding independent nation of East Timor, which captured his interest in numerous ways, including “the idea of decolonization, patriotism, self identity, and the good, bad and ugly of becoming one of the youngest nations on earth,” he says.
After returning to the United States, Cardenas went on to do his undergraduate thesis on Australian and Indonesian foreign relations with East Timor. After graduation, he enrolled in graduate school at DePaul University, where he earned a master’s degree in international public service and did research on the Timor gap issue.
“I would never have heard of East Timor if I had never gone to Australia,” he says, “other than maybe in the news here and there.”
Now, even 10 years later, the threads of Cardenas’ time studying abroad in Australia remain woven into his life.
After first working for a health department in Illinois, he then took a position as an administrator at a private school, which evolved into a position teaching global studies. From there, he went to work for the State Board of Education assisting people switching careers and becoming teachers in the field of bilingual education.
He then found out about an opening in international recruitment at his alma mater and jumped at the opportunity. He now is associate director for international student recruitment and admissions counselor for domestic students living abroad, a position that allows him to assist students in realizing their own dreams of studying abroad.
“Now I think I have my dream job,” he says. “I get to work with students and with families. I get to travel three months out of the year. I’m visiting places I never thought I’d get to visit.”
He also remains in close contact via Facebook with the “B 1st family” from his University of Newcastle days.
“Recently, I had the opportunity to meet up with one of my mates this spring in Bali and Cambodia,” Cardenas says, speaking of Mick (Michael) Evans, one of his best Australian friends. “We celebrated a mini 10-year reunion in both countries.”
Five years previously, Evans had visited Cardenas in the United States and had spoken to Cardenas’ global studies class, as well as to an English class, where Evans taught the students some Aussie slang.
By November, Cardenas will have visited 49 countries or territories.
“Waiting at airports or just trying to acclimate,” he says, “for me, it is second nature now.”
And naturally, he sees his travels coming full circle.
“I’m hoping I get back to Oz soon,” he says.Print