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How A Semester Abroad Transformed My Career Goals and Trajectory

Nov 29, 2018 10:07:00 AM / by Guest Posts

After interning abroad with CAPA Sydney in 2013, alumna Kristen Geatz realized she wanted change her career path from law to international education. Read about more about her experience and where she is now!

In my current role at IIE, when people ask me what my degree is in, I get some very strange looks when I answer. I guess “I have a Bachelor of Arts in Law and Society” doesn’t make much sense in a world where everyone studied international relations or global affairs. But in a roundabout way, my degree had everything to do with my love for international education, and my time abroad with CAPA was transformative in shaping my career goals and trajectory.

I had wanted to study abroad from a young age, but I didn’t have a set destination in mind. I just knew there was a big world out there and I wanted to see it. I began to explore study abroad opportunities my sophomore year of college, and when I found out I could intern abroad with CAPA, I was sold. I figured I might as well go as far as possible, so I picked Sydney.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Sydney_Fall2013_Kristen Geatz - Kristen by the Sydney HarborMe in Sydney circa 2013.

My time in Sydney was incredible; I learned the fascinating history of how a penal colony emerged into the bustling metropolis it is today, was able to see plays and ballets in the world-famous Sydney Opera House, and traveled to the Australian Outback, a place I never imagined I would get to see. However, the most transformative experience for me was my work at HIV/AIDS Legal Centre of NSW (HALC) in my internship. I spent three days a week working alongside lawyers and paralegals fighting every day for those who were discriminated against for their HIV positive diagnosis.

While the work was truly inspiring, my main takeaway was that I did not want to be a lawyer. That’s not to say my internship wasn’t great – the people I worked with took it upon themselves to introduce me to Australian culture and Sydney life – they would take me to the pubs and restaurants, made sure I had time to travel, and exposed me into parts of the neighborhood I lived in I would have never discovered on my own. In fact, working with those people made me realize that everyone should get to have such a transformative experience, and I wanted to be the one to help others study abroad. When I returned home, I decided to finish my degree in Law and Society, but also started researching how I could pursue a career in international education.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Sydney_Fall2013_Kristen GEATZ_Me by the Australian OutbackCollege-aged me exploring Australia's Outback.

I found out about the Institute of International Education (IIE) while on Twitter. I went to their website, found their careers page, and applied for every internship I could find – seven in total. I was fortunate enough to secure one and spent the final semester of my senior year finishing classes in Frederick, MD and then commuting to Washington, DC to intern with IIE. I started working with the KAUST Gifted Students Program (KGSP), which is a scholarship program for Saudi Arabian Students to come to the United States to pursue their bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. I was thrilled! This was exactly what I wanted to be doing, helping young people experience education and internships in a different country. I asked if there would be a place for me post-graduation, and I started full time with IIE in June 2015.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Sydney_Fall2013_Kristen GEATZ_Working with IIE

I spent a year working with (KGSP), before moving to the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP). IVLP is a Department of State program that brings mid-career professionals from all over the world to the US to travel around and meet with US professionals in their field. This position allowed me to meet and interact with fascinating people from all over the world and introduce them to American culture.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Sydney_From Kristen Geatz_With EducationUSA in UgandaSome of the amazing professionals I met while traveling to Uganda with EducationUSA.

I now work as the Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. This role enables me to work across all the programmatic efforts of IIE in a collaborative fashion, while also learning about the intricacies our own initiatives, such as Generation Study Abroad and the Scholar Rescue Fund. I am currently very involved in planning IIE’s Centennial Celebration, and I’ve even been able to travel! Earlier this fall, I traveled to Uganda with EducationUSA, a Department of State program with educational advisors worldwide, and I just returned from Sudan, where I was a member of the first educational delegation from the U.S.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Sydney_From Kristen Geatz_Exploring the Nubian Pyramids in SudanExploring the Nubian Pyramids in Sudan

I love my job, I love the work I get to do, and I love feeling like a part of something so much bigger than myself. Without my time abroad with CAPA, I may never have discovered my passion international exchange, and I never would have met the people who inspired me to pursue such a dynamic and rewarding career!

Thanks Kristen!

Kristen Geatz


Meet Kristen Geatz, a Hood College Alumni and international education professional. She studied abroad and interned in Sydney during Fall 2013 and now works as the Special Assistant to the Vice President at the Institute of International Education (IIE) in Washington, D.C. 


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Topics: CAPA Alumni, International Education, Sydney, Australia, Internships Abroad, Professional Development