Small Town to Big Time in Study Abroad with John Christian of CAPA
Originally Published November 2012
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Sometimes I ask people to interview with me on Inside Study Abroad. Other times, I get lucky and someone stumbles upon my little slice of the internet and tells me a story that I can't help but want to share with my study abroad-loving friends and colleagues. This is the story of John Christian, a small town kid from upstate New York who became the President/CEO of CAPA International Education.
The Journey Begins
John's study abroad journey began at SUNY Oswego. One night at the campus bar, he was catching up with a good friend who'd left campus for the previous term (John had honestly thought the friend had failed out of college). To his surprise, the friend had actually been studying abroad for the semester. John's reaction? "Wait? You can do that?!" He found his way to the study abroad office (which, prior to this, he didn't even know existed), applied to a program in London, got accepted, and several weeks later found himself on his first airplane ride. Ever. Like a lot of students today, for John, studying abroad in London was a huge cultural and intellectual leap from his provincial upbringing in New York. Studying in London opened him up to a world, a way of thinking, a way of being that he never would have known or understood had he not had that time abroad. From there, John was hooked and "education abroad" became who he was.
Take What You Can Get
So how does one go from being a study abroad student to being the President and CEO of a respected education abroad company? In John's words, his "own story was built on persistence." (I love that!) He couldn't afford to study abroad again after London, but he really wanted to work in the study abroad office at SUNY Oswego. Soooo…he wrote letters (real letters…with paper…and a pen) and called the study abroad office asking if he could help out. And they said yes. John worked as an intern in the office, and when it was time to graduate, John applied for (and got) a temporary position as a foreign student advisor in the international office. Even though John was really interested in education abroad, this was an opportunity to get some related experience and learn something, anything about international education. He took what he could get (and you should too). John knew nothing about foreign students, advising, or student visas, so he made sure to read everything he could about all of it, attended regional conferences, and asked other, more experienced, advisors for help when he needed it. Because even once you get the job - you have to master it.
Persistence & Taking Chances
John's story is laced with two consistent themes: persistence and taking chances. Enter Dr. Jose Ramon Perez, Director of Study Abroad at SUNY Oswego. To put it all in context, Dr. Perez was the person John had written all those letters to and made all those phone calls to asking for an internship in the study abroad office. And lucky for John, Dr. Perez, was the person who continued to take chance after chance on him. After accepting him to the London program, Dr. Perez then gave John an internship in the office which parlayed into a temporary position as a foreign student advisor. And because of John's persistence and good work, Dr. Perez then helped John earn a scholarship to study and live in Beijing, China, for two years learning Chinese. John's story and his success wouldn't be possible without the persistence to make things happen for himself OR without Dr. Perez's belief in his ability to capitalize on the opportunities he'd been given. From that initial chat in the campus bar where he learned about study abroad, to the "Please-let-me-work-in-the-study-abroad-office" letter, to his determination to learn and master any role he'd been given, John proves that you have to be persistent. But his story also shows that when we see talent, when we see people who have this unidentifiable quality, we need to take a chance on them. So whoever you are, wherever you are…today's challenge is to show your dedication and persistence…AND take a chance on someone you know who needs a little extra boost.
After his time in China, John earned a master's degree in London and continued to build a career in education abroad. Now he's the President and CEO (and owner) of a well-respected international education organization.
If you're like me, you're probably reading this story and feeling pretty inspired. Well, it gets better. After years of building his own career and a study abroad company, that naive kid from upstate New York is now in a position to give back in a way that I think we all would if we could. This fall, CAPA and John have donated $200,000 to SUNY Oswego's international education initiatives. Part of this donation is ear-marked for full-ride study abroad scholarships for students to participate in the CAPA London or Beijing programs - the two destinations that launched John's own international curiosities. Fittingly, the scholarships are named in honor of Dr. Jose Ramon Perez, the man who took all those chances on John earlier in his career.
Who would you repay and honor for all the opportunities you've been given throughout your education and career? It's the stories like John's that make me hopeful I'll be in a position to show my gratitude in a monumental way some day. But for now, hopefully it inspires us all to put pen to paper and send a heart-felt thank you to all those people who took a chance on us.
John, thanks so much for sharing your story and inspiring us all to take chances!
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