Peter Seilheimer
Peter Seilheimer MAIEM ‘16

Graduation Year: 2016
Degree: International Education Management, TFL (German) specialization
Current Title: Trustees Fellow
Name of Organization: SIT Study Abroad; International Honors Program: Health and Community

Brief Description of Organization:

I currently work for IHP (International Honors Program), which is a portfolio of six study abroad programs under SIT Study Abroad. IHP programs are comparative and thematic study abroad opportunities for undergraduate students. I am currently traveling with a group of 30 students on IHP: Health and Community, which focuses on public health, medical anthropology, and social justice. The semester starts with two weeks in Washington, DC, followed by Vietnam, South Africa, and Argentina (each for a month). In my role as Trustees Fellow, I have some administrative duties, but mainly work to support students, both individually and as a learning community, in their holistic learning and growth.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your current work?

I love working directly with students in the abroad context. I have worked in education in many contexts, and find working with students in experiential international education to be the most interesting, if not tense. Students encounter abundant and varied opportunities while abroad to challenge their assumptions and ethnocentrism, practice reflexivity, and push themselves to expand their humanity. It is thrilling but also humbling to get to work with students when they are posed such existential questions about life, learning, and social justice. This kind of learning is difficult and often jarring, but it is gratifying and even heartwarming to see students lean into it and make themselves a bit vulnerable. I feel so grateful when I get to be a part of that process.

It is thrilling but also humbling to get to work with students when they are posed such existential questions about life, learning, and social justice.
— Peter Seilheimer MAIEM '16

What aspects of the IEM program most prepared you for your professional life?

Group based projects and learning was so valuable, as most of my work in this field has been collaborative. You have to be able to work with diverse personalities and positionalities to be successful. I still use many concepts and frameworks from the IEM curriculum, such as the cultural dimensions and intercultural team building activities I learned about in Peter Fordos’ Intercultural Communication courses. While I haven’t formally used a program logic model , I regularly use backwards design to solve problems or create seminars and sessions for students. The work my team was able to do in our Design & Assessment project with Dr. David Wick as a learning partner on diversity & inclusion, as well as the weekend workshop Dr. Wick held on D&I, have been significant in shaping my understanding and approach to social justice within international education. Overall I am very grateful for the fantastic mentorship of the IEM and TFL professors, and the opportunities they created for us to engage with practitioners in a real way. I also strongly believe in the power of guided reflection that is valued in IEM—I ask my students to do it regularly!

Did your career path diverge from initial plans upon graduation? How did you navigate any changes?

What brought me to the IEM program was a desire to work in German-language intensive study abroad programming, as I am very passionate about the intersection of language learning and experiential learning. During my practicum semester, I came across the opportunity to apply to be a Program Leader with Thinking Beyond Borders, a gap year program that focuses on international development and social justice in Latin America, Southeast Asia and West Africa. When I was offered the job, the prospect of traveling the world with a group of students was exciting and a bit scary, but I could never have anticipated how it would change my life. I realize now how narrow my own worldview and international experience was prior to working for TBB, since I was so focused on the German speaking world. The experience of supporting students in their learning and growth while simultaneously tending to my own was incredible and unique. I am still interested in language immersion abroad, but am so grateful that I listened to my gut and intuition to take the opportunity to do something outside of my comfort zone. Leading programs has benefited me greatly, and I believe has made me a better educator and human. Ultimately it’s not bad to have a plan for yourself, but staying flexible and open is extremely valuable as well.

What are the greatest challenges that you see facing the field of international education?

1. American exceptionalism that demands specific requirements for US students (e.g. lush group living accommodations, courses taught in English by US faculty designed for US students that keep them in a bubble), that ultimately deprive students of opportunities to create relationships with local folks or to experience the place they chose to study abroad in. 2. Study abroad as a neo-colonial activity is a big concern. Organizations and professionals must do more to reflect on how their programming and staffing structures propagate inequality, extraction, and cultural imperialism, especially in the “developing” world, and to work towards equity, reciprocity, and justice when working with local hosts and communities. 3. US liability culture slowly taking the experience out of experiential learning. Safety is obviously important, but it sometimes seems that the ultimate goal is to mitigate all of the risks and uncertainties inherent in life itself. It can feel overwhelming to those caring for students’ health and well-being abroad. 4. Xenophobia is obviously of big concern in a time of growing nationalism across the geopolitical landscape. 

Do you have any additional comments or advice to share?

My main piece of advice to current students is to be active in our own education. Professors are so willing to help you carve out a niche for yourself if you talk with them. Creating an independent study course on language acquisition in study abroad was one of the most rewarding experiences I had at MIIS because of the collaboration between myself and the professor and our shared passion for exploring the subject. Tailor assignments to your specific interests and passions, meet with professors to discuss ideas and potential career paths, take ownership of your own experience! If you view education as only a product then you will necessarily become a passive consumer, instead of an architect of your learning and growth.

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