by Denisha Hedgebeth
Jon Aponte had the experience of a lifetime when he received the opportunity to study abroad in Toledo, Spain, as a part of the Global Staff Exchange program (GSE). The GSE is an international professional development exchange experience for staff that aims to enhance global awareness, encourage cross-cultural perspectives, and broaden professional expertise through direct in-service experience with one of Mason’s designated partners by working abroad for a week.
Aponte, the office manager and program assistant in the Cultural Studies program at George Mason University, spent a week abroad and represented Mason at La Fundación José Ortega y Gasset, an educational foundation located in Madrid and Toledo, Spain.
“I was interested in the program because I enjoy traveling and experiencing different environments,” Aponte said. “What enticed me about Spain was that it was a logical choice for someone who speaks the predominant language and enjoys the culture.”
Aponte, who is from Puerto Rico, was eager to visit the country that shaped most of the island’s colonial history. “As a child, the bulk of history class dealt with the Spanish ‘discovery’ of Puerto Rico,” Aponte said. “I felt a connection more to the Spain program than I did the other program awarded to the co-recipient.”
Once there, Aponte’s experience exceeded his expectations for the duration of his visit. Aponte went into the program with the notion that he would shadow his counterpart from La Fundación, Ms. Yuki Okazaki, and then glean any successful strategies she employed that he could implement in his own career.
“Instead, my visit to La Fundación was carefully coordinated so that I could experience daily life in Spain much like a visiting student from the U.S. would do as they begin their semester abroad in a Spanish immersion program at La Fundación,” Aponte said.
The staff members at La Fundación discussed their roles at the foundation, arranged for a tour of the town so that Aponte could learn its history, and allowed him to observe several classes. They even asked him to teach in the linguistics class.
“It had been several years since I last taught a class, so I was glad to see I still had it in me,” Aponte said.
The experience gave Aponte the chance to serve as a resource for prospective undergraduate students considering a study abroad program to Spain through the Center for Global Education.
“My visit to La Fundación reinforced something instilled in me,” Aponte said. “And that is my commitment to ensure that the Cultural Studies students have a seamless progression throughout their time in our program.”
Additionally, the experience has broadened Aponte’s professional outreach of cultural studies. Denise Albanese, director of the cultural studies program at Mason, believes that the experience has helped Aponte conceptualize cultural studies as a global phenomenon.
“Spending time in Spain has given [Jon] more insight into the situation of the international students in our program,” said Albenese, who believes that Aponte was an ideal match for the program. “We very much appreciate and want to amplify our sense of the worldwide reach of the field, and Jon, as one of the public faces of the program, can help us do just that by virtue of his time in Spain.”
Though Aponte did enjoy the professional impact of this experience, he said that the trip had an even greater impact on his personal life.
“What made my visit to Spain memorable was not the food, the wine, or the sights, but the people I met and shared things with throughout my time there,” Aponte said. “Nowhere was this more apparent than with the people that welcomed me to La Fundación José Ortega y Gasset in Toledo. They are friends with whom I will stay in contact moving forward.”
For more information on the GPSE, click here.