Office of Global Strategies

Global Register

Mason Staff Member Travels to Spain for Mason “Staff Swap” Week

Posted 18 Feb 2016

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). 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. “[So] 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 his duration of the visit. Aponte said that he 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 US 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 about its history, and allowed him to observe several classes and 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. “Suffice it to say, the staff at La Fundación exceeded my expectations.”

For Aponte, the experience gives him 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 doctoral 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 that the experience of getting to work abroad for a week had on him, he said that the trip mostly affected him in his personal life.

“What made my visit to Spain memorable was not the foods, the wines, or the sights, but the people I met and shared those 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 not just names, but friends with whom I will stay in contact with moving forward.”

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.

For more information on the GSE, click here.

by Denisha Hedgebeth