As a high school student, Alondra Albarran had always thought she would go into the medical field. But at UT Austin, she discovered her passion for cultural exchange, which inspired her to move to Japan after graduating in 2018 to work as an assistant English teacher through the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.
The program invites thousands of people from around the world to work in various cities across Japan and build international relationships at the community level. Participants can work as teachers, translators or sports educators, depending on their educational background. The expansive program hosted 5,761 participants from 57 countries in 2019.
Albarran learned about the program from an English Language Center teacher at Texas Global. Prior to participating in the program, Albarran served as a teaching assistant for an English class, and also worked as a cultural ambassador for the English Language Center. She said her time in Japan was immensely rewarding.
“Living in Japan (was) an extremely eye-opening experience,” she said. “Before coming to Japan I knew very little about the culture and did not speak the language. I learned how to work with teachers and students who may not always understand me.”
After completing the JET program this summer, Albarran continued pursuing a career in the international field and landed a job at UT Dallas where she helps students navigate and find educational opportunities.
“Whether it’s working for an international business, a university’s international office, or an organization’s cause, I love to inspire anyone to expose themselves beyond their own world because the possibilities are endless,” she said.
Her interest in cultural exchange first arose at Texas Global during her sophomore year, when she volunteered for Talk Time—a program that allows native English speakers to connect with students from the English Language Center and helps them improve their English speaking abilities.
“My first Talk Time session was life-changing because for the first time I was able to talk with students from South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Colombia and other countries,” Albarran said. “Mexico was the only country I visited outside of the U.S., so this opportunity allowed me to come into contact with other people around the world.”
After volunteering for Talk Time, Albarran knew she wanted to get more involved with Texas Global. The following summer, she worked as a Cultural Ambassador for ELC Special Programs. Around the same time, she also decided to switch her major to international relations.
“When I heard from Estherlene, an ELC teacher, that the office was looking for cultural ambassadors, I was quick to express my interest and apply,” she explained. “I wanted to pursue this newfound excitement for cultural exchange and begin my plans to live abroad.”
As an ambassador, Albarran had the chance to meet international students from all over the world who enrolled in a customized ELC program. Her role included welcoming, assisting and guiding international students throughout their experience.
“As a cultural ambassador, you represent the university, your city, Texas and, really, the entire United States,” she described. “I always wanted to make sure that there was never a dull moment during their time in Texas. We always made sure to support the participants, whether it concerned doctor appointments, finding their classrooms, guiding them on trips throughout Texas or just food recommendations.”
Working as a cultural ambassador also allowed her to embrace cultural differences.
“I learned about many unfamiliar cultures,” she said. “Despite our differences, these students were just like me. They were eager to absorb new ways of thinking and take advantage of an unforgettable experience.”
Looking back, Albarran said Texas Global was key to getting her where she is today.
“The office has opened many doors for me,” she said. “It opened up my mind to the possibility of living abroad and pursuing a career in the international field. Most importantly, it showed me the importance of cultural exchange. If it wasn't for Texas Global, my entire life trajectory would be completely different.”
Albarran advised students who are interested in living abroad to connect with people from different backgrounds while still in college.
“I used to be so shy, scared of public speaking and uncomfortable with breaking out of my mold,” she said. “So many doors will open when you get out of your comfort zone and you’ll soon become so comfortable working with anyone.”