Rachel HelwigDir. of Programs & Health and Safety

    Q&A With Program Management & Support Team Member: Rachel

    Q: What do you do at BCA Study Abroad? What is your favorite part of your job?

    A: I am the Director of Programs, Health & Safety. In this role, I collaborate with our Resident Directors in developing our programs. I also work closely with our RDs, our sending schools, and students themselves to support health and safety abroad. I’m also happy to be a member of our Generation Study Abroad team, helping BCA to expand our outreach and increase enrollment, reflection and support services for students from diverse ethnic, faith, sexual and gender identity and socio-economic backgrounds.


    Q: What is your favorite travel memory?

    A: One of my favorite travel memories is from a recent work trip. I had an unexpectedly long layover in Casablanca, Morocco (after an unexpectedly long and frustrating delay at JFK). I was privileged to be put up in a local hotel just a few blocks from the Old Medina in Casablanca. I was walking around the area when it started to rain. I pulled the cowl neck of my shirt over my head to stay a little dry, but was obviously struggling to keep it there as I jumped over puddles and looked for a coffee shop. A young woman saw me and came over and wrapped her own scarf around my face and head and led me to a local coffee shop. She was a student at a local university and sat with me and shared coffee while she studied for her classes. We didn’t have a ton of shared language, but we made it work. Her graciousness and hospitality were so impressive and welcoming. I felt so lucky to have met her! She reminds me to be gracious and welcoming to newcomers to the US as well. I hope we can make others feel as safe and welcome as I did!


    Q: What is one piece of advice you would give a student thinking about studying abroad?

    A: I encourage all students interested in studying abroad to think about their own goals and to evaluate programs using these goals as a guide. It can be easy to be swept away by beautiful pictures, stories from past participants, or friends who also want to travel – but it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no one right way to study abroad. Make sure your study abroad experience helps you explore the things that you care about, whether it’s specific coursework, ability to get involved with the local community, or a location that’s meaningful to you and your family.


    Q: Do you have any pets?

    A: I have two dogs – a 16 year old Chihuahua and an 8 year old Chihuahua/Jack Russell terrier mix. My 16 year old Chihuahua has been with me through a lot of major life events – it’s pretty impressive! She’s old and deservedly cranky now, and no longer cares what we think. (My three year old daughter calls her “No-No,” which I assume is because we’re regularly telling the dog “No.” Oops!). The other dog has more energy than me, and that’s saying a lot!


    Q: Did you study abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to study abroad?

    A: I studied abroad at the University of Ghana as an undergraduate, and have had the privilege to spend time in many other countries through graduate school and my work in international education. No one in my family had ever been outside of the United States when I chose to study abroad (in fact, I had only flown on a plane one other time before flying to West Africa for my year abroad). In some ways, I think that inexperience was actually really helpful to me, as no one pushed me to study in any particular location. Any country I considered was already very different for my family. That said, I was lucky to have my parents and sister come visit me during my year abroad (first international trip for all of them) and then my sister studied abroad when she was in college. I feel really great that my own international experiences impacted my family in that way – it was great to all be able to grow together.


    Q: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

    A: My favorite ice cream flavor is lemon with chocolate chips, which is made by Carmen & David’s, a local ice cream manufacturer in Lancaster, PA. Although I will not really ever turn down ice cream, no matter the flavor. Or doughnuts. I’ve thought about starting a “doughnuts of the world” Instagram account. I feel lucky to live in Lancaster which has a pretty strong doughnut culture (I live 3 blocks from a doughnut shop and Lancaster Central Market has my favorite glazed croissants).


    Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

    A: I’m a really big reader. I typically carry a book with me at all times, although I read fewer “adult” books now that I have a toddler. That said, there are some great kids and young adult books out there. I also really love hiking and camping, although I’m not particularly skilled at either. Maybe I just love the sound of crickets as I fall asleep.


    Q: Before you travel to a new place what research do you do to learn about the host community, local cultures or the impact of your visit?

    A: Before I travel, I like to do research on local literature (I’m a big reader, so I always google local writers and try to read at least one book by a local author or set in a location where I’m traveling to – and I try to visit a local bookstore in each place I visit as well). Pinterest can be a weirdly good resource here. I also try to read local newspapers or find online news forums as well as searching the New York Times for recent articles. Instagram can also help and I try to follow accounts related to the countries where I’m going (it also is nice to continue to follow those accounts after I return – it helps me stay connected and aware). It’s really easy to do research about local places to stay and eat, how to navigate public transportation, etc…