On-Site Directors


2012 European Program Director

Celeste Weary, Head Director

As a junior in high school, Celeste’s eyes were opened when she studied abroad with SPI in Cadiz, Spain. She knew that her study abroad days were far from over and that she would continue studying Spanish in college. While earning her degrees in Advertising/Public Relations and Spanish at Texas Christian University, she spent a summer studying at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico, and soon after returned to Spain for six months. In Madrid she participated in a Spanish language and international business program at the University Carlos III, while also completing an internship with Language Teaching Services and traveling to many other countries during her free time. Celeste says there is nothing she is more passionate about than travel and language immersion. She has been a member of the SPI team for over 3 years, helping parents and students through every step of the study abroad experience.

Cadiz, Spain

Yaye Baena, Head Director

Yaye holds a degree in Arabic studies from the University of Seville in Spain. She has lived in the U.S. as a Foreign Language Assistant at the College of William & Mary where she was a Spanish instructor. Her love of Spanish and Arabic took her to live and study in Tunisia as well as Syria. Her diverse background, love of Spanish, and passion for working with students makes Yaye a fantastic role model and mentor for SPI students abroad.

“I love working with students; I always end up having just as much fun as the students do when we organize events, whether in my role as professor, coordinator, and tutor in The Spanish House at William and Mary, or here as a teacher and coordinator with the SPI program in Cadiz.

Santander, Spain

Valerie Villa, Head Director

Valerie Ville has been teaching all levels of Spanish in Seattle, WA and Houston, TX for the past ten years. With a strong background in multicultural studies and linguistics, Valerie truly believes in the life long benefits language immersion programs have on students. Valerie was raised in Los Alamos, New Mexico where she grew to love the Spanish language and come closer to her Spanish roots.  She believes students return from study abroad with increased maturity and confidence that helps prepare them for college and their future careers. Students describe Valerie as a motivator, leader, friend, and positive role-model.

“I truly believe the best way for students to retain & develop what they learn in the classroom is through total immersion into the language and culture…not the tours.”

San Sebastian, Spain

Ana Mendikute, Head Director

A native of San Sebastian, Ana has served as SPI’s head director since 2006.  Ana brings a wealth of experience to our on-site team as she has worked extensively with American and European high school students in Spain for many years.  As a high school student, she participated in an exchange program to the U.S. where she lived in Idaho (a region with shared Basque history.)  This completely transformed her life and shaped her future career in international education.  Ana is a mother of two boys and her goal for each program is to serve not only as a surrogate ‘mama’ for students, but also to expand young minds with new global perspectives.

Ana Hermoso, Asst. Director 

Mrs. Ana Hermoso has been teaching Spanish at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut since 1991. Born and raised in San Sebastian, Spain, Ana is trilingual in Spanish, English and Basque, and fluent in French. Since receiving her Master in Spanish Language and Literature from Middlebury College, she has enjoyed teaching her high school students Spanish at all levels from beginners to post AP/IB. As a boarding school teacher, she participates in many activities with her students from volunteer work to soccer and other extracurricular teams and clubs. Her students adore her and describe her as a fun, helpful and caring mentor. Her hobbies include traveling and cooking new recipes, but above all spending time with her family.

Costa Rica

Jonle Sedar, Head Director

Natalie Turner, Asst. Director

We are thrilled to announce our 2011 Costa Rica program director, Natalie Turner. Natalie has been teaching Spanish at all levels for the past ten years in Texas and North Carolina. Born in Peru, Natalie is bilingual in both Spanish and English. She has led many study and volunteer experiences abroad to various Spanish speaking countries and brings a wealth of first hand knowledge to the on-site SPI team. Students and parents describe Natalie as fun, smart, helpful, and a great mentor!

Siena, Italy

Dana Caron, Head Director

Dana Caron is a Latin teacher at Highland Park HS in Dallas, TX. Dana has co-led the SPI Siena program since 2009 and brings a wealth of experience to our on-site team. Students describe Ms. Caron as friendly, helpful, caring, and knowlegeable. Dana is looking forward to sharing “her Italy” with students this summer!

Laura Hudec, Head Director

While participating in the Baylor University Italy Program in college, I was very fortunate to learn about directing study abroad programs from my professor, Dr. Alden Smith; Recently awarded with the Award for Excellence in the Teaching of the classics by the American Philological Association, Dr. Smith has always been a model on which I base my philosophies about education and life. I traveled to Italy three times as a student; once as a new Italophile, the second time as a “helper” and “organizer” for Dr. Smith, and the third time as an assistant leader. Every time I have traveled to Italy, I remember the responsibilities of a director which Dr. Smith taught me: to keep all members of my group feeling comfortable and at-home, to maintain an appropriate pace for all the students during tours and excursions, to make sure I have the greatest knowledge of every site in order to make the learning experience even more interesting, and to be ten steps ahead of any future event for the program. As a director, I must ensure that the students step out of a tourist mode, and feel like they are part of the community in which they are living. My goal is that every student will leave the program feeling like they have gained a new part of themselves.

“One of the greatest struggles which a youth battles is finding where he belongs in his or her world. The experience of traveling opens the world and encourages an appreciation of the similarities and differences between his own world and his international experiences.”

Biarritz, France

Elizabeth Mack, Head Director

Elizabeth Mack, mother of two and professor at Texas State University, is a true francophile. Before receiving a Master’s in French Literature from the University of Texas, she worked in marketing for the French company L’Oreal and lived and worked extensively in Europe. When not grading papers or planning her next trip to France, Elizabeth enjoys freelance work in film subtitles and any other source of French culture. Her love of all things French began with her own study abroad/immersion experience while living with a family in Aix-en-Provence, France. She looks forward to help students grow from their summer immersion experience in France!


For more information about our partner China program, please contact us.