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OUR MISSION…TRANSFORMING LIVES

Globalizing Thousands of Students' Lives Since 1996

Studying abroad will be a defining period in your educational experience – a journey that will transform you into becoming a global citizen with international perspectives that puts you ahead of your peers. On SPI Study Abroad programs, the traditional classroom takes a back seat to exciting activities around the city, conversations with locals, and weekend journeys to places where history, art, and culture all come to life! All SPI programs are designed to provide full cultural and language immersion for students by placing them in safe and easy-to-manage cities with caring homestays or fully-supported student residences. Students gain self confidence, independence, and maturity, as well as increased fluency in a foreign language — skills that enrich their lives forever.


SPI Mission Statement

SPI is an international education organization with over 30 years of experience directed by passionate educators, parents and study abroad advocates. We believe students who study abroad in high school develop empowering, lifelong skills as they build fluency in another language and gain global perspectives. Our primary goal is for students to return home with a heightened sense of self-awareness and confidence through a unique, authentic and meaningful experience abroad. In-depth language immersion is our primary focus as multilingual graduates increase their future opportunities for both professional and personal enrichment in today’s fast growing globalized world.

Reputation Matters…

Thousands of students’ lives have been changed through SPI Study Abroad programs over the past three decades. Our impeccable safety record and strong reputation for maintaining high impact, global immersion experiences for high school students is second to none.

> Year Established: 1996 – First Teacher-Led Trip 1984!

> Major Safety Incidents: 0 in 20+ Years – We Know Teenagers!

> Satisfaction Rate: 94% EXCELLENT – Say Student Surveys!

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MEET OUR FOUNDERS

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Rose Potter

Position:  Co-Founder
Hometown:  Powers, Michigan
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  Auburn University (B.A.), Univ. of N. Iowa (M.A.)

Rose Potter has been a Master Teacher for over 40 years and an advocate for international education her entire career as an educator. In 1984 she led her first tour in Spain. This “educational tour” proved to be nothing more than a 15 day whirlwind sight-seeing tour for her students. She wanted to see them use their emerging language skills and learn culture through observation and experience, not through a glass window. Language immersion study abroad for college credit was the answer – not the tours.

A Teacher’s Purpose

A Need to Globalize Students Outside the Classroom…

Rose sought a well-rounded, college-level summer study abroad experience in which her high school-aged students would interact within the local community, immerse with a local homestay, and take intensive language courses. With no such program in sight, she decided to craft and run her own immersion program! Her first program’s success was simply outstanding. Students returned home speaking the language, appreciating another culture and recounting their invaluable memories from abroad.  It was truly music to her ears and food for her soul.

A Lasting Impact…

Soon after, Rose left her job in the classroom and began organizing language immersion travel full time. She helped found LPI (Learning Programs International) in its initial stages, before starting her own company in 1996, PATA (Programs Abroad Travel Alternatives.) After PATA became a nationally-recognized high school study abroad program, Rose handed the keys over to PATA alumnus, Jeremy Goodwin, to continue her mission. Since SPI’s inception, there have been thousands of students whose lives have been impacted by meaningful international experiences.

Proudly, Rose’s mission continues today!

Rose Potter is currently an international World Language Education Consultant.

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Guy & Diane Goodwin

Position:  Co-Founders
Hometown:  (Guy) San Antonio, TX & (Diane), Quebec, Canada
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  University of Texas

Parents have been an integral part of SPI’s success from the beginning. As young world travelers in the 1970’s, Guy & Diane Goodwin met and soon later married while traveling throughout Central & South America. They returned home from their travels understanding the great importance that foreign language immersion and deep cultural understanding has on young people. They knew they would instill these values and experiences in their children.

A Parent’s Perspective

A Need for Language…

Guy and Diane Goodwin’s commitment to international education took root in the 1970’s when they met while traveling in Central America. Diane, a native of Quebec, Canada, used her nursing degree to provide medical services in rural Canadian communities and later in Central and South America. When the couple returned to Austin, Texas where they started their family, they knew from an early point that instilling the lifelong values of international living to their children would be fundamental. All three of their children studied abroad in high school and each of them have had their lives positively impacted from their experiences.

The Investment that Pays Back Big

Like most American parents are forced to ask themselves, “Why has my child taken so many years of foreign language and they still can’t speak the language?” Sending their children to live with a homestay family and be totally immersed into the language and culture was the answer AND the best investment.

“Showing our children the bigger world outside the one we created for them, has been the greatest investment and gift for their futures. Our advice: “Don’t let your child graduate without studying abroad. It is truly a priceless experience.”

Letter from Guy Goodwin to Prospective Parents

In the fall of 1997, my son came home from school with a flyer announcing a meeting about a summer study abroad experience with his Spanish teacher. He gracefully threw it on the counter with no mention or interest of it. I found that flyer and decided we needed to attend the meeting to find out more about what seemed to be a truly unique opportunity for my children.

We attended the meeting led by SPI founder, Rose Potter, a master teacher who preached the importance foreign language and culture would have on our kids. They would enter college with credit, graduate early, save parents money (and even become trilingual) by the time college ended. All of this seemed too good to be true…

We enrolled our son into the Santander program and months later he was on his way to Spain. The entire time he was abroad we heard from him infrequently, only to hear how much Spanish he was learning, how much he loved his homestay family, and how much he was learning about the world and himself. At that moment I understood everything Rose advocated in her meeting. But it gets better…

My son then studied abroad a second time between his junior and senior year, and went on to enter university (his first choice) with 25 hours of college credit through the AP exams and his study abroad. Almost an entire semester of college! He continued to study Spanish in college and soon after began studying French, his third language.

Not only did the study abroad investment pay me back, it paid my son back for the rest of his life. My advice: DON’T LET YOUR CHILD GRADUATE WITHOUT STUDY ABROAD.

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Jeremy Goodwin

Position:  Co-Founder
Hometown:  Austin, TX
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  University of Utah (b.A.), Auburn Univ (M.A.-In Progress)

In the nineteen-nineties, Jeremy’s high school Spanish teacher, Gloria Munguia, presented him with the opportunity to participate on an SPI Spain program. The flyer he brought home to his parents read:  “Change your life this summer in Spain!” Those words soon became reality — Jeremy’s study abroad experience proved itself to be absolutely life-changing.

A Student’s Transformation

A Life-Changing Experience…

“My whole childhood I was a reserved, well-behaved and studious kid.  My parents occasionally recounted their stories of living in other countries, but the thought of me actually going out abroad was far outside my comfort zone.  After attending a meeting held by Rose Potter, my interest sparked and I “agreed” to go to Spain to improve my Spanish and hopefully earn college credit.  My Spanish improved greatly and I earned college credit, but the best part was that the experience transformed me into a completely different person.  When I returned, I gained a new perspective on the “important things in life” and saw new meaning in the bubble of a world I lived in. Those simple yet profound life lessons, along with all the other tangible life skills that study abroad provided me, contributed to the most influential period of my life.”

Continuing Rose’s Mission…

Study abroad soon became an integral part of his educational career and life. After participating on several other study abroad experiences in Mexico, Argentina, and France, Jeremy gained high levels of fluency in Spanish and French. Because of these pivotal language immersion endeavors and study abroad experiences, he knew that it would become his life mission to facilitate similar life-changing experiences for young people.

Jeremy has served as SPI’s Executive Director since 2004.

SENIOR LEADERSHIP

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John Foster

Position:  Program Operations Director
Hometown:  Lakeway, TX
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  Texas State University (B.S)

Meet John
From an early age, John was enamored with learning as much as he could about the world — so much so that he began studying maps in his spare time and fell asleep on most nights reading the World Book Encyclopedia. During his senior year of high school, John studied abroad with SPI in San Sebastian, Spain and had a transformative experience — knowing that travel would become a part of his future. After returning to SPI, this time as an Assistant Director and Admissions Advisor, John quickly became one of our most popular summer staff members and now supervises all program operations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. During the school year, John oversees program planning, hiring and training for all summer staff positions, as well as advising educators, students, and parents on SPI programs.

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Megan Zaal

Position:  Admissions Director
Hometown:  San Francisco, CA
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  University of Colorado (B.A)

Meet Megan
Megan grew up in San Francisco where she was a graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep and exposed to many different cultures on a day to day basis. At the age of 18, she was given the opportunity to spend a summer in France and Italy and there she fell in love with cultural immersion. She then spent countless hours studying the food of Europe, Asia and South America. Post college, she enrolled in a small French culinary school where she continued to indulge in the delicacies of Europe. It was then she realized how important it is for a young person to spend time living abroad and truly engaging in another culture, on their soil. In 2016, Megan joined SPI Study Abroad as the Admissions Director to help students and parents in their study abroad journey.

PARENT & TEACHER COORDINATORS

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Rebecca Smith

Position:  Program Specialist
Hometown:  Los Gatos, CA
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  Texas A&M Univ. (M.Ed.)

Meet Rebecca
Rebecca Smith has worked with SPI programs since 2005.  She assists teachers, parents and students each summer on our Latin American programs. International travel has been a part of Rebecca’s life forever as her parents are from England and South Africa. While earning her Masters in Special Education at Texas A&M University, Rebecca studied Spanish in Costa Rica and also earned a full scholarship to perform service work in rural Honduras. Her vast international travel experiences and her love of other cultures make her a perfect match with SPI’s mission and goals for each program.

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Julie Teague

Position:  Senior Parent Advisor
Hometown:  Kerrville, TX
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  University of Texas (M.A.)

Meet Julie
Julie Teague has been a foreign language educator for over 15 years. She has lived and traveled in numerous Spanish-speaking countries and has taught Spanish at both the university and high school levels. While working on her Masters from the University of Texas in Foreign Language Education, Julie received a grant to do research on Mexican Folk Culture in Mexico City. This opportunity captivated her interests in the language and culture while exposing her to the importance of living in a foreign country.

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Betsy Arnold

Position:  Teacher Advisor
Hometown:  Venezuela & Ohio
Lives In:  Houston, TX
Education:  Bowling Green St. (M.Ed.)

Meet Betsy
Betsy Arnold has been teaching AP Spanish Language & Literature in Houston, TX for over 35 years. After being raised in Argentina and Venezuela, the Spanish language became not only her passion, but also a skill that would shape her entire life. Since the beginning of her career, she has traveled nearly every summer with students to Spain or Latin America. As an AP Spanish teacher, Betsy attests to the impact summer immersion has on her students academic and personal preparation for college and life beyond.

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Betty Wangler

Position:  Parent Advisor
Hometown:  San Antonio, TX
Lives In:  Austin, TX
Education:  University of Texas (B.S.)

Meet Betty
After sending her children abroad in high school from 2004-2006, Betty realized the positive impact that SPI programs had on their lives, both academically and emotionally. Betty joins the SPI team as a strong advocate for study abroad at the high school level, and enjoys working with parents throughout the study abroad process. Betty likes to tell parents, “Study abroad is the gift that keeps on giving.  You simply cannot afford to let your child graduate without study abroad!”

SUMMER ON-SITE LEADERSHIP TEAM

Meet our dedicated summer leadership team of on-site Head Directors and Program Coordinators! SPI hires additional local staff and high school teacher travelers not listed to assist our on-site team. Scroll through each staff members photos and videos to get to know them better!

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April Todd

Santander – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2, Month
Hometown: Houston, TX
Lives In: Austin, TX
Education: Texas A&M University (B.A., M.A.)

Meet April
This is proudly my 6th summer working with SPI Study Abroad and my passion for international education and the Spanish language keep me coming back year after year (not to mention SPI is an exceptional organization!) I’ve taught all levels of Spanish for over 13 years in Texas and English for 2 years in Madrid, Spain (although my first experience in Spain was March 1997.) Traveling, and certainly studying abroad, provides countless opportunities to learn, reflect and grow. I studied abroad in 2002 in Costa Rica and still to this day reference things I learned and experienced during that time. Studying abroad is challenging, enriching and life-changing. I look forward to meeting you this summer!

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Dr. Beatriz Arias

Santander – Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2 & S.S. 3
Hometown: Guadalajara, Mexico
Lives In: Austin, TX
Education: Univ. of Houston (Ed.D.)

Meet Beatriz
I have a B.A. in Communications from ITESO, a Jesuit university in Guadalajara, Mexico where I am originally from. I taught one year at UNIVA University and then I went to the University of Houston and got a M.Ed in Foundations of Education and Bilingual Education, and a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction and Bilingual Education. When I returned to Mexico for a few months, I wrote a book in Spanish based on my doctoral dissertation. I married an American and returned to Texas, but eventually we moved to California where I became a Principal in Catholic schools for nine years. I also got my second M.Ed. at the University of San Francisco. We had a son, and we raised him bilingual. Perhaps, that inspired me to teach Spanish to high school students. I have over 16 years of experience in teaching Spanish as a second language from the beginners to the upper levels, including Spanish AP and AP Literature. I also wrote a book on Methods and Techniques of Teaching a Second Language. My love for languages is what keeps me coming back each summer to inspire SPI students!

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Rebeca Gaínza Fernández

Santander – Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2, Month
Hometown: Santander, Spain
Lives In: Santander, Spain
Education: Univ. de Cantabria (B.A)

Meet Rebeca
Hola, My name is Rebeca and I’m originally from Santander, Spain (a city I am deeply in love with!) I studied History and nowadays I’m a Geography and History teacher while doing research in Medieval European History at the University of Cantabria.
I love traveling because I think it’s the best way to experience another culture – firsthand. I try to go abroad whenever I can and I’ve visited several countries in Europe and the U.S. once. I can describe myself as a very active and passionate person. I love nature. I enjoy walking in the green countryside when the weather is good. Moreover, I love animals and, in fact, I have two cats. As a History teacher during the year, I’m the perfect cultural guide and I know boundless stories from my home city, Santander! And finally, I must say that I love shopping and enjoy helping our students adapt to European fashion each summer! See you soon in Santander!

Hannah Erickson

San Sebastian – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Lives In: San Sebastian, Spain
Education: University of Minnesota (B.A.)

Meet Hannah
Hola! After studying abroad in Toledo, Spain, I made it my goal to get back to Spain as soon as possible. I finally ended up moving to San Sebastian four years ago and have loved living here ever since. When I am not busy with SPI programs, I teach English to local high school students. I also love surfing (a habit I picked up at Zurriola beach here in San Sebastian), hiking and yoga, as well as spending lots of time with friends. I can’t wait to share with you my love for the Spanish language and the unique Basque region!

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Maya Edwards

San Sebastian – Lead Director

Programs:  Summer 1, Month
Hometown:  Cleveland, OH
Lives In:  Warrensville Hts., OH
Education: Cleveland State Univ. (M.A)

Meet Maya
I was born and raised in northeast Ohio, but lived for over eight years in Spain, so I feel that I’m as much Spanish as I am American at heart! Spanish has always been at the heart of my professional life, now as a Spanish teacher, at times working in international education and also as a medical interpreter. I love travel and can’t imagine my life devoid of opportunities to explore new places, connect with amazing people, and learn new cultures and languages. I look forward to sharing this love with my students each summer!

Kevin Geist

San Sebastian – Director

Programs: Summer 1, Month
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Lives In: La Palma, Spain
Education: James Madison University (B.A.)

Meet Kevin
I’m originally from Philadelphia, PA and have been living in Spain and teaching English for five years. I lived two years in San Sebastián, so I know the city and the surrounding area quite well, and I’m very excited to share it with you all! I worked with SPI last year in San Sebastián and loved it. I’m happy to be returning this summer.

Elena Carey

San Sebastian – Director

Programs: Summer 1, Month
Hometown: Bronx, NY
Lives In: New York, NY
Education: Saint Louis University (B.A., B.S.)

Meet Elena
Hola! I hold a double Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Spanish from Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain and I am currently working as a High School Spanish teacher in the Fieldston School in the Bronx, New York, teaching students between freshman and senior years. My mother, Esperanza Cano, also an AP Spanish teacher is a native of Spain and has been involved with SPI for several years. I am proud to continue her legacy in San Sebastian and assist students throughout their entire experience abroad this summer!

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Maria Hernandez Oliver

San Sebastian – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2, 3
Hometown: Valencia, Spain
Lives In: San Sebastian, Spain
Education: Universidad de Navarra (B.A)

Meet Maria
Hi! I am María, I am from the Valencia region of Spain originally but I fell in love with San Sebastián years ago and that’s why I decided to move my entire life here. I love cycling (near the Pyrenees mountains!), walking on the beach, horseback riding, endless chats on terraces (it’s Europe!) and watching our beautiful sunsets over the Concha beach. I can’t wait to share my paradise with you this summer!

Mark Hochberg

San Sebastian – Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Lives In: San Diego, CA
Alma Mater: Chico State University (B.A.)

Meet Mark
This will be my 4th summer working as an On-Site Director with SPI in Northern Spain and I am as excited as ever! As a language educator, I sincerely enjoy the cultural and authentic immersion that SPI programs offer to students. My wife, two children, and I live in San Diego, CA and I am currently in my 15th year as a teacher with the San Diego Unified School District. I teach French, Spanish and coach freshman football. I look forward to providing my leadership and guidance to everyone participating in these life-changing programs!

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Isabelle Charbonneau

Biarritz – On-Site Supervisor

Programs: Summer 1, 2, 3, Month
Hometown: Paris, France
Lives In: Biarritz, France
Education: Université Paris-Sorbonne (B.A)

Meet Isabelle
Salut a tous! My name is Isabelle and my partner Philippe and I manage the BLCI Language school in Biarritz, France. Together we help facilitate all aspects of the SPI French immersion each summer. I work closely with all the homestays and teachers during the program. I look forward to welcoming you to France this summer!

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Samantha Lucas

Biarritz – Lead Director

Programs: Lead Director – Summer 1
Hometown: Springfield, MO
Lives In: Portland, OR
Education: University of Arkansas (B.A, M.A)

Meet Sam
Bonjour! Je m’appelle Samantha and I am a recent transplant from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Portland, OR. I went to school at the University of Arkansas where I studied French and Political Science and received a Master’s in French Literature. I’ve lived in France for a total of 2 years as both a student, teacher, and a study abroad director. This is my fourth summer with SPI and I am so thrilled to be returning with the best team I’ve ever had the privilege of working with!

Dr. Sarah du Plessis

Biarritz – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 2, 3, Month
Hometown: Fredricksburg, VA
Lives In: New Haven, CT
Education: Virginia Tech University (Ph.D)

Meet Sarah
I have been teaching French for 21 years! During all of these years, I have frequently traveled with students to France and Quebec to expose them directly to the culture and language that they study in the classroom. I also worked for 5 years for a similar organization as SPI (two years in Montpelier and three years in Paris.) Traveling and working with students in a hands-on and experience rich environment are very exciting to me. I love to see it all come together and experience it through their eyes!

Beatrice Abadie

Biarritz – Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2, 3, Month
Hometown: Biarritz, France
Lives In: Biarritz, France

Meet Beatrice
Bonjour! I am Béatrice Abadie, a former professional interior decorator, now working in the education field in Biarritz, France. I still work part-time designing interiors for some of Southwestern France’s beautiful and unique homes (which will always be my passion!) I studied English for 3 years while living in London and also worked in Portugal for 17 years prior to returning to Biarritz (chez-moi.) I am so happy to be working with young people who wish to learn our French culture and language.

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Ines Abadie

Biarritz – Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2, 3, Month
Hometown: Biarritz, France
Lives In: Biarritz, France

Meet Ines
Bonjour, I’m Ines originally from Biarritz, the capital of surfing in France! 🙂 I’m a really communicative, enthusiastic and energetic person, always happy to engage with new people. I have enjoyed working with SPI students for many years alongside my mother, Beatrice, who also works in education. I look forward to sharing the beautiful beaches, French-Basque cuisine, and the many wonders that make the L’Aquitaine region of France the best place on earth!

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Gabrielle Mattes

Costa Rica – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 1, 2, Month
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Lives In:  Chicago, IL
Education: University of Dayton (B.A, B.S.E)

Meet Gabby
I’m from Chicago and went to college at University of Dayton to earn my degree in Spanish Education. I fell in love with Spanish culture during my first study abroad trip in Costa Rica! This experience really encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. After graduation, I moved to Toledo, Spain to teach English. I have served as an on-site program coordinate in the past for Those were two of the best years of my life filled with new places, new friends, and learning more about myself. Now I’m back in Chicago teaching Spanish full-time and sharing everything I learned abroad with my students. I love helping young people discover the many doors knowing another language opens!

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Jonle Sedar

Costa Rica – On-Site Supervisor

Programs: Summer 1, 2, Month
Hometown:  Coopersburg, PA
Lives In:  Monteverde, CR

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Arelys Badilla

Costa Rica – Program Coordinator

Programs: Summer 1, 2, Month
Hometown:  Santa Elena, CR
Lives In:  Monteverde, CR

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Christina McGrath - SPI High School Study Abroad

Christina McGrath

Siena – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 2
Hometown: New York, NY
Lives In: New York, NY
Education: Columbia University (M.A, Ph.D.)

Meet Christina
Ciao a tutti! I’m Christina: a born and raised New Yorker, an Italian American, a PhD candidate, a teacher, and a student. I’ve been teaching Italian to undergraduates for 2 years, and have been involved in tutoring Italian for nearly 6 years. Italy is a magical place, and I take every possible opportunity to share my love of the country with my students! I’m excited to return with SPI this summer and deliver an unforgettable summer!

Livia Rennenkampff

Siena – Director

Programs: Summer 2 & Immersion Extension
Hometown: Rome, Italy
Lives In: Siena, Italy
Education:  University of Siena (B.A, M.A)

Meet Livia
Ciao! My name is Maria Livia Rennenkampff and I was born in Rome but I’ve been living in Siena since I was a young child. After obtaining my Master’s degree in nuerolinguistics, I passed all the exams in order to become an Italian teacher to foreign students. As a professional Italian teacher I’ve been working at Dante Alighieri School of Siena since 2016. I’m so excited to help my students improve their Italian as well as gain an appreciation for the Tuscan culture (and of course FOOD!)

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Aubrey Groves

Guilin – Lead Director

Programs: Summer 2
Hometown: Austin, TX
Lives In: Austin, TX
Education: Duke University (M.A)

Meet Aubrey
I taught all levels of high school Chinese for 6 years at several boarding schools on the East Coast. This is my third summer leading SPI’s Guilin Summer Program! I hail from Austin, TX where I happily reside with my adorable dog Sookie. Traveling abroad is the best thing I think any person can do in this world because of the growth and connection you can experience in yourself and with people of other countries. I’m excited to share my love of China with our students this summer!

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Susan Pan

Guilin – Director

Programs: Summer 2 & Immersion Extension
Hometown: Yizhou, Guangxi, China
Lives In: Guilin, Guangxi, China
Education: Guangxi Normal University (B.A)

Meet Susan
My name is Susan Pan and I serve as the on-site Director for SPI’s program in Guilin, China. I am a professional Chinese teacher at the CLI (Chinese Language Institute) where I look forward to helping all SPI students improve their language skills and experience our unique culture (and food!) in Southern China!

PARTNER INSTITUTIONS & STANDARDS OF GOOD PRACTICE

Partner Schools Abroad

*Please note the above organizations work in partnership with SPI to help facilitate certain elements of our programs abroad.  These institutions are approved by the Ministry of Education in each country.

Organizations in International Study Abroad Standards

*Please note the above organizations are not affiliated with SPI.  SPI adheres to these organizations’ Standards of Good Practice and Ethics, which most universities use to organize and manage study abroad programs.

MEMORIES FROM OUR FOUNDING YEARS…

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DSC_0679
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Cristin Blees SPI Group
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