SUMMER LEADERSHIP TEAM

What makes SPI such a unique program?  Our dedicated and exceptional summer leadership team abroad! They serve as care givers, model language immersion students, 24-hour support, and as we like to call them, “international moms and dads.” We want all participants and parents to feel like they “personally know” each member of your child’s on-site team prior to departure!

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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 - SPI Summer Director Spain
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Dr. Beatriz Arias - SPI Summer Director

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 - SPI Summer Director Spain
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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!

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