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Study abroad experiences and passion help students

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Photo by Taylor Soule, photo editor

She’s not a travel agent, but Jen Hogan is responsible for sending more then 1,500 Drake University students around the world.

Maps, traditional paintings and scores of posters for study-abroad opportunities decorate the walls of Hogan’s office. Taped to her desk and walls are dozens of hand-written thank you cards and postcards from places like Verona, Granada and the Dominican Republic.

Hogan sits at a round wooden table, chatting exuberantly, waving her hands for emphasis, talking about life as the study-abroad advisor for Drake, as well as her own study-abroad experiences.

During Hogan’s junior year at Iowa State, the then 20-year-old traveled to the coastal city of Swansea, Wales.

“It was so exciting just having all this independence,” Hogan said. “There was this sense of adventure and wanting to do more, to see more. It was amazing.”

However great her experiences, Hogan said her time abroad didn’t make her want to continue working with study-abroad students, at least not initially.

“I didn’t have enough time to really think about what it meant to be a study-abroad student from an administrative point of view,” Hogan said. “What I was thinking was ‘This could have been done better.’”

Because of an inadequate relationship with her advisor, Hogan left for her study-abroad trip feeling unprepared.

“I had all these questions and wanted some direction,” Hogan said. “(My advisor) either didn’t care or didn’t have the time to predict what students would feel. We didn’t get the one-on-one time that I like to give students.”

Once she’d graduated and was on her way to her master’s degree in inter-disciplinary studies with a focus in international development, Hogan had that eureka moment in understanding how study abroad should fit into college.

“Basically, I learned what not to do from my study abroad,” Hogan said.

In 2005, Hogan was working at Iowa State in the study abroad office when she heard about a study abroad conference that would be coming to Des Moines. She decided to volunteer and shared a chance meeting with two Drake professors who convinced her to apply for a position in Drake’s study abroad office.

She took a leap of faith and was hired a month later.

It’s that fearlessness of failure and self-reliance that has driven much of what Hogan has done in her life.

During her stint in Wales, Hogan secured an internship at The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust.

“At that time, internships weren’t common when you studied abroad, but I scouted one out,” Hogan said.

Once a week, Hogan would trek along the Welsh countryside looking at Roman monuments and sites with a team of professionals.

“Mostly I put things on maps while they talked,” Hogan said.

Having caught the travel bug, Hogan spent a year after college teaching English in Korea through another program she found on her own.

Hogan said she had decided she wanted to do something completely different, and with that, she started researching programs and making phone calls.

“I had heard horror stories from other people about some of these placements, but essentially I had them send a contract and made sure everything was on the up-and-up,” Hogan explained. “I felt pretty comfortable that I’d traveled enough before, and if I got there and there was something not right or legitimate, I would have no hesitation in coming home.”

She spent the year teaching students ages four to 16 and tutoring two sisters from a university three nights a week.

By now, Hogan is a seasoned traveler. Through Drake alone, she’s visited France, Spain, Austria, England, Germany, China, South Africa, Jordan and, recently, Mexico.

As part of her job, Hogan travels to check out programs. Hogan has a checklist when it comes to potential programs — study experience, safety, types of courses and ability to get around — that she uses to answer the question of what life is really like there.

“I feel like that’s my responsibility,” Hogan said. “If I were to go into a meeting and ask a question like ‘What’s it like going to the Middle East as a woman,’ and the advisor responds ‘I don’t know,’ I wouldn’t want to study there. I can speak with more confidence about what our offerings are in different countries this way.”

In a given year, Hogan helps between 100 and 150 students study abroad, though she talks to more than double that.

But Hogan doesn’t just play Vanna White and show off what programs are most exciting. She said a big portion of her job is advising students, though she also handles the marketing for the study-abroad presence on campus, manages Drake’s study-abroad online application site and acts as a liaison between the study-abroad office and other campus offices like student accounts, student records and financial planning.

She also co-teaches the pre-departure and post-departure courses.

Senior Katherine Vergosen has been working in the International Office with Hogan since the beginning of the school year.

“Jen is…well, Jen is awesome,” Vergosen said. “She’s really fun and always has a positive attitude. A really relaxed person to work with.”

That sentiment holds true for many.

“(Working with Jen) was very laid back and easy,” first-year Amanda Luketich said. “I just told her what I wanted, and as obscure and lacking in any actual substance those directions were, she found trips that suited me perfectly.”

With Hogan’s help, Luketich studied in Cambodia over winter break and will be venturing to Tunisia this summer.

Some students come to see Hogan as a fairy godmother.

“We wanted to find something out of the ordinary and extremely cheap,” Luketich said. “(Jen was) responsible for both of my trips, and I would never have heard about either of them if it wasn’t for her.”

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