Dajee’ Lyles, a senior international business major, was hired this semester by the Cultural and Educational Programs Abroad Foundation to share information about the foundation’s programs around campus.
CEPA offers summer and semester programs at specific European study centers in Strasbourg, France, and Heidelberg, Germany.
“With my new position, I am responsible for spreading the word about CEPA foundation’s program, telling my experience, and getting people to see that the European study center is the best place to study abroad,” Lyles said.
Lyles’ international business major requires study abroad as a graduation requirement. While trying to find a place to apply, Lyles said she had trouble with the deadlines. Because she wanted to go during the summer, she enlisted the help of August Armbrister, a study abroad coordinator for the Office of International Programs on Mercer’s campus.
“August just told me a few of the options that I had, and CEPA honestly was a pretty cheap choice out of all of the European trips. I wanted to stay a pretty good amount of time, not just two weeks, so that’s how I chose CEPA. It wasn’t necessarily that I selected it out of the group. I think it just kind of found me,” Lyles said.
Lyles studied mostly in Heidelberg, Germany, while abroad for her major, but excursions with the program went to places such as Strasbourg, France.
“I’m actually involved with both programs in Heidelberg and Strasbourg,” Lyles said. “They have European study centers in both. My role is as an ambassador. They choose recent alumni that have shown or expressed interest in being passionate about the program.”
Lyles said she received the opportunity to partner with CEPA through one of Mercer’s annual programs, the study abroad fair.
“I ran into the representative at the study abroad fair because I was there to do a table. She saw that I really cared about the program, so she contacted the people in Germany. They then contacted me and said they wanted to offer me the position,” Lyles said.
Everything Lyles does in relation to her CEPA partnership can be completed here in the United States.
“Basically, they just sent me a list of things to do, and I can do them any type of way I want to do it. The best part of working with CEPA is that they are so flexible and open. When I was given this position, I was able to set up my own calendar as well as create my own events. This position was really created for alumni of the European study center to spread their experiences and passion for travel and learning abroad,” Lyles said.
Some of the events Lyles is asked to host are informative events about the CEPA Foundation such as presentations, Q&A sessions and sessions about each specific program they offer. She is also required to know about the CEPA foundation as a whole, its programs and the study abroad experience.
“I’m involved in the Global Leadership Program,” Lyles said. “Other people are more involved in the Marketing Program or Physical Therapy Program. There are all other types of fields as well. I do get paid for the position, so that’s exciting too. It’s like having a real job, a real global experience which is cool.”
Lyles received the Emerging Global Leader scholarship for her time spent at CEPA. Along with the scholarship, she was also able to go on trips and take training classes that have led to specific certifications.
“During the program, we went on excursions to other cities touring museums, historical sites and businesses. We even spent a day at the European Parliament. They offered us certification courses also like a Corporate Leadership Training that I took. I became certified by a world-famous corporate coach,” Lyles said.
Lyles also said that, while the trip was a great experience, there are several difficulties involved in any study abroad opportunity.
“There was definitely a language barrier and cultural barrier. It took a little time getting through even the application process because of simple time differences and the business cultural differences. When I arrived, maybe the first few days, the language barrier was something that frustrated me, but after warming up to my classmates and getting familiar with the area I was staying, I realized that language was not as huge an issue as it seems and there are other ways to communicate or figure out what I need to do,” Lyles said.
Lyles said that there were certain things that took longer getting used to, however.
“I had to walk everywhere. Most people use trains, not cars. Drinks weren’t free, not even water! You have to pay to use the bathroom everywhere. There were no public bathrooms even in restaurants you ate at sometimes. And, of course, there were the normal stares of people not being used to seeing black people,” Lyles said.
It was these experiences and the knowledge she had from others that made Lyles want to take her leadership position with CEPA.
“Studying abroad with CEPA made me more confident, more self-aware, and more motivated to be a global citizen. It made me want to share that with people on this campus because, people that I know at least, think that studying abroad is a little far-fetched and not an opportunity that is on the table for them right now. I think that me just being a regular student can help people see a model of people like them who study abroad,” Lyles said.
Lyles spent a month and a half in Europe over the summer before being offered the position. She says she hopes to continue to work with CEPA in the future, maybe before going on to earn a master’s degree.
“This opportunity has meant the absolute world to me … The Global Leadership Program specifically allowed me to step into this person that I knew I wanted to be but wasn’t sure if I was ready or had the tools to do it,” Lyles said. “I made amazing friends that I will never forget, and I know that if I’m ever in Heidelberg or Strasbourg again, I will definitely have a home.”