LIMELIGHT INTERVIEW WITH LIANA PINNER
I grew up mostly in western North Carolina in a family that never really traveled abroad. We didn’t do that much travel in the U.S., mainly taking family vacations to Florida or South Carolina. However, I knew as a child I wanted to travel and see more of the world. When I started high school, I studied French and became proficient in the language. My French teacher was really kind, supportive, and a bit quirky and didn’t naturally fit into where we lived, and I identified with that.
I took all four levels of French and continued studying the language when I got to the University of North Carolina at Asheville. I didn’t know going into college that I wanted to major in French – I figured I would minor in it. I was studying biology because I wanted to be a veterinarian or zoologist but decided that it was not for me, although I still love animals. I changed my major to French at the end of my first semester and added on K-12 Education. During that time, I had my first international experience. I boarded a plane for the first time to study abroad in France in the spring of my junior year at Université Catholique de l’Ouest. My main goal was to improve my language skills. I wish I would have done it sooner. I loved studying abroad, getting to know my host family, and gaining a better understanding of the local culture. It also made the world seem a lot smaller and a lot more connected.
My host family included two parents who had adult children that lived outside of the home. Their kids would come home to visit, and we would have dinner together. I also lived with another American student who was in the same program. It was great for accountability because they weren’t allowed to speak English with us. It was nice having someone to show us around town and explain the culture more in-depth. When I arrived in France, my written and verbal comprehension was better than my ability to speak. I returned from that experience having a better accent and improved French. It was great!
I graduated in December, so it wasn’t the best time to find a teaching job. Instead, I took a job working with youth and mental health. After a year, I returned to France to become an English teaching assistant for middle and high school-age kids in a very small town in France. I did that for about seven months and then went back to the United States and decided to get a master’s degree in international education. I got a job in youth development, working on internships and career development for high school students.
I didn’t get my first international education job until a year after graduate school, working for the UNC Hussman School of Media and Journalism, which is where I work now as the Director of Global, Immersive and Professional Programs.
Fifty percent of my job is global. The other fifty percent is anything from managing any student experience outside of the traditional classroom to professional education programs. On the global side, I advise students on how to incorporate any type of global opportunity into their time at UNC. We have exclusive exchange partners from media and journalism and a robust visiting international scholars’ program for academics looking to gain professional development, conduct research, or take classes. I coordinate short-term programs and assist students who make independent reporting trips for capstone courses by making sure they have safety plans and are following travel regulations. I also help with coordinating domestic student travel for courses, lecture series, and professional workshops.
Since coronavirus hit, our department has been working from home. We still have students who are interested in studying abroad, but not as many. We are still communicating with the university partners and assisting our international scholars who are in the country. It’s been a lot less coordinating global activities and more about organizing budgets, looking towards the future and transitioning some of our programs to include virtual components.
For the role I’m in now, when I first got the job as a program assistant, I didn’t know it would be such a great fit for me. I was really excited about it, but I didn’t expect to be here long term because, in my mind, I pictured myself working in a study abroad office or at a provider. The reason I love my job so much now is that I do something different every day. Also, I know my students really well, which is so rewarding. I know what they are studying and what type of career paths they can go into. I enjoy being specialized in this area and knowing programs really well. I also get to travel with students and see their growth while on the trips. Students in the Hussman School are doing amazing things during their global programs, such as producing news stories, interning in the advertising industry, or creating great digital content. They impress me every day, and I feel lucky to follow their journeys.
I found this position just by checking job boards. The thing that attracted my former boss to my application is the “Global HQ” website that I created after enrolling in the Global Pro Institute. Even though I didn’t work in global ed for a while, I learned to leverage my other work experiences and translate them to the position.
- Interview by Global Leadership League member and volunteer, Kanette WorldsThe mission of the Global Leadership League is to ignite change across the global education field by empowering, connecting, and training leaders. We invite you to reach out to us here or learn more about becoming a member.