Cultural exchange coordinator - long version

Tasha Dev turns students into citizens of the world

If America is a melting pot then Tasha Dev is one of the people stirring the brew.

Dev is the study abroad coordinator at Chico State and operates her mini-Ellis Island from a cramped office on the second floor of Tehama Hall. When idle, her computer produces a screen saver of photos of study abroad students both past and present. Small trinkets and photos hang from her walls while a small globe sits on a shelf above her desk. From this tiny office, which she shares with her assistant, Dev performs her mountain of duties.

“I wear about a thousand hats around here,” Dev said while letting out a soft chuckle.

Well, maybe not a thousand, but close. Dev oversees a staff of eight: seven part-time student assistants and one full-time professional study abroad adviser. A small taste of her duties include being in charge of all study abroad recruitment, working with the incoming student exchange, conducting application workshops for departing students, giving pre-departure orientations to help students deal with culture shock and money issues, mentorship programs and overseeing the department’s budget.

You won’t hear much about Dev out of her own mouth. Actually you won’t hear much about any particular topic from her. This isn’t because of she’s anti-social or extremely shy. Actually, quite the opposite is true. Dev is one of those rare people who are as busy as they think they are.

People who wish to speak with Dev are best served by reserving one of her coveted 15-minute appointment slots a few days in advance. Trying to waltz into Dev’s office for a chat is like walking into New York’s poshest restaurant and demanding a corner both.

On top of her domestic duties Dev is also an avid traveler and attends study abroad conferences all over the world. A joke around the office is if you can’t find Dev she’s probably not in the country.

Dev’s radiant smile stretches wide across her face. Her raven hair, full of waves and curls, remains pulled back tightly in neat bun. Her voice carries the sweet sincerity of a kindergarten teacher reading to her students.

Dev is an alumna of both Chico State and its overseas-study program. She spent a semester in Mexico, and her reaction seems funny considering how much she travels now.

“The entire experience was terrifying,” Dev said. “I’m kind of shocked I got on the airplane.”

Dev ended up enjoying the experience enough to sign up to study abroad again, but this time for a full year in Spain. Now Dev, who is married to fellow Chico State professor Sanjay Dev, from Nepal, travels often. And those initial trips were important to her understanding and appreciation of the world.

“It opened up my eyes to the world,” she said of her experience in Spain. “Taught me so much about American culture, the American way of life.”

Among other things, Dev said the experiences helped mold her idea of global politics, career plan and perception of America.

For years she said she never thought of America as having any culture. Europe and Asia were steeped in thousands of years of tradition and history and America was the new kid on the block who borrowed everything and gave back nothing. It was only after visiting Spain and Mexico that she discovered her own culture.

The experience also shaped Dev in another way, one that didn’t rear its head until the job as study abroad coordinator dropped in her lap. While Chico State had a study abroad coordinator during Dev’s time as a student, she said that the help and guidance she received were slim at best.

“I could have had a much better experience my first time had I had some tools,” she said.

Among things missing from Dev’s experience were a pre-departure orientation, general information about what to expect and a residential director abroad. She was forced to arrange for her own home-stay family-luckily a person who had previously visited Mexico gave her the connection. Besides finding a place to stay, Dev was also challenged with feelings of homesickness compounded by culture shock.

“I didn’t know about it until later on when I read about culture shock when I got this job,” she said. “Then I was like ‘Oh, that’s what I was going through.'”

It was this lack of preparation that drives Dev daily to wear those thousand hats. She doesn’t want any of her students overseas or domestic to be cheated due to lack of effort on her part.

Mexico native Christina Selvner is spending the 2007 spring semester at Chico State through the study abroad program. When speaking about Dev’s contributions since her arrival, her face lights up.

“She is amazing,” Selvner said. “She will do anything to make you feel comfortable. She goes out of her way to make sure you have a good time here.”

Selvner is a member of the mentorship program Dev directs that partners former study abroad students with incoming students from foreign countries. Selvner’s mentor is Chico State senior Danielle Salvato, who spent the spring 2005 semester in Italy. She said Dev’s pre-departure orientation was the remedy necessary to treat her anxiety while preparing to leave.

“I was really having second thoughts about if I had made the right decision or not,” Salvato said. “The first thing Tasha did at orientation was make the students give ourselves a big round of applause and then she told us she was proud of us. By the end of orientation she made me feel like I was being a better person because of what I was about to do.”

Salvato said that it’s hard to describe what makes Dev so special. Almost like trying to describe an incredible view of the ocean to a person who’s never seen a single wave crash against the shore. However, in her vain attempts at description the words “awesome,” “amazing” and “passionate” managed to wriggle their way into almost every sentence.

“She’s just so respectful of everyone’s culture and customs,” Salvato said. “She’s the most worldly person I’ve ever known.”

The mentorship program is a key example of Dev’s attempt to help integrate incoming students as cleanly as possibly. By eliminating the “us and them” barrier, Dev said students become citizens of the world rather than just their native land.

Chico State’s three largest imports of study abroad students come from Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. With students coming in from the Middle East, Dev said she relishes the opportunity to eliminate negative stereotypes and replace them with positive interactions, especially in the wake of Sept. 11. Dev’s theory is the more in tune to other cultures a society is, the less volatile it becomes. As an example she points to the fact that 85 percent of Danish students study abroad compared with the U.S.'s 5 percent.

Despite Denmark’s lack of military presence, Dev thinks the large amount of exchange students has manifested itself in the culture.

“Denmark hasn’t declared war on a country for God knows long," Dev said. "It’s so hard for me not to believe there’s some sort of correlation."