Talking Travel with Cara Miller, Study Abroad Advisor at DePaul

Cara traveling abroad

Greenheart Travel’s mission is to change lives, advance careers and create leaders through meaningful cultural exchange experiences. While it is easy to discuss the life-changing effects traveling abroad has had on each of us personally, we shouldn’t underestimate the power travel has in landing our dream jobs and fostering leadership skills.

To help us discuss the importance of travel, we interviewed Cara Miller Brytan, Study Abroad Advisor at DePaul University who kindly shared her expertise and passion for travel as an important tool in personal, academic and career development. Read our interview below.

Q: As a study abroad advisor, what are some of the biggest questions you get from students about studying abroad? 

I think the biggest challenge for many students is the issue of cost. For many students, study abroad seems out of reach due to limited financial resources and the already expensive price tag of a college education. Study abroad is still seen as a luxury, whereas I see it as a necessity in an increasingly globalized world.

To soothe students, I tell them my story. I tell them that study abroad does not have to be expensive. There are many grants and scholarships out there to help them make their dreams happen. Students just have to hunt for those funds.

It is a good idea for students to talk with their financial aid counselors at their institutions to find out what kinds of resources are available to them. Funding a study abroad experience is getting even easier with crowd-funding sites like, where you can get your social or religious communities involved in helping to make your international study experience a reality.

Put fear aside, make it happen. If I can do it with limited time and limited money, then so can you!

Q: How important do you feel experiencing another culture is to landing a job and overall career development after graduation?

Experiencing another culture, learning a second or third language and exploring other countries are totally key in developing transferrable professional skills and landing a position in your desired career field. For one thing, studying abroad teaches you solid skills such as enhanced problem-solving, critical thinking, improved inter-cultural and interpersonal communication skills, foreign language proficiency, ability to tolerate ambiguity, expanded cultural awareness and appreciation, and adaptation to new and changing environments.

These skills and abilities are highly sought after and serve as relevant professional development outcomes. Secondly, only less than 10% of American college graduates have studied abroad.  Can you imagine how that would boost your chances of landing the job you want as a result of having lived and studied abroad, which makes you part of that ten percent?

Study abroad is very important to career goals as well as overall earned income in a lifetime. Did you know that individuals who study abroad earn $7,000 more on average than their peers who did not study abroad?  I cannot emphasize this enough: Study abroad is important and necessary. Period.

Listen to Cara talk about how important traveling was to her life and career:

Q: Do you have any tips for how students can approach their advisors about traveling abroad?

Yes—I recommend that students ask lots of questions and gather information early. There are these myths that you have to study abroad as a junior and that studying abroad will delay graduation. This simply is not true!

I recommend that students start preparing as soon as they arrive on campus to take advantage of short-term study abroad programming during their freshman year if possible and again, for a term-long international study experience in their sophomore year.

Studying abroad early can help you fit study abroad classes into your academic plan more easily. Study abroad students are also able to graduate on-time, and often with higher GPA’s than their peers.

Things to consider when planning for a study abroad experience include:

  • understanding how to select a program that is a good fit for you (academically, logistically and financially)
  • knowing what you want to get out of your study abroad experience and identifying your goals
  • how much time do you want to spend abroad (short-term, term long)
  • the degree of immersion you would prefer to experience
  • types of accommodations and housing offered
  • the extent of on-site support and balanced independence
  • options for internships or service-learning opportunities
  • the courses offered on the program
  • the cost of the program (what it includes and does not include; the cost of living in that place; any financial resources, grants and scholarships that may apply to the program, etc.)
  • personal considerations like health and well-being; prepare for medical needs while on program
Cara in Rome

Q: If a student wasn’t sure about taking the time to study abroad, what would you tell them to persuade them to go for it?

My simple answer: Do it.

Why not?  I have never had a student return from study abroad and say that they should have come back sooner—quite the opposite. My students come back from a three-month program and tell me that they wish they had stayed overseas for a whole year or even longer.

Q: What first inspired you to have the courage to explore the world?

My heritage and the desire to explore the beginnings of my family origin was the most pressing motivator for me to leave the United States for the first time. Growing up a poor kid on the south side of Chicago, I did not think that it would ever be possible for me to travel. Thankfully through grants and scholarships, I was able to apply for my study abroad program at DePaul University, to Alliance Francaise in Paris in the Spring of 2003. Little did I know that this experience would change my life forever and set me on course towards a new and tremendously fulfilling career path in the field of international education.

The travels that followed were likely a direct result of wanderlust or as some folks call it, “catching the travel bug”. Since that first experience in Paris, I have been fortunate to visit more cities in France, as well as Australia, Spain, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

I think the experiences that have made the most impact on me are ones that I have shared with others. My best memories for example, come from when I traveled with ten of the most intelligent and inspiring youth from all across the U.S. and Poland, as a Group Leader for EIL – The Experiment in International Living. As part of the Art and Adventure in Provence program, a six-week outdoor experiential learning program in the south of France and Northern Spain, we explored amazing places like Seguret, Vaison La Romaine, Moustiers Sante Marie, Nice, Collioure, and more. Together, we hiked near lavender fields in Buoux; we kayaked in the waters of the Gorges du Verdon; we rode horses in Camargue National Park; we dined at Café Van Gogh in Arles; and we painted in Perpignan and Figueres where Salvador Dali found inspiration. It was magical.

Cara hiking abroad

More importantly, we bonded as a group—each individual starting out as strangers to one another, slowly developing a deeper understanding of how our lives had intersected in this time and place and how we found significant meaning in these experiences traveling with one another.

I still keep in touch with this group of students and it is wonderful to see them continue to explore the world and travel to new and exciting places. And I am very excited to lead my next group of freshman in the summer of 2015, to Rome and Assisi to understand St. Francis as a social change agent and engage in a pilgrimage of peace for the First Year Abroad Italy program with DePaul University. I am certain that this program will also make quite an impact in my life.

Q: Do you have any first-hand experiences where your personal travel experiences have helped you get a job or clarify your career path? 

Yes actually, I have had personal travel inform and lead to a professional position which positively impacted my career path. I guess I will tell that story (bear with me!)…My good friend Kristin decided to quit her job as a web developer and take a year to travel around the globe. With lots of enthusiasm and little resistance on my part, she convinced me to help her start her trip by traveling to Melbourne and Sydney in Australia. The plan was for me to travel with her for the first two weeks while she worked up the nerve to travel on her own for the rest of her 9-month world tour. Together we explored rural and urban areas, watching for koalas and kangaroos, eating sausage rolls and meat pies, and attending Australian Rules Footy games in St. Kilda (which is a fascinating game to watch! I recommend it to everyone!)

In our short time there, we met a number of friendly internationals—many folks from China, India, and Korea who were studying at university there. I was fascinated by this and what I did not yet know was that a seed had been planted.

At SIT Graduate Institute, I began working on my Master’s for Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management and I was still so fascinated by my experience in Australia that I decided to do research about the Australian higher education system and why it seemed to attract so many international students. For my capstone project, I composed a paper on examining the relationship between higher education institutions in the United States and Australia in terms of recruiting international students and the lessons we could learn from them.

Cara and her friend traveling

In order to complete my Master’s program, I was tasked to complete a minimum of six months in the field of international education, which is a strength of SIT Graduate institute in terms of partnering theory and practice in your chosen field. As luck would have it, I found a research internship in the education policy wing of AEI – Australian Education International, located within the Australian Embassy in Washington D.C. I was hired as a result of my previous experience as a Chicago Public School teacher, proficiency in research and cross-referencing skills, and because of my sincere love and passionate interest in Australia. The fact that I had traveled there and knew some of the common colloquialisms really helped me to develop rapport with the Deputy Director at my interview. By the end of the interview, they called me an “honorary Aussie” and I was hired! So I worked at the Australian Embassy in Washington D.C. before changing roles and eventually serving as Passports and Public Diplomacy Officer at the Australian Consulate in downtown Chicago. It was a really fantastic experience and it really propelled me forward in my career.

Now I serve as a Study Abroad Advisor at DePaul University, so I could not be happier continuing to inspire others to study, volunteer, work or engage in community service opportunities abroad. It really can be transformational and affect your life in ways you never dreamed possible.

Q: What destinations do you have on your travel bucket list?

Great question! I really want to travel to Argentina, Ireland, Hong Kong, Morocco and India. Those are next on my list, but in no particular order. My goal is to travel once a year if possible, so whenever I want to buy a hot chocolate at Starbucks, I simply stash it in a travel fund that I keep instead!

Cara in Australia

Q: Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you to get out of your comfort zone and go after their travel dreams?

Yes, I have two actually:

  1. “It does not matter where you go and what you study, what matters most is what you share with yourself and the world.” ~ Santosh Kalwar
  2. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ~Nelson Mandela

Q: Any other additional tips you have for your students that you share on a regular basis?

I tell students to embrace discomfort and stretch themselves. We grow the most when we challenge ourselves. I often say that the meaning of life is to find meaning in life. I can’t think of a better way to do that, than to study abroad.


What questions do you have for Cara about studying abroad or taking a gap year in high school or college? Comment below!




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