IFSA Board Member Jan Kieling

IFSA board member Jan Kieling is longtime proponent of diversifying study abroad. After 35 years at Berkeley Study Abroad, Jan retired in 2009 — only to continue adding valuable insights to the field as an openly gay study abroad professional. Explore her contributions and take advantage of her advice to increase study abroad access for your LGBTQ+ students.

Cultivating a Passion for Study Abroad

A love of writing and a dream to work for The New Yorker led Jan to begin her degree at Berkeley in English and later transition to journalism. During this time, she also had a full-immersion study abroad experience at the Universita di Padova in Italy that had lasting impact. “Adjusting to life in that Northern Italian city was challenging, especially at a time of great political and social unrest at universities worldwide,” said Jan, “We Americans truly had to disengage from our friends and family back home because any communication was by letter and the occasional, very expensive long distance phone call. I came away with a deep appreciation for Italian culture, food, films, and their love of life.”

After graduation, Jan began her career in the study abroad realm with an advising position, thinking it would be temporary. This led to a passion for helping students, she explained, “I soon discovered that I really enjoyed the student contact and believed I helped them have meaningful cross-cultural and successful academic experiences. So I stayed for 35 years, moving up the ladder, and retired in 2009 as Administrative Director of Berkeley Study Abroad.” Over her career there, she helped raise nearly $500,000 in scholarship funds for students on financial aid. And her mission to help students doesn’t end there.

Inclusive Excellence in Action

To foster more of the meaningful cross-cultural experiences Jan is so passionate about, it is important to consider where students are coming from, not just where they are going. Welcoming people of all communities, identities, and abilities enriches discussion, enhancing the education abroad experience for everyone. Being openly gay has impacted Jan’s involvement across the study abroad field in ways that continue to make a difference for LGBTQ+ students as our field strives toward increasing inclusivity.

Since retirement, Jan has not shied away from this type of important work. She currently serves on the board for IFSA, where Inclusive Excellence is one of our core commitments. “I wanted to stay connected to the field without being chained to a desk and a computer again,” said Jan, “I have been involved with IFSA since its inception in 1988. I am a true believer in the value of this organization and how it has evolved over 33 years. And I’m really excited about IFSA’s You Belong Here initiative.”

Jan is also a member of the Fund for Education Abroad (FEA) board, whose mission is to provide scholarships and support for underrepresented students. “I joined the FEA Board in 2015 and for five years, served as Chair of the Development and Marketing Committee. My service ends this November, but I will stay connected as an FEA donor and advocate. I am proud to say that IFSA is an Access Partner of FEA and has generously supported their work as a donor and event sponsor for many years,” she explained.

She has also been involved with the NAFSA Rainbow Special Interest Group (SIG) since its earliest days in 1993. Not only does this group provide a haven for study abroad professionals to connect, it also provides a space to discuss the unique challenges of LGBTQ+ students who go abroad or come to the U.S. to study. “The Rainbow SIG provides online resources through their website and newsletters that help inform and provide guidance to students, advisors, program managers, and resident directors,” Jan explained. She added, “For many years, FEA has managed the administration and awarding of Rainbow SIG Scholarships to LGBTQI students. In fact, I was inspired by others on the FEA Board to establish the Jan Kieling Rainbow Scholarship that helps support an LGBTQI student on a summer program.”

Tips for Welcoming More Students

Jan shares these pointers to help study abroad teams welcome students who identify as LGBTQ+:

  • Make sure your staff, office space, and advising materials project a safe, welcoming atmosphere. Include visual signals like rainbow stickers, ally signs, “All are Welcome Here” signs, and rainbow pins for staff. Consider adding a specific peer or staff advisor and materials to address LGBTQ+ student concerns.
  • Take advantage of resources — online, in publications, and at conferences — there are more now than ever. Some of Jan’s favorites: Rainbow SIG Resource Center, GoAbroad.com, GoOverseas.com, and this LGBTQIA Students Abroad page from University of Minnesota.
  • Hire a diverse group of peer advisors so incoming students can see themselves in others who have studied abroad.
  • Check out FEA scholar video blogs and share them with students.