We sat down with founder and Executive Director of Magellan Study Abroad, Christophe Chabaudie, to gain a better understanding of what led him to found a leading educational travel company and where he plans to take it in the future. His formative years spent abroad and his knowledge of the pitfalls of the tourism industry help him navigate the ever-changing landscape of international travel to the benefit of students and teachers.
I think I became a language advocate somewhat by accident. When I left for my first summer abroad to Scotland at age fourteen, I didn’t realize that it would be the most important summer of my young life. For a kid who used to spend all his summers at his relatives’ on the French Riviera, I can’t say it was love at first sight. That trip to a foreign soil, somewhere near Loch Lomond, was a big challenge for me but I can only thank my parents for having thought of such a great opportunity to make a difference in my English language comprehension. The importance of such an experience was evident when I returned to school that fall.
Of course not, the next year I was ready for more adventures. During my high school years I had a chance to spend time in Spain and Italy on immersion programs. I was saving on everything I could to help fund my own trips and to make my travel plans possible. Spending time away, making friends abroad, and improving the languages I was learning during school had become a main focus in life.
From the beginning it [language learning] meant everything to me. After my summers abroad I was staying in touch with many foreign friends and kept on learning without realizing it. I would also be the informal liaison at school between the administration and international students spending a gap year in France. All this came naturally and opened up my mind, but I didn’t realize how much of a difference it had made until it was time to look for a summer job or an internship. Suddenly the knowledge of foreign languages had a direct impact on the type of jobs I could apply for, and on my paychecks, too. While my peers were lifeguards or store employees, I was able to get jobs that allowed me to travel or be in touch with international customers.
One summer I was employed by an insurance company in their medical emergency department organizing repatriation of insured members who had been stricken by bad luck while traveling abroad and needed help and support. I also worked for several summers in a row in the prestigious “Compagnie des Wagons-Lits” as an attendant traveling all over Europe on first class night trains. That wasn’t the iconic Orient Express but something very close to it! Suddenly my knowledge of foreign languages was helping me open every door I could dream of. I got to work these summer jobs before I reached the age of 22. Apart from practicing the languages I’d learned, it gave me a chance to gain an incredible amount of self-confidence.
Standing out has its advantages. My capacity to feel comfortable in an international environment made me naturally more involved on my university campus with international student activities. It eventually led me to apply for a scholarship to a go to school in the United States following a life changing trip I took to the Pacific Northwest. I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to study at the University of Oregon, where I received a Master’s Degree in International Studies. By now I was convinced that I wanted to use my foreign languages on a daily basis at work and build a career around it. Being from a family of teachers I could have chosen a career in education, but my passion for travel overcame that natural call of duty and I ended up starting a fulfilling career in the hospitality and tourism industries in France.
It is only after I relocated to the United States that I was naturally drawn to the educational travel sector. I realized that with my personal history I was the perfect language advocate. I could share firsthand how languages and travel can influence your career choice and change your life. After 4 years working with companies organizing school trips, I felt confident I could bring something more to the table with higher standards and use my personal experience abroad as a teen as an added value.
I eventually had a chance to merge the educational aspirations I had in my genes and my passion for travel. In 2006 when I founded Magellan Study Abroad I was able to make a real difference in this business. We are clearly leading the way to a new generation of school trips and summer language immersion programs delivering the very best contents with unique itineraries and activities. We see these activities as complementary while schools look for a reliable partner for both their school travel projects and summer activities as well. School administrators and language department chairs all know we take the same care to put together these two very different travel experiences.
Clearly, the earlier you start learning a foreign language the better. With few exceptions, I am always amazed by how little importance high school students give in the United States to foreign languages. They don’t realize what a positive impact it can have on their college admission or career choice. Many them will go to college and receive a good education and they don’t have a chance to realize that when they will arrive at the job market, one or two foreign languages (spoken fluently) could be an incredible asset.
Someone who speaks a foreign language shows an employer a good level of curiosity, a capacity to learn and adapt rapidly: a person ready to take on the challenges he (or she) will be presented. My advice? Don’t miss a chance to improve your language learning capacity whenever you can, don’t pass any opportunity to travel, and grow. I can guarantee you it will pay off probably far more rapidly than you had ever imagined.
I plan to continue expanding Magellan and allow as many schools as possible to discover our new concept in group travel. Some teen tours have done more harm to school travel over the last 20 years than you can imagine. Poor trip content, cheap accommodation and meals have given the worst image possible of foreign countries and definitely not created the spark exciting trips can ignite in a young mind. We strive to redefine school travel and have set the highest standards possible at a competitive price. I also want to continue bringing the concept of summer abroad to the largest number of teens possible.
It is important to motivate teens when it comes to language learning as I am living proof of the positive impact it can have on teens’ lives. Besides language acquisition, it enriches the mind and boosts self-confidence at a crucial moment in life. I also want to continue raising our scholarship funds to help a diverse student population that should be defined only by its appetite for cultural diversity and thirst for something different, not by its ability to afford a study abroad experience. Traveling and studying abroad should not be considered a privilege but an experience available to everyone. Happy travels to all!