Exchange Launches Career in Social Media

Anne is seated on a bridge covered in thousands of locks.
Anne Reuss, who is Deaf, studied abroad in Italy, where she gained the confidence and skills to launch a career in social media.

In her work as a social media strategist and communications guru, Anne craves the chance to build connections with people around the globe. “I've always had a fervor for meeting people and finding ways to bond, and people gravitate toward that both online and offline.”

What’s Anne's secret to success? On her website, she mentions her “willingness to adapt,” which “spawns innovation." In today’s competitive economy, these qualities make job seekers stand out.

Studying abroad in Verona, Italy, as a senior at the University of Illinois, helped Anne develop these strengths. “It… made me fearless to connect with people,” she says. In Verona, she took classes in photography, Italian, art history and painting. In her free time, she learned Italian Sign Language (LIS).

These days, Reuss seems to connect with people effortlessly, but it wasn’t always that way. A few weeks into her program in Verona, Reuss was struggling with her social life. The city was smaller than she’d expected and she was having a hard time meeting people. She was at a café discussing her struggles with her ASL interpreter. “I remember one of us saying the experience is not supposed to be as easy as everyone thinks it is, and we used the phrase ‘it's not all roses.’”

A few minutes later, they struck up a conversation with their Australian waitress and an Italian man who turned out to be the owner of the café. He didn’t speak English but they shared a few laughs. Before he left, he invited her to visit the café again and set a box on her table, which turned out to be part of a promotion for Martini Rosato.

When Reuss opened the box, she found a pair of rose-colored glasses. “It was serependity. It improved my outlook and reminded me things would eventually get better.”

These are the kinds of connections that happen when Americans with disabilities go abroad and get out of their comfort zone. These connections also sparked Anne’s career in social media, and when she returned to the United States, she decided to go into a career in communications.

“The biggest impact from studying abroad was learning how to communicate and interact with people on my own without help, especially during my travels without an interpreter. It was very lonely so I had to dig deeper than I expected to make myself reach out to foreigners in some way.”

In other words, it wasn’t all roses — until she put on the rose-colored glasses. “I knew that ability [to communicate] would serve me well personally and professionally when I came back and left college. Honestly, meeting people and breaking down a barrier is an adrenaline rush."

By pushing out of her comfort zone and finding new ways to communicate, she said she became bolder, allowing her to present comfortably in front of the camera for vlogs or jump directly into tweetchats and other social networks. “My confidence was in a great place when I came back and still is.”

Of going abroad, “It takes guts. If you don't have them, you will get them once you land in a foreign country.” She says that challenges are likely, “but you can have some control in your experience and perception.” In other words, be ready to put on the rose-colored glasses if you need them.

When she considers the possibility of going abroad again, she’s interested in attending and speaking at international conferences related to technology and social media. She’d also love to travel for pleasure: “I'd like to visit Central or South America next time and bond with nature. Go sailing and fishing as the locals would do!”