Getting to Know BU Study Abroad’s Newest Site Directors in London and Geneva

in Global Matters
February 23rd, 2022

Christine Hoenigs and Leonella Castellano have joined the ranks of BU Study Abroad Site Directors who serve as leaders at our study abroad sites across the world. Thrilled about this next chapter for London and Geneva programs, we recently sat down with Christine, who is heading up London, and Leonella, who is at the helm in Geneva, to learn more about their career paths, first impressions as directors, and advice they have for BU students who want to work internationally.


  1. You both have interesting backgrounds. Can you talk about your paths to becoming Directors of the Geneva and London programs, respectively, please?

Leonella (from Geneva):

When the BU Study Abroad Geneva program looked for a new Director, I could not hesitate for a second.  I had been working as internship placement manager in BU Geneva Study Abroad programs for the past 7 years and I sincerely enjoyed working with incredibly inspiring young adults. I had guided hundreds of students in their first steps in the international arena and helped them to explore the realm of international cooperation.  I had a lot to share and to pass on from my previous experiences. I wanted to do more.

I am lucky that I inherited a fantastic program that has offered, since 2005, a unique setting for thousands of students to be exposed to internationalism and diplomacy, and live at the crossroads of the European experience.  This role perfectly aligns with my aspirations and my values, but my career path to becoming director was not a straightforward journey.

I was born in Geneva, Switzerland, to Italian parents and was raised in the neighboring France. Three cultures in one! I was home in a multicultural environment. Many BU students can understand this feeling of being the recipients of more than one culture. Not always simple, but so enriching. After graduating in Law and public administration, with a double minor in English and Russian civilizations, I completed my studies by earning a master in international law at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.

From there, I did several internships in the private sector and in international organizations to finally intern for a year at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I was eventually recruited and sent to my very first missions to the North Caucasus and Central Asia. I worked 7 years in different countries and conflict areas before I decided to explore a career in the private sector. What a change! I learned an all-new job and spent the following 10 years in the commodity and energy trade finance sector.

I never stopped learning and questioning my surrounding world. I became experimented in humanitarian affairs, and then in oil and energy trading, but all this resulted in even more questions.

I studied corporate social responsibility searching for a balance between extremes. Interesting but not satisfactory.   And then I got the opportunity to join the Boston University community.

Christine (from London):

I was the Director of the London Programme at Lawrence University, a small liberal arts college in Appleton, Wisconsin, before I came to BU London, but I had been teaching at several US study abroad programmes for years (including Florida State University, the University of Maryland and Global Education Oregon).

My first love is teaching Literature and Theatre, but the complexity of administrative work can be quite creative and fascinating as well, especially if it involves innovations which make a study abroad programme more accessible to a wider group of students. I am also a qualified teacher of German as a Foreign Language and taught at the Goethe Institute London for over 7 years – a wonderful time during which I met a lot of Londoners who share my love for learning languages. Teaching a foreign language can really focus your attention on the process of learning itself – how do you break down a topic so it becomes easy to understand, how do you create a lesson that allows students to learn with confidence while enjoying the learning process as such? At university, my dream had been to work in the theatre, which I did for a while – the highlight was a stint at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, which was run by the formidable Sir Alan Ayckbourn at the time.  I learnt a lot by just observing him at work and helping out where an extra pair of hands was needed. Up to this day theatre is an essential part of my life and I try to see as many plays in a week as I can.


  1. What were your first impressions serving as Director? What stays with you the most from your first semester serving as Director of a BU Study Abroad program?


The job of BU teams abroad is thrilling but challenging! Taking my new role amidst covid-time is not an easy task. Every detail that seemed obvious, became a challenge. Housing, health, safety, teaching, traveling… I would not have been able to take up the challenge without the support from Boston Study Abroad team and without the tireless efforts and unwavering support from Geneva team; Alexandra, Matthew, Lujan and Mehrnaz.

What stays with me the most from my first semester? The Muzy residence returning to life, like a heart that starts to beat again along with happy noise and frenzy activities of students.


The sheer size of it! BUSA London is a huge operation – we are the biggest BUSA site, we welcome around 1200 students each year, and it is challenging to help make each student’s experience unique. I love the buzz at 43 Harrington Gardens and it was a joy to welcome students back after the Covid-19 related hiatus. Our students, faculty and staff make this programme what it is and it makes me proud to see how everyone is trying their best to adapt to pandemic restrictions and still make the most of London. Our students have taken it all in their stride and can now enjoy London as a classroom again.


  1. What’s been most surprising or noteworthy about the students’ experience this past fall or thus far this spring? Does anything stand out to you?


The eagerness to learn and the urgency to experiment. Students truly represent Boston University abroad and are the ambassadors of BU highest educational standards.  The employers love our students!  I was also pleased to see fall and spring students brought with them a great sense of adaptability, an outstanding discipline for COVID measures and maturity.


Everyone’s determination to adapt and make things work, despite some restrictions. One example is the internship – most students had to work from home on some days, instead of working at their placement full-time, which added a different skill set to their work experience. One of the key aspects of studying abroad is developing your cultural competence and communication skills – and working from home can make both more difficult. Students however have been incredibly professional about it and showed great willingness to learn in this new working environment, which will stand them in good stead in their future professional life.


  1. What advice do you have for BU students who may be interested in working internationally upon graduation?


One can imagine that an international career is primarily meant for students in International Relations. This is not true. I encourage students in sciences, business, engineering, or with any background to go abroad to start a career. There are a multitude of ways to work internationally. Corporates are present worldwide, the United Nations offer different programs to get recent graduates on board (Junior Professional Officers), paid internships abroad are a good way to start an international career.

Make good use of BU community and alumni, they are precious resources to you!  Develop your independence, resourcefulness and problem solving!  Identify your region of interest and become familiar with the culture and working codes. Learn languages and meet young people from those countries.

Remember that a career path is neither linear nor a predictable journey. Be on the lookout for chances and go with your aspirations.


Be curious, be a good listener and observer – especially while you study abroad. There is a joy to learn how to read subtleties expressed between the lines. Keep working on your communication skills. In the British context for example the sense of urgency in a request such as “Could you please…if you have the time?” is easily missed! I believe that kindness, politeness and willingness to openly engage with new people are key. When you apply for jobs after graduation, think about transferable skills you have developed, such as your ability to solve problems, manage your time efficiently, solve problems, or to notice and navigate cultural differences at work with confidence.