What has inspired you to pursue a career in study abroad?
I came into study abroad through the back door. I was a theater professor with experience in community development and a passion for issues related to social justice and conflict transformation.
In other words, I taught college students and I worked with marginalized communities, and often wondered how the two can better serve one another.
I entered the field not just solely because I am attracted to teaching students in international settings; rather, I am fascinated with study abroad's potential for positively impacting our globalized society.
I see study abroad as a means of creating more socially conscious students, and hopefully ones who will become leaders fighting for sustainable social change.
Why is cultural immersion important to you?
Cultural immersion implies engaging in real intercultural experiences, not just visiting or seeing a culture. In a globalized world rife with conflict, it is imperative that educators foment more authentic intercultural exchanges, which play a significant role in bridging differences and beginning to appreciate our diversity.
In addition to its educational attributes, cultural immersion is important to me because it is what gives life flavor and excitement. Whether it is food, music, traditional arts, I continuously strive to expose myself to the richness our world has to offer.
What was your favorite travel experience?
At risk of coping out on this question, I cannot identify a favorite travel experience. There are so many elements that contribute to making a travel experience special.
For example, I travel constantly to the Ecuadorian Amazon where I never cease to be amazed by its environmental and cultural diversity. What’s more, by continuously traveling to familiar places, you develop familiar relationships with communities.
I love traveling to places where I can develop friendships with locals. When engaging in tourism, I seek a combination of cultural-social immersion and ecological diversity.
I think my favorite recent journey was to Bolivia, where I experienced so much life: natural and cultural. What’s more, the right travel companion can make all the difference in the world, and in Bolivia, my experience was enriched a thousand times over because of our ability to reflect on all we experienced.
What is the best story you’ve heard from a student of your program after they’ve returned to the USA?
Once again, too hard to point to just one story, but I am most often drawn to those stories where I hear about students engaging in the struggle for social justice, especially because their time in Ecuador affected their decision to do so.
Our program, during the last 8 years, has produced well over a dozen Peace Corps Volunteers and Fulbright Scholars, in addition to others working for peace-driven, smaller organizations in Central America, the Middle East, East Asia and the United States.
Perhaps my favorite story is when the study abroad experience inspires a personal journey to connect with one’s evolving identity. For example, one student chose to stay in Ecuador and volunteer in the Amazon region after his semester.
This experience, while providing its share of extreme challenges, led him to greater self-discovery. He used the experiences to form connections that would lead to grants for him to work in socially conscious organizations in Africa, Bolivia and China before he settled on a field of study in which he wanted to specialize. He is now a graduate student in England.
What positive changes do you notice in your students during their time studying abroad?
I would love to say that the change is when they become Global Citizens, but I have decided that I am not sure what that really means. I think it is a false label we have attached to folk who spend time overseas and have a decent international education.
For me the greatest positive change is when my students realize that Global Citizenship is a verb or a process, not a noun or destination. It implies a constant journey of becoming, of realizing that global and local communities are interconnected and our stories intertwine with the stories of people half-way across the world.
When a student is impacted by this interconnectedness and sees herself as an actor in the process, I feel that we have inspired positive change.