Nearly every student who studies abroad deems it the best thing he/she did during his/her college career. I am a passionate supporter of study abroad, and international and multicultural studies.
The opportunity to direct study abroad programs is a great privilege for any faculty member, and I am very thankful to have been as involved as I have been in study abroad education. With the increasing role of the internet in contemporary art, media, and business practices, I believe every college student's education, regardless of discipline, should be grounded in a globalized approach.
My own work is distinctly multicultural, and it has had a huge impact on my life as an educator. For many years now I have been writing on, shooting photos of, and producing films about the people of Ireland, where my ancestors are from. My work has explored Irish gender inequality, the rift between the Catholics and the Protestants, and the growing divide between the nation's youth and its older, more conservative generations. I've made films about immigration and prejudice, and the dramatic gap between the haves and have-nots in Irish social classes. My passion for all issues Irish led to me to develop a successful study abroad program in Dublin.
In the summers of 2007 and 2008, I took a typically diverse group of Temple University students to Dublin to study Ireland and intercultural communication. And for IEIMedia, I've taught documentary filmmaking to college students from across the country in Armagh, a gritty village in Northern Ireland that was the seat of the Troubles in the 1970s. With the changing faces of global communication and business, with new technologies making the distances between nations ever smaller, I believe it is crucial now more than ever that students learn to function as effective communicators in a global setting.
The program I have designed for Dublin is not a tourist's vision of the city. The students and I have visited some of the most run-down, formerly dangerous parts of the city - areas that were until recently controlled by druglords and organized crime, areas full of the working poor and recent immigrants from third-world nations. My students have left Ireland with an understanding of the diversity and working everyday life of the nation. They've also left with a love for the place, a shared passion for a city that was their home away from home for a short time. If I can impart just a fraction of my love and enthusiasm for Ireland to my students, I've done my job.
The program has been a huge success, with multiple students telling me that it was the greatest experience of their lives to date. More rewarding than that praise, though, is the promise they make to me that they will continue to travel, open their eyes to the world around them, and step outside the comfort zone of the lives they've built in the U.S. Two of my former students from my Dublin program were so taken with the city that they secured jobs in and moved to Ireland.
The programs I ran in Ireland were such great successes that Temple University asked me to institute the curriculum in London in summer 2009. There I had similar success, integrating the studies of travel writing and intercultural competence that I introduced in the Dublin program into a multicultural exploration of perhaps the world's most globalized city. My work in developing these programs was invaluable in helping me to author a new degree at Temple University, the Certificate in International Studies. Now I've brought my passion for study abroad to a new school, Portland State University. In addition to directing study abroad programs, I will continue to present my research on international education at upcoming conferences, and to write about and campaign for the value of studying abroad.
There are few things in life as important as travel, as seeing the world, as learning what it has to teach us. Most people's excuses for not traveling – not enough money, not enough time, too many responsibilities at home – are just that, Excuses. It's not really that complicated - if you want to go, GO. The planet awaits.