In my junior year at Lynbrook High School (San Jose, California), I entered an essay contest in French class — and won. The prize was a four-week study abroad trip, living with a host family in Eymet in southern France. Looking back, that adventure shaped my worldview for the rest of my life.
Quite simply, I learned that the United States was not the center of the universe.
The experience was disconcerting, yet in a good way. In southern France, I found myself surrounded by people who were different from me — their language, clothes, food, transportation. Everything. The daily rhythm of life was unlike anything I had ever known. My world view was completely de-centered. As Eymet became my point of reference, I began seeing life in a new way by having a different lens.
When I returned home, I was a changed person. So much, in fact, that I requested a French roommate after being accepted into Whittier College. Nathalie and I roomed together for two years until she returned to France, and we still keep in touch through social media.
Not surprisingly, all those memories came to mind when I was invited to deliver welcoming remarks at the first-ever ROC Your Global Future Conference held on campus this semester. Sponsored by the Office of International Study, the event brought together students from Geneseo and eight area colleges and universities to connect and compare their unique trips.
The conference underscored what we emphasize in our study abroad program: the moment of true discovery lies not in “the doing” but rather “the reflecting.” That’s when students truly understand the meaning of the experience and how it has engaged and changed their lives.
At Geneseo, study abroad is among several high impact practices that help define our transformational liberal arts education. We see it through our students’ eyes and in their creative expression as they encounter the global village up close and personal. We see it in national accolades, as we’re now ranked 1st among public master’s-granting institutions for the highest study abroad program participation by the Institute of International Education (IIE). And we see it at work in the lives of our alumni and students, who gain a competitive career edge according to recent research conducted by the IEE.
In hindsight, “crossing the pond” for the first time as a teenager instilled within me curiosity and courage, traits that I still call upon today when work takes me out of the country. Just last month, I returned from England where I met with colleagues from GALA (Global Academy for the Liberal Arts) at Bath Spa University and, serendipitously, connected with current study abroad student and International Relations major, Duncan Morrison ’18. I next traveled to Liverpool to moderate a session at the Historians Against Slavery Biennial Conference, and then, London, where I met alumnus Michael Dellapina ’93, senior human resources executive with Citi Group.
Now back home, there’s no mistaking the magic of “the Valley.” Or the importance of enhancing it by providing opportunities for students to study beyond the horizon — as well as their own comfort zones.
I welcome your thoughts and comments. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stacey Robertson, Ph.D.