Between my sophomore and junior year of college, I had the opportunity to do a summer study abroad trip with the Communication Department at my undergraduate institution, the College of Charleston (Charleston, SC). It was the first such trip for our department, and it would take us to Florence, Italy; Munich, Germany; and Salzburg, Austria for a month. A few friends of mine talked me into going to an interest meeting for the trip, and the next hurdle would be to convince my parents that it was a good idea and worth the money. (Spoiler alert: They agreed, and it took far less convincing than 20-year-old me thought it would take.)
To say that it was worth it would be a total understatement. To put it bluntly: I would not be teaching at Mount St. Mary’s or spearheading this travel blog effort were it not for my study abroad experience almost a decade and a half ago.
Now you might be asking yourself: how do I know this? Well, that one experience in May 2006 led me to develop valuable relationships with the two professors who led our trip. Dr. Lacroix and Dr. Westerfelhaus were both COMM professors at the College of Charleston and became invaluable mentors to me on the trip and on campus after returning. Dr. Lacroix became my academic advisor for my remaining two years at the College, and my focus in my studies led me toward considering graduate school. I remember thinking on our trip that I could see myself doing what they did: Leading students abroad, expanding their horizons, and helping them become the independent people they are meant to be. I reflected on this a bit at the end of the Salzburg 2018 Summer Trip.
Dr. Lacroix and Dr. Westerfelhaus met in their graduate program at Ohio University. Guess where I ended up going to graduate school? While I took a slightly different path (they focused in Communication Studies while I got my Ph.D in Mass Communication in the School of Media Arts & Studies), their graduate advisor, Dr. Aden, served on my dissertation committee. While I was in school at OU, I dived deeper into my faith and shifted the focus of my studies toward religious communication, specifically delving into Catholic media and how parishes can effectively communicate with their parishioners. Though I’ve been at the Mount since 2015, I still help the Athens Catholic Community as their webmaster, social media coordinator, and all-around communications specialist remotely. This work offers real world application and anecdotes that directly inform much of what I teach my students at the Mount in courses like Media Writing and Social Media, which I tend to teach every semester.
Now, I’m preparing to teach my own course for the Mount’s Salzburg 2020 summer trip and overseeing the honors project for one of our COMM seniors which examines study abroad’s impact on the college student experience, in addition to managing the travel blogging experience for our students. You’ll be hearing more about some of these endeavors in future posts… so stay tuned for that!
Suffice it to say, however, that had I not studied abroad, I don’t know that I would have ended up on this particular path, at this particular time, with these particular influences. God has a way of nudging us all in the direction He thinks is best for us when it comes to our vocation in life, but He ultimately leaves us the freedom to choose. Does your path include studying abroad?