At UMW, we strongly encourage our students to travel abroad at least once as part of their education. This is an expensive option and challenging to accomplish on a student budget. However, traveling is very broadening and in an increasingly interconnected world, it is important for tomorrow’s leaders to better understand other cultures.
Several years ago, two of my students asked me which country was my favorite. Outside of the United States, I love Australia and have had the good fortune to visit it several times. After I told them about why I loved visiting Australia, they asked me to sponsor a UMW trip there over Winter Break. I was a bit skeptical if we could get enough students for such an expensive trip (the airfare alone is over $2,000 during this time period – peak summer season in that part of the world), but I agreed. We ending up recruiting six students and visited Australia over the 2014-15 Winter Break. The students had such a great time learning about Aussie culture that their word-of-mouth created the demand for the next trip. We took another trip with 13 students over the 2016-17 Winter Break (a summary about the 2016-2017 trip is available here).
During these trips, I learn so much about our students. For example, one of our students had never flown before. She certainly picked a challenging set of first flights! One of the legs is over 14 hours long. However, she handled it well and now has the skills to travel internationally on her own. In addition to learning how organizations market themselves in Australia and New Zealand, we also did some fun activities such as kayaking three miles in the ocean to hike on a island. After we had finished the first part of the excursion and were exploring the island, one of the students told me another student did not know how to swim. Think of that – this brave young student was willing to kayak three miles in the ocean despite not knowing how to swim. Further, she did not complain or even tell her professor it was an issue. I would have never known if another student had not shared.
I am thrilled that these students had the opportunity to learn from how other cultures and businesses operate. I am equally impressed with the lessons we can learn from the behavior of our own students. As the two examples I shared illustrate, our students are willing to bravely try new activities, even when these activities are well outside their experience or comfort zones. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to help our students have these experiences (and share them) and look forward to taking another group of students Down Under over the 2018-19 Winter Break.