Rachel Wilson ’07, Transylvania University’s director of global and intercultural engagement, discusses what study abroad looks like in 2023 — and the wide range of opportunities available to students. This Q&A first appeared in this month’s Crossing Broadway newsletter.
You’ve been in this position for less than a year. What were your goals going in?
My main goals have been to understand the needs of the students and the international initiatives currently in place, create connections with allies around campus, and basically relearn the university community. It is crucial that we continue to increase the visibility of — and knowledge about — the international opportunities available for students while also rebuilding a culture on campus where students see international experiences as an integral and fundamental part of their time at Transy. I’m optimistic that we are making progress toward these goals. My predecessors in this role had tremendous vision and created a fantastic foundation for study abroad at Transy. I am honored to have this opportunity to aspire to continue the goals that they had.
How are we seeing the study abroad experience shift in a post-pandemic world?
It completely halted in-person academic travel for about two years. As this field relies deeply on person-to-person connections to create transformative experiences for students, the pandemic was especially devastating to the momentum and positive energy that had been created at Transy around study abroad.
Over the last year, as many countries have reopened borders to international students, we have seen a high interest level on the part of our students. In the field in general, there has been a tendency toward incorporating virtual components in international programming, not as a substitute for in-person travel but rather as a complement that can maximize impact and resources.
Also, and this predates the pandemic, there is an increased offering of shorter-term international exchanges, such as summer programs and faculty-led courses. This is where our unique May term structure is a real competitive advantage, as we can provide a more robust and diverse portfolio of courses and destinations.
Can you tell us more about how Transy is striving to make study abroad accessible to students?
We have secured a couple of study abroad grants and funding from the Institute of International Education and the Department of State to make study abroad experiences more accessible and attainable for our students.
For example, thanks to grant funding, we are starting a program that will provide free passports to a group of incoming first-year students and then support those students as they explore study abroad opportunities in the following years. Also, as part of the IDEAS grant program, we plan to design international opportunities targeted to pre-health students, who have traditionally had lower participation rates in study abroad than other students. Regardless of students’ background, finances, major or previous travel experience, we want to make studying abroad possible.
We’ve got big dreams and big plans. First, we hope to continue to enhance May term international travel opportunities and offer a portfolio of courses that is more and more diverse. In addition to increasing the number of students studying abroad, we want to ensure we provide students with adequate resources to process their experiences when they return to campus to help make the experience truly transformative for them. Eventually, the dream is to be at a place where all students can access some type of international or intercultural experience during their time at Transy.
How can alumni help?
If you studied abroad, how did your international experience during your time at Transy impact you and your trajectory, and how does it continue to impact your professional and personal life? What advice do you have for current students who are considering studying abroad? You can contact me at email@example.com if you want be featured.