Fall 2016 I sat in the office of the International Programs Director, blubbering. Literally, ridding myself of mascara. It went something like this:

Her: [grabs tissue box]

Me: I’m such a loser. I’m 41 and don’t even have a passport.

Her: It’s never too late.

Me: [whining] All of my colleagues have been places, are from other countries, and I’ve been nowhere and have done nothing. [drops head to hands]

Her: Really, it’s never too late.

Me: I’m scared.

Her: So are our students who have never traveled. You’re the perfect person to lead a travel study.

Me: [cynical laugh] yeah, right

Her: It’s true.

Me: [realization and resignation] I don’t even know where to start, but I don’t want my daughters to be 40 and never have gone anywhere.

By June 2017 I ventured forth and attended a workshop in Paris for best practices in faculty-led travel studies, spent 4 days in London exploring, then two weeks in Scotland with my mom exploring places for a travel study. We also went to Germany for a few days at the end for fun.

Here we are on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland, with my stepbrother, Chad, who came up from London to meet us…

… and in Meisenheim, Germany–my mother’s ancestral homeland

I came home and got right to work on a travel study in Scotland for June 2018 on sustainable business. I ended up taking 14 of the coolest students on the planet with me to Scotland the following June. You can read about and see pictures from our adventure, Going Green, on facebook @WSUScotland2018

Without doubt, the best photo of the whole trip–the very last one at the William Wallace Monument in Stirling (Scotland)

Today, we had a retreat for University Advancement day. Two days a year, the College of Business faculty are called together by the Dean for a quasi-workshop on whatever initiative we are pursuing at the moment. We have been working on engagement with the community and our students beyond the classroom. It has crept into our new COB mission in that we are in pursuit of the creation of life-changing learning experiences for our students. We are striving to provide them with opportunities that will forever alter the direction of their life.

A small task, isn’t it?  [sarcasm font]

I was asked to speak for about 4 minutes today on how the Scotland travel study created life-changing learning experiences. I reached out to the students on the trip and received several responses. In a nutshell, they

  • came away with a new appreciation for recycling, reuse and zero waste initiatives;
  • have changed their consumption behavior and their use of plastics and non-recyclable materials;
  • experienced a new culture and adjusted to it while they were in country;
  • realized they could be successful not only in Minnesota but also in other areas around the globe;
  • have been able to take more risks and get out of their comfort zone;
  • are more environmentally aware; and
  • have caught the travel bug even though they had traveled little or none at all prior to the trip.

I relayed this list to my colleagues, but then decided to go a bit farther. I told the story of sitting in the director’s office in 2016 and taking the initial trip to Europe in 2017.

Here’s what we don’t realize about life-changing learning experiences: there’s a ripple effect. 

This past summer, my colleague accompanied my students back home from Scotland because my husband and daughters had flown out to meet me in Edinburgh. At that time, the daughters were 15 and 12 and had only recently gotten passports in preparation for this trip. Together, we spent five days in Scotland, four days in London and then the girls and I went on to spend four more days in Paris.

(Scotland) Day trip to Loch Ness–stopped in Glencoe at the Three Sisters

In London at the British Museum on Emily’s 15th birthday

At the top of the Eiffel Tower

The ripple effect of my creation of life-changing learning experiences for my students lands squarely in the lap of my own two beautiful girls. If I would not have been brave and vulnerable in the director’s office, stepped out of my comfort zone to travel and learn how to move through the world, neither would they. They would grow up seeing their mom being afraid to take risks for fear of looking and feeling stupid. They would see that it is ok to stay scared and not challenge yourself to be better.

What I left out of the list that I shared with my colleagues, is what I witnessed from my students firsthand during and after the trip.

I saw students be brave.

I saw students over-prepare out of anxiety, but realize they had this just a few days into the trip.

I saw students welcome others into their worlds and step out to explore it together.

I saw students become confident travelers, realizing that sometimes just asking a stranger for directions is the best way to get around.

Later, back at school, I heard students share their experiences and talk about their next adventure with excitement and joy.

In front of my colleagues, I admitted that while we are striving to create life-changing learning experiences for our students, we are really creating them for ourselves as well. The ripple effect of these experiences not only touches me, but also my family. And their friends. And their future choices to expand out of their comfort zones, be brave and take risks.