Elizabeth Legrande in France
Elizabeth Legrande in France

FMU’s international study programs are expanding all the time – good news for students & faculty

One sure way to know you’re not in Kansas – or South Carolina – anymore is to begin the process of crossing a street and then discover you were looking the wrong way for oncoming traffic.

You know, that whole driving on the left-hand side of the road. It’s a sure giveaway.

“You have to constantly watch out,” says Elizabeth Legendre, a 2015 graduate of Francis Marion University and, now, a seasoned foreign traveler. “They drive on the wrong – the opposite – side of the road and I was always looking the wrong way.”

Eventually, she figured it all out. A native of the small town of Hemingway, SC, Legendre got up the nerve to study abroad as part of FMU’s booming international program in 2013. She liked it so much she went back a year later.

Reflecting on it all recently, Legendre called it an “adventure of a lifetime,” which, she admits, is a cliché.

“But it’s true,” she says. “If you go abroad and aren’t willing to try new things, you will be miserable. But if you are open to new things, then it really can be something special, the adventure of a lifetime.”

Legendre is part of a fast-growing group of Patriot grads (and future grads) whose eyes are being opened by international travel and study. Dr. Mark Blackwell, who directs the international program at FMU, says more than 50 FMU students or faculty traveled overseas in the past year. That figure includes a variety of experiences – semester abroad exchange programs, brief travel-study trips, visits to FMU’s Wildsumaco Biological Research Station – in a variety of places. FMU currently has exchange programs of one kind or another with 13 universities in six different countries. And that doesn’t include the expanding program at Wildsumaco in Ecuador.

Smell the culture

Blackwell, a seasoned traveler with a heavily stamped passport of his own, calls the international experience “an amazing thing to do.”

“It’s a new experience to go somewhere where you have never been, possibly speak a language you are not proficient in, to be in a culture where there are cars, electricity, there’s human beings, but it’s not the same,” says Blackwell. “It’s a difference that you can feel, you can smell, you can taste. I can’t tell how important it is in a young person’s life.”

Recent Patriot travelers can.

“My time abroad was exciting, frustrating, and sometimes lonely,” says Todd Rhodes, a 2015 graduate who spent a semester in Ireland at Maynooth University, “but it was a time where I grew socially and intellectually. … Your time abroad will go by fast – make the most of it while it lasts.”

Todd Rhodes in Ireland
Todd Rhodes in Ireland

Shiaza Tindal, a 2016 graduate, thought long and hard about going overseas to study. Family encouragement finally pushed her over the edge. Now she says “(International study) is something that should not be missed.”

Shiaza Tindal in England
Shiaza Tindal in England

Aiyanna Johnson, who spent the fall of 2015 with FMU’s newest exchange partner, the University of Prince Edward Island (Canada), says her experience was enlightening … and “addictive.”

Aiyanna Johnson in Prince Edward Island, Canada
Aiyanna Johnson in Prince Edward Island, Canada

“(It) is sort of addicting,” she says. “Once you start, you’ll want to travel more – as you should.”

Feeding the need

Blackwell hopes he can find ways to keep feeding that building need.

International travel is complicated and there are many challenges. Interest from, and cooperation with, partner universities rises and falls; environments change because of world politics; and students (and their parents) always have to be reassured regarding a host of issues.

Cost can be an issue, although exchange students generally can spend a semester abroad for the same price as a semester at FMU. Shorter trips aren’t as expensive and are often covered by grants. FMU President Dr. Fred Carter – a huge proponent of the international experience – has worked hard to make resources available that makes travel possible for more students and faculty. Carter says it was an area he focused on when he arrived at FMU 17 years ago.

“If we believe strongly in a comprehensive education for our graduates – and we do – then we ought to do everything we can to make sure that by the time they finish acquiring a baccalaureate degree all of our graduates have experienced some travel abroad,” says Carter. “If it’s not for entire semester, then at least they should go for a few weeks.”

“I really believe it’s a critical part of the development of a whole person,” says Carter. “If students travel abroad during their collegiate years, they’ll continue to travel abroad. It creates an itch that just can’t ever be satisfied.”

Carter is pleased to see the program grow amongst FMU’s student. And he’s delighted that more faculty are taking advantage of travel opportunities, as well.

“It’s good to see so many faculty going abroad,” says Carter. “They become better salesmen for travel to our students and I think they’re just better teachers. They have more experiences, more context, are more cosmopolitan. It’s something we want to continue to grow and grow.”

Recent travelers agree. Their reminiscences and recollections, shared on these pages, speak the vibrancy of the experience and its life-changing possibilities.