Dear colleagues and friends,
This week I went back into my blog archives to resurrect a post I wrote two years ago at Thanksgiving. It is related to my time studying in Spain in the fall of 1990 and is relevant today. I always think of Spain and my time there around Thanksgiving and I think this capture what’s on my mind pretty well right now.
I wish you all Happy Thanksgiving.
A Thought I can’t get out of My Mind
(Originally posted on November 21, 2015)
One of the best things I’ve done in my life was spend a semester studying abroad twenty-five years ago.
I was not the typical student who studied abroad; I had no interest in leaving the safety of the United States and Gettysburg College. It would be inaccurate to say that I ended up studying abroad by accident, though. My study off campus was a necessity and the experience is something for which I am eternally grateful.
Spanish was hard
It would be an understatement to say that I struggled in Spanish while in college. I struggled mightily. My comprehension was poor and grades worse. In fact, a faculty member once told me that my placement exam was among the poorest he’d ever seen. Admittedly, my work to improve in Spanish was lacking and I earned the very poor grades I received. Spanish class (and my lack of effort) landed me on academic probation at the end of my first-year of college and I found myself repeating a course for my sophomore year.
My sophomore year was not much better and I continued to struggle in Spanish. But, there were faculty members at Gettysburg College who didn’t give up on me. Dr. Kerr Thompson and Dr. Miguel Vinuela took an interest in me and did their best to help, support and motivate me. They were patient with me and worked with me to help find a path forward. Simply put, they cared. They knew the same thing that I did; if I couldn’t get Spanish figured out and successfully pass four semesters of Spanish, I would never graduate from Gettysburg.
Have you ever thought about studying in Spain?
Sometime in my sophomore year, Dr. Vinuela took me aside and planted a seed.
He asked me if I’d “ever thought about studying abroad in Spain?” I thought this was pretty amusing, given my challenges in class. But, I had the smarts to ask him, “why.” His honest answer of, “if you don’t, you will never graduate from Gettysburg,” was enough to get my attention. I asked him what I “needed to do?”
While a part of me believes Miguel offered this suggestion because he was getting weary of having me in his classes (I was a repeat offender and had him for class three of four semesters in my first two years), I soon discovered he had my best interest in mind. Miguel worked with me to get everything in order for me to spend the fall of 1990 studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain.
It was an experience that changed me and I am forever grateful.
Thanksgiving in Spain 1990
I find myself reflecting upon those special days, weeks and months in Spain around Thanksgiving each year.
I think about this experience around Thanksgiving, in part, because of how grateful I am for the experience, and for Miguel Vinuela, Kerr Thompson and Gettysburg College, but also because 1990 was my first Thanksgiving away from my home in Nebraska and family.
I will never forget the Thanksgiving of 1990 and the wonderful celebration of an American holiday at the Center for Cross Cultural Study in Sevilla. While the names have faded—even those for whom I have photos—the memories have not.
- We had turkey and stuffing.
- We smoked cigars.
- We watched a videotaped American football game, thanks to a family member back home.
- We laughed.
- We spoke English, which was good for me.
- We enjoyed each other.
- And, we treated each other as family since many of us were away for this holiday for the first time ever.
I will be forever grateful for Thanksgiving 1990 in Sevilla, which was a central part of my college experience and opened my mind to new ideas, place and people; involved faculty who encouraged and motivated me; and, friends who treated me like family.
And, I am increasingly aware that the experience would have never been possible without family that supported me; for that I am forever grateful.
Giving thanks still
In many ways I have come to realize that the experience of studying away in 1990 shaped what I do professional today and what I wish for others.
The fall of 1990 was a defining experience, which has guided my work in higher education to this day. I hope every student I have the opportunity to work with will encounter faculty members who will take a chance on them and push them to take an uncomfortable risk to grow; they will be grateful.
Two things I think are worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)
Why it’s time to throw away your communication plan: I am obsessed with this report from Ruffalo Noel Levitz! Please read this. I suspect many of you are already thinking in these terms and I am the one who is late to the party. But, man, the following excerpt from this report, smacked me in the face and is making me think hard about what we’ve built and what we think works.
“What we’re taking about is much bigger: let go. Truly focus on the audience of one. Your job is not to push them along a path. It’s to intently listen to each individual student, and then react in an authentic, personal and engaging way. To provide a unique personal experience along their own self-directed journey.”
(Replace student with alum or donor and this smacks us all)
This report is as relevant to donors and alumni, as it is to prospective students.
I think this approach may even also help us think different about communicating with on-campus constituents and might even help us address the #1 undeniable truth of higher education that communication is always at an all-time low! It’s no longer about what and when we want to communicate and we need to change.
What do you think about this report? Where are you in the process of changing?
5 communication mistakes that keep you from sounding like a leader: Not too long ago I lost my cool in a meeting on campus and when I read this article I thought it might be hypocritical for me to send it out. But, I believe we all need reminders about how we fail as leaders and we all need reminders about what it takes to act and sound like a leader. This straightforward advice is great for all us regardless of our leadership position.
Something for you (and me) to think about
Something that I’ve tried to be more intentional about in the past several years is actively reaching out to people to thank them for the influence they’ve had on my life and career path.
There is one person to whom I write every year around Thanksgiving to thank them for what they did for me. This is not a person with whom I correspond at any other time of the year and we are not social media buddies. But, I feel compelled to think this person during the Thanksgiving season and I sent my annual note about ten days. I always receive a gracious response and we catch up on each other’s life. But, the nature of this relationship is one of thanks for something long ago.
I also try to regular reach out to others who deserve my thanks and have a list of four people to whom I will drop simple notes over the course of the next few days.
Who will you thank in the coming day? How will you thank them? And, how do you make a regular habit of say thanks to those who have been there for you?
P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add them to the list. I try to get one of these out every Monday. And, you can read past issues of my musings at my blog @bowtieadmission