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Fossil Dad: No summer study abroad programs on the front lines of the new reality

The University of Washington canceling its summer study abroad programs means students, especially seniors, will miss out on an important educational chapter in college life. For those who believe foreign study only offers chances to get wasted and blow off academics, this may be good news.
Taso Lagos is program director for Hellenic studies in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. Photo credit: Patrick Luhrs.

Mill Creek resident Taso Lagos blogs about what it’s like being a middle-aged new parent in Mill Creek.

From the front lines of the new reality --

The University of Washington canceling its summer study abroad programs means students, especially seniors, will miss out on an important educational chapter in college life.

For those who believe foreign study only offers chances to get wasted, work on suntans, blow off academics, or proves college is just high school with more binge drinking, this may be good news.

Students do pass out at 2:00 am, fistfight while drunk, get pregnant, flip their three-wheeler that breaks limbs and a skull, and in one case even marry while abroad as happened on my program.

After the students flipped their three-wheeler, I immediately flew to the Greek island to find the student with a cracked skull lying in a coma on a gurney in the hallway of the tiny clinic, unattended. 

A hellish, Kafkaesque journey ensued to get the coma victim to a proper hospital. As a foreigner, the student was refused entry; only after much screaming did the hospital staff relent. I slept next to the student’s bed to insure there was proper care.  

When I returned home my administration asked me why I took a two-week vacation in the middle of the program. 

My own undergrad experiences overseas inspired me to later become a program director in 2005.  Now I pass the torch to a new generation to get out of their familiar, rote and narrow-minded bubbles, to realize great learning often takes place outside the classroom, and to value the meaning and significance of being an American. 

Every fall many fellow UW faculty members kindly let me speak to their classes to recruit students for my program.  I compete with about 100 other UW programs for the 1,200 students that study overseas each year. Running an overseas program is never easy and a year-round job.

Stupid shit still happens but foreign study makes a difference.  My students go on to Fulbright fellowships, positions at Amazon, Microsoft and other major companies and even start their own businesses. A paper based on ethnographic fieldwork we conduct in Greece every year co-written with a group of them will be published in a refereed journal this year.  

I take no credit for this, but I do offer students strong encouragement and sincere recommendation letters.  Their lives genuinely transform, even if only for some.

One student knocked on my apartment door in Athens at ten at night to tell me she appreciated what the program did to boost her confidence. Then she abruptly turned and disappeared into the night. Many program directors tell similar stories.

Will students suffer by not participating in foreign study this spring?  Except for seniors, there’s always next year; countries will not move anytime soon and when international flights resume, they may be cheaper than ever. 

Meanwhile, a big cheer to a return to normalcy.  A sunny day it’ll be. My sunscreen lotion is ready.

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