I’m not alone in that passion. I know 150 people who share a passion for travel—some for the reasons I mentioned, others for reasons all their own. The number is not random. One-hundred-fifty is the number of students in our Global Consulting Program who were supposed to spend several weeks abroad this summer. They were gearing up for once-in-a-lifetime trips to either Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, or Hungary where they would work with local students at our partner universities to engage in consulting projects with companies in that country. They also could travel after the program, gaining incredible professional experience and making lifelong friends and memories.
As director of this program, I have the pleasure of preparing students for this experience. Besides learning about global business and the consulting process, we talk about the excitement of overnight flights and wheels touching down in a new country. We learn enough about the region to be able to ‘get by’ in a new language and culture. We discuss do’s and don’ts, variations across cultures, and how they have the opportunity and responsibility to be ambassadors of not just Ohio University, but of the United States to everyone they meet. In short, this prep course underscores the value—both personally and professionally—of international travel.
Obviously, these programs were cancelled due to the Coronavirus. Students were justifiably devastated by this news. As a class, we navigated the daily updates, created contingency plans, and developed alternative game plans to the best of our collective ability. The thing that has surprised—and inspired—me has been their response to this situation. My fear was that the COVID-19 crisis would possibly deter this group of students from international travel in general. Consider that the same map that we had looked at all semester with curiosity and excitement now had blood-red dots growing and multiplying. The famous sites that we were looking forward to exploring were now abandoned and empty. The popular greetings we had talked about (e.g., double-cheek kiss, handshakes, etc.) now were literally forbidden in those very countries. We had spent 2 months building up the value and importance of connecting with the global community only to have that connection be marked as the way a deadly virus spreads across the world.
I needn’t have worried because quite the opposite has occurred. Through adversity, they have become more motivated than ever. When asked about future travel plans, these students have responded with positivity. In fact, not only did this crisis not dampen their spirits, it seems to have sparked a stronger desire to explore, to travel, to even work and live internationally. Based on my conversations, they view this as merely an obstacle, an added challenge to fulfilling their hunger to see the world—not a permanent barrier. They acknowledge that this has changed their perspective and will shape their views of traveling, but also that true adventure involves ambiguity, which is part of the draw of international travel in the first place. They view this as not a reason to sulk but as an opportunity for growth. Indeed, I often speak about how these trips push us out of our comfort zones, but that is part of becoming your best ‘you’, and these students are doing that in spades.
To those students reading this blog, please understand that you are an inspiration. Obviously to me. But also to those around you. Because if I picked up on your character and integrity through this whole dilemma, others did as well. If it was apparent to me that you are meeting this with confidence and optimism, then it is apparent to your parents, your classmates, your friends. Trust me that in this very moment, some of those people need that positive energy, so take a moment to feel good about yourself for being its source. Finally, please know that you WILL experience all of those things you were hoping to experience. It may be next summer on this same trip, it might be an internship for a company headquartered in Brazil, or it might be in two years when you and your best friend backpack across Europe. But if you want it, you will get it. Trust me.
Colin Gabler is a writer at heart.