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Max Hoffman ’20 dives deep into his study-abroad experience.

Out-of-Office Message

Wouldn’t it be great if you could work anywhere – anywhere – that you chose to?

A torn ACL prevented Travis King ’06 from studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia, during the spring semester of his junior year. So he was thrilled to be healthy enough for a month-long trip to Hawaii the following year, part of his J-term geology studies. That trip was the first time King had been out of the continental United States. And the excitement he felt at being in an exotic locale lodged itself in the back of his mind.

Fast forward several years. After working, then obtaining a graduate degree in public service, King was poised to make yet another predictable, wise career move. Instead, he left the country.

“I spent five months backpacking in South America,” King says. “I fell in love with the culture of backpacking, traveling and exploring. It was so magical that it was even possible – that the world was open to me.”

King spent the next four years working odd jobs while traveling around the globe before settling into his current position: community manager at Remote Year, a business that gathers groups of professionals and facilitates their spending 12 months traveling the world while working remotely. The program, founded in 2015, works like this:

Professionals with the ability to work off-site – say, entrepreneurs or full-time employees whose bosses are fine with telecommuting – sign on for the year-long program. Remote Year creates communities of 30 to 65 such professionals, then sends them to 12 cities around the world, or one per month. Travel logistics, lodging, a 24/7 workspace and local experiences are provided in each city, allowing participants to work and explore different cultures and business settings while maintaining their day jobs, building meaningful networks and sharing professional knowledge.

“You land in a new city every month and within three hours you’re fully functional,” says one testimonial on the company’s website.

To date, people from some 40 countries have participated in the program, and participants have ranged in age from 22 to 70-plus.

King describes his position with Remote Year as being akin to project management, in that he’s responsible for a number of diverse things. He may be scoping out charitable giving options one day, for example, then seeking service-work opportunities for participants the next. Or he may be traveling with a new group to help everyone settle in at the first destination.

“Our mission is a beautiful one,” King says, “because traveling and experiencing new cultures and new ways of life is something everyone should try and do. It pushes and challenges you, and that’s how you evolve.”

Hitting the road
Global travel has never been more accessible. And that – coupled with King’s assessment of the incredible value that comes from exploring other cultures – is a major reason why you’ll find St. Norbert faculty, staff, students and alums in every corner of the world.

Faculty members have long been encouraged to periodically leave the classroom for off-site learning via sabbatical. And professors are eager to pursue extracurricular research, even when it leads them far from home.

During his sabbatical last semester, Biblical scholar Tom Bolin (Theology & RS) headed to Rome to bury himself in his subject – not in a Vatican library, but at an archaeological dig. Led by scholars from the University of Valencia in Spain, Bolin joined an international team of researchers in excavating cremated remains from ancient Roman burial sites. Researchers know that somewhere in the third century C.E. the Romans stopped cremating their deceased and began interring them instead. But they don’t know why. Since Bolin often teaches about early Christianity, and early Christian practices regarding the veneration of martyrs grew out of Roman burial practices, he wanted to help determine what everyday Romans believed about death.

Members of the group were given burial urns and instructed to excavate them in 5-centimeter increments. “The average second-century urn contained 575 different pieces of bone,” Bolin says, along with offerings. The scholars had to wash, photograph, label and number every bone fragment they uncovered. “You had to be careful,” he says. “We used tweezers and spoons and fine artist brushes.”

Bolin says the excavation was definitely outside his comfort zone. But he relished working, living, eating and recreating with scholars from across the globe. And he enjoyed switching from instructor to pupil – learning, taking notes, listening to lectures, being quizzed. “You do have to keep learning to be a good teacher and to keep up in your field,” he says. “But more importantly, being in the position of a learner reminds you of what it’s like, so you can better understand what your own students are going through.”

Bolin isn’t unusual in his sabbatical decision to leave De Pere behind. For Stephen Rupsch (Theatre Studies) the lure of the Great White Way drew him to New York City. On and off Broadway, he spent part of his last sabbatical taking in 20 New York City productions. “Every time I see a show I can get inspired for my own work, as well as get ideas about how different artists tell stories,” he says. “It is really important to me that I continue to see other people’s work.” And in 2011 Tim Flood (Geology) traveled all the way to Antarctica with Kathy Licht ’92 and Nicole Bader ’11 to conduct climate-change research.

Enjoying classes taught al fresco
Professors don’t have to wait for a sabbatical to hit the road, though. Many pack their bags right along with their students for enhanced learning opportunities. Two years ago, Marc Schaffer (Economics) was planning to head to Europe with Ben Huegel (Accounting) and about a dozen students to study international economics and the European Union. Their itinerary included stops at important sites such as the Frankfurt and London stock exchanges, and Brussels, capital of the EU.

Then, United Kingdom citizens voted in the controversial “Brexit” referendum to pull out of Europe. Schaffer found himself continually tweaking his lesson plans leading up to their departure date as the Brexit drama unfolded in real time. While the class’ initial objective was to show students how businesses operate in the EU with its shared currency, the focus was expanded to incorporate how the situation would change once the UK was out of the EU. The effort was worth it. “From an economic perspective, it is a great time to go to London and ask questions,” Schaffer said shortly before the group departed.

This summer, Rosemary Sands (Center for Norbertine Studies) will be walking Spain’s Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail with six SNC students to explore the spirituality and history of pilgrimage. Meanwhile, 14 others will be studying leadership and “followership” lessons learned from World Wars I and II with Lucy Arendt (Business Administration) on the very battlefields in Belgium, France and Germany where many skirmishes occurred. The group will be joined by a similar cohort from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

All of these classes are part of SNC’s newer Global Seminar program, which transports small groups of students and their professors abroad for short courses during January or summer terms. The underlying philosophy: Everyone should have a chance to explore the world. “Today, when the world is kind of a mess, getting to know people from different countries one-on-one, finding commonalities, seeing that it’s not a black-and-white world – that’s the benefit,” says Sands.

St. Norbert does its part to foster international understanding and goodwill, too, by hosting scholars working far from their own offices, labs and studios. In 2017, Czech parasitologist Tomáš Scholz came to campus to study fish parasites with Anindo Choudhury (Biology, Environmental Science). The two men had collaborated remotely for many years, but both said working together, in person, was so much more enriching. The International Visiting Scholars Program (joint with UW-Green Bay) brought acclaimed Austrian videographer Oliver Ressler to campus last year. Speakers on campus so far this semester have included a Norbertine scholar from Aguilar de Campóo in Spain and the former United States ambassador to Brazil.

Students learn value of travel early
Since the college began offering study-abroad opportunities more than 30 years ago, interest and participation have steadily risen. Today, about one-third of St. Norbert grads have studied abroad via both traditional semester-long programs and innovative alternatives. Semesters abroad are charged tuition at the current SNC rate.

In addition to the shorter Global Seminars mentioned above, SNC offers the Gap Experience to incoming first-years. The semester-long program, which incorporates short stays on campus, begins with a leadership course in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, then segues to service projects in Chicago, New Mexico and Guatemala – all while students are taking a full slate of classes.

“The Gap appeals to students looking to get outside of their comfort zone, to step outside of the box,” says Laura Frederickson (Gap Experience). “And when they return, they’re more mature, more focused and have a heightened intellectual curiosity.”

Being open to global possibilities is critical in today’s interconnected world. Frank (Kaszar) Kasell ’06 majored in philosophy at St. Norbert but wasn’t sure what career he wanted to pursue when he graduated. But he did know this: He and his girlfriend were going to spend the year after graduation working somewhere outside of the United States. The two ended up teaching English in China’s Jiangxi province.

When their year ended, his girlfriend (and future wife) was ready to return home. Kasell was not. “I fell in love with the country right away,” he says. “I really like things that are totally different than what I’m used to.” He also fell in love with the cuisine, namely China’s vibrant street-food scene.

Kasell did return home, and he and his girlfriend married. But China kept calling. Five years later, with his wife’s blessing, Kasell quit his job and returned to China for three months to research a book on Chinese street food. He canvassed the country, visiting roughly four cities per week. Then he came home and wrote “Chinese Street Food: A Field Guide for the Adventurous Diner.” It took two years to pen the book and another year to find a publisher. Finally, in December 2018, his book was published.

Today, Kasell works as an international visitor liaison with the U.S. State Department, where he assists professionals traveling to the U.S. to learn what is going on in their fields over here. Thanks to his job, Kasell has visited two-thirds of the states and met fascinating internationals involved in everything from human rights and journalism to biology and policing. And like most people who have traveled locally or internationally, he’s bullish on the benefits of exploring the world.

“You can be an open-minded person and not travel,” Kasell says, “but it’s hard to travel and be a close-minded person.” 

March 17, 2019