It really isn’t surprising that business administration major Courtney Hodges is set to visit her fourth continent this summer on a journey, like all of her international trips so far, taken through Shenandoah University.
As a high-schooler who grew up on a farm near Strasburg, Virginia, she always wanted to travel. But when she came to Shenandoah as part of a high school tour (the university wasn’t even on her application radar then), and saw all the international opportunities available, she said she instantly asked, “How do I apply here?”
Upon arriving at the university as a student, she started living out her dream. During her third week of her freshman year, she signed up to take a Global Experiential Learning (GEL) trip to Scotland after the end of her freshman year. Then she found out about the Global Citizenship Project, which sends five groups of 10-12 people to locations around the world during spring break, with expenses paid by the university. Faculty, staff and students submit an essay to apply for the GCP. Hodges applied. She recalled thinking, as she considered travel possibilities, “I’m going to get off this continent one way or another.” She was selected for the GCP trip and traveled to Peru during spring break her freshman year.
Since then, she has gone to South Korea to volunteer at the 2018 Winter Olympics as part of an almost month-long GEL trip, as well as on a Eurozone GEL trip to Spain, France and Belgium. In May, she’ll head to the Republic of Senegal for a GEL trip led by Assistant Professors of Religion Kevin Minister, Ph.D., and Meredith Minister, Ph.D. Hodges is a religion minor, who has taken all of her religion courses with the Ministers. “I’m very excited about that,” she said of the Senegal trip.
Learning from the larger world
Her travels have proved instructive in a host of ways. She said she’s learned that “the world is bigger than myself, and the world is bigger than this idea of America. And to a lot of countries, we don’t really matter.” In other countries she’s visited, the reaction to Americans is, “OK, you’re American. Welcome. . . to our country.”
In Scotland, she visited the tiny island of Eigg, which had only about 100 residents. The landscape reminded her of her Virginia farm, and its people were kind and welcoming, she said. In Peru, she discovered the nation’s history of extraordinary civilizations, learned about the labor of its people and was exposed to tremendous art produced within modest circumstances, which inspired her to support artists forevermore.
While in South Korea, she was awed by a nature-centered Buddhist monastery with grounds filled with statues and worship sites spread over tens of acres, and on the Eurozone trip, she revised the preconceived notions that had made her somewhat wary of visiting France. The country, where she said the people were kind, became her favorite stop on the trip, which included a visit to the famed Louvre art museum.
Developing new skills
She has also learned how to speak to unfamiliar people and negotiate cultures utterly unlike her own, sometimes without a translator. She’s pushed past her natural introversion to connect with other people, because doing so became an absolute necessity.
And, she takes home a special memento from each place she’s traveled. “I get a piece of art, because I think it reflects what they value there,” she said.
As she has gone from continent to continent, she has also learned how to problem-solve. In South Korea and France, she needed to figure out how to get from place to place without speaking the language. In South Korea, especially, she and others in her group used the Google translate app for most communication. She noted how they used it to show translated phrases to taxi drivers. But, they also eventually learned to bring business cards for their hotel with them to show to drivers and others when they needed help in getting back to their lodgings.
Growing and taking risks
The effect of travel on Hodges has been apparent as she works in her on-campus job in Career Services.
I’ve watched Courtney grow as a student, an employee, and a traveler since she started in my office. She has gained confidence and become more independent. She’s a very private, introverted person, and I remember before she left for the Olympics telling her to try to say ‘yes’ as much as possible. I didn’t want her to miss out on opportunities because she craved that alone time. The first time she said ‘yes’ on that trip, she texted me, all excited, with a picture of her and some new friends chowing down on Korean barbecue! Since then I’ve seen her take more risks that have led to great experiences, including summer jobs and internships.”
Assistant Director of Career Services Amanda Grantham
I am a lot more confident and comfortable in my own skin. Travel made me get close with people that I didn’t know, really fast.”
And she loves learning, through travel, about people who are different and how people can coexist and cooperate.
Now that she’s been out of her comfort zone around the world, she can communicate with others with authority. She noted that she recently interacted with 100 to 130 people for a Root to Table event held by GoBlueRidgeTravel, where she has an internship. In the past, she never would have spoken up so much, but she said she had a great deal of fun speaking with people and mingling on the company’s behalf.
Over the summer, she’ll intern with the Town of Strasburg, and do event planning with the town’s Front Porch Fridays series, where bands play and Main Street businesses stay open late. She’ll also work on the town’s Fourth of July celebration, which is a daylong community event at a park, featuring bouncy houses, face painting, loads of business involvement, a late night at the public swimming pool, and fireworks, of course. Hodges said she would like to pursue a career in event planning.
Planning more journeys around the world
Once she graduates in December 2019, she plans to go to Greece and Italy, and anticipates going to Israel next year, as well.
She knows that she took the travel opportunities available at Shenandoah and more than ran – she sprinted – with them.
“I’ve really enjoyed my travels,” she said, before adding that she wants to visit all seven continents by the time she’s 30 years old. She only has Antarctica and Australia left. “It’s kind of crazy,” she said, “considering that four years ago, I had never left the country.”
Courtney has been to four continents and six countries and isn’t planning to stop anytime soon!
- South Korea