Seventy-five years ago, America's first study-abroad program was launched at the University of Delaware when a young professor walked into the president's office with a daring plan-to send students abroad for their junior year.
Prof. Raymond W. Kirkbride, an instructor in the Modern Languages Department and a World War I veteran, had seen firsthand what disagreements between nations could do; he had seen smoldering ruins and burned-out buildings across the French countryside. But, he had also met and greatly enjoyed the French, and he understood the potential that travel and study had for promoting cross-cultural understanding. And now, in 1921, he was home in Newark, standing before the desk of University President Walter S. Hullihen, pitching his idea to send students to France for their junior year.
At the time, study abroad was unheard of, and America's isolationist tendencies were still strong. But, Hullihen recognized that the Delaware Foreign Study Plan, which came to
be known as the Junior Year Abroad, had far-reaching influence. It would, he felt, produce better-rounded students, train future foreign language teachers and provide experience for students who wanted to go into careers with international aspects.
The logistics of setting up a year of study abroad were daunting. Kirkbride and Hullihen turned to prominent private and public figures for assistance and support. In Washington, D.C., Hullihen met with then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who heartily endorsed the plan; closer to home, Hullihen enlisted the support of regional philanthropists and businessmen, including Pierre S. du Pont.
On July 7, 1923, the first Delaware group sailed for France aboard the Rochambeau. Kirkbride's group of eight juniors included Austin P. Cooley, Francis J. Cummings, David Dougherty, Herbert L. Lank, William K. Mendenhall, J. Cedric Snyder, T. Russell Turner and J. Winston Walker. After six weeks of intensive language immersion at Nancy, they moved to Paris, where Lank met his future wife; Turner became a basketball hero; and Turner and Cummings won the Sorbonne's highly coveted diploma of French civilization.
The first Junior Year Abroad was a success, and the University continued to send student groups to France, and later to Switzerland and Germany. Students from a number of colleges and universities, including Columbia, Penn, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Brown, Smith, Harvard and Princeton, participated in the program, and between 1923 and 1948, 902 students spent their junior years abroad with the University of Delaware.
In 1948, the Delaware Foreign Study Plan was discontinued because of post-war conditions in Europe and a different University president who did not consider foreign study a priority.
But, the Delaware Foreign Study Plan had made an impact, especially among its participants. As early as 1930, the "Delforians" were holding reunions, publishing alumni directories and newsletters and holding regional alumni get-togethers. When World War II broke out, the group began a campaign to finance "Delforian Ambulances for France," according to University archivist Jean Brown. In 1987, members of the XIIIth Group held their 50th reunion-in Paris, where they had first met.
Study abroad resumed in 1970, when the University instituted Winterim, a short term between the fall and spring semesters now called Winter Session. Early Winterim destinations included London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Munich, Berlin and Hamburg. Geneva became one of the most popular destinations, and the program has gone every year but one since 1971.
So many students took advantage of the opportunity to spend their winter break abroad that Delaware could book large airplanes exclusively for the students. Pan American Airlines painted the fuselages of two airplanes with the words, "Delaware Clipper." The English department also launched a study-abroad program in London, which was the first of the semester-abroad programs (others now include Costa Rica, Paris, Granada and Bayreuth). Eventually, Winterim study abroad evolved into its own University department, Overseas Studies, which is currently under the umbrella of International Programs and Special Sessions.
Lawrence P. Donnelley, associate provost for international programs and special sessions, says that study abroad is more popular than ever among college students. (Peterson's Study Abroad: A Guide to Semester and Year-long Academic Programs for 1997-98 lists more than 1,500 foreign study programs.) UD remains a leader in study abroad, Donnelley says. This year, programs will be offered in Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Scotland, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland.
For more information, telephone (302) 831-2852 or toll-free at 1-888-UD1-INTL, or visit the program's web site www.udel.edu/IntlProg/studyabroad
- Lisa Kochanek