UD’s lifelong learning community celebrates 100 years of study abroad
Photo illustration by Cindy Dolan | Photos by Eric Tommer, iStock and courtesy of Pamela Meitner and Rebecca Worley December 18, 2023
OLLI course shares UD students’ transformational travel experiences
The University of Delaware Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) is founded on the idea that we can expand our horizons at any age by sharing in the experiences and expertise of others. That’s why Rebecca Worley, a retired UD professor and longtime OLLI instructor, and her co-instructor, Pam Meitner, collaborated with the Center for Global Programs and Services to bring students and instructors from some of UD’s more than 100 study abroad programs together with OLLI members to talk about the insight and enjoyment that came from their embrace of international adventure as undergraduates.
“I wanted to connect OLLI with what the study abroad program does and what opportunities it provides for UD students,” Worley said about their course, “Study Abroad Stories: 100 Years.” “I wanted OLLI members to see the profound, life-changing growth that UD’s study abroad brings.”
Both programs have a long and treasured history at UD. Founded as the Academy of Lifelong Learning in 1980, the academy became the University of Delaware Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in 2010. Today, more than 2,100 OLLI members from Delaware and neighboring states participate in the cooperative’s courses and programs in Dover, Lewes, Ocean View, Wilmington and online.
At 100 years old, UD’s study abroad program was the nation’s first to embrace overseas learning opportunities, and in recent years has included themed trips like “Victors and Spoils: Competition in Ancient Greece,” a three-week micro study abroad program led by Tyson Sukava, assistant professor of classics.
Sukava and his students told the OLLI learners how they traveled to Athens during the winter break and explored how the ancient Greeks turned many social activities into contests, giving them a deeper understanding of both ancient and modern Greek culture.
“One of the delights I get from the program is watching the students become increasingly more comfortable in that space,” he said to the OLLI class. “We start off in the Pangrati, a small neighborhood near the Athens city center. The students arrive very late in the day — they land in a completely new place; they take a bus and they're dropped off at their apartments in an unknown area. Naturally, it’s disorienting.
“So, for the first few days, they need me to accompany them when they want to do something like find a store or a restaurant. But, in a very short time, they’re like, 'No, no, no, Tyson, we got this. We know exactly where to go.’ It fills me with joy to see their confidence and their reliance on each other grow. They forge relationships that extend well beyond the end of the program.”
Kelsey McNamara, a recent UD graduate and biochemist who works in cancer research, was one of Sukava’s students in the Greece program. She agreed that the relationships she formed on the trip were meaningful and lasting. She told the OLLI class, “Not only did I find a new close friend and a new boyfriend among my classmates; I befriended Greek people as well.”
“We often found ourselves at this little bar around the corner from our apartments after a long day, and we became good friends with one of the bartenders who was also an actor,” she continued. “He shared stories about what it was like to grow up in Greece and told us things you wouldn't hear in a lecture or a museum. I actually went back to Greece six months later and reconnected with him. Now, we follow each other on Instagram.”
For Dan Leininger, who told the OLLI class about the year he studied in Hamburg, Germany, from 1967-68, the friendships he made during his study abroad have lasted a lifetime.
“In my courses called ‘German for Foreigners,’ I was with 30 students from 18 different countries,” he said. “The University of Hamburg did so much to encourage students to travel. Trips were available to all students, particularly foreign students, at incredibly low prices, so in my year in Germany, I visited 13 countries.”
His presentation for the class was a mix of photos of his study abroad in Germany taken from vintage 1960s slides and recent photos of the people he met on that trip whom he still regularly visits and who come to the U.S. to visit him. After graduating with the UD class of 1969, he took a job as a high school teacher and spent the next 33 years sharing his love of the German language and culture with his students: He organized 17 trips to Germany for them over his career.
Reflecting on his study abroad experiences, Leininger said, “My international friendships really did change my perception of the world.”
The Study Abroad stories clearly inspired the class at OLLI, where adults aged 50-plus take and teach classes together. Course offerings are typically determined by member interest as well as the passions and expertise of the dedicated volunteer member-instructors.
“I enjoy traveling, so hearing about these experiences is just naturally interesting to me,” course participant Gerri Sanchez said. “But I think this course fits in so well at OLLI because our community is about broadening horizons and understanding others’ perspectives. It’s just amazing how many people in study abroad have maintained relationships, sometimes over decades, or found service opportunities — or even married — because of their travel. People really are changed by their study abroad.”
The OLLI course “Study Abroad Stories: 100 Years” included talks from study abroad program directors and participants, including OLLI members who are UD alumni, who visited numerous countries, such as Australia, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, France and even Antarctica. Recordings of the class sessions will be available online for OLLI members in 2024.
From Delaware to the World
2023 marks the 100-year anniversary of study abroad, pioneered at the University of Delaware in 1923 when UD language professor and World War I veteran Raymond Kirkbride took eight students to France for their junior year. Today, UD boasts more than 100 study abroad programs in 40-plus countries and has an international student population that hails from over 100 countries.
If you would like to be a part of study abroad’s 100th anniversary celebration by supporting global learning for UD students, you can make a gift here. Please also visit the UD Abroad Blog for student perspectives on the study abroad experience.