John Coumbe-Lilley, PhD Program Leader

John Coumbe-Lilley, PhD
Program Leader

I am frequently asked by faculty at my own institution and others about study abroad. They often question me about the benefits and value of the program and tell me how much they would like to travel. I typically reply with an invitation to lead a program and I offer to put them in touch with our study abroad office so that they may receive the full benefits of the experience. At this moment they tend to make a crooked smile or make an awkward laugh and say something like, “Oh No! I wasn’t thinking of working. I was thinking I would take time for myself” and then they shimmy away as if I just said I had the pox!

I choose to lead study abroad because it is one of the few moments I can work without the distractions of the regular semester and settle into my role as a college educator. You see, I like it! I like working with students and I like being part of their development. Leading study abroad programs gives me a chance to do what I imagine many faculty and staff in higher education love to do which is work with students and assist them on their life path. So, what does it take to lead a study abroad program and why is it so much fun to lead a program?

I like leadership challenges and study abroad requires leadership and management. I enjoy both of these. It allows design creativity and working in partnership with stellar UIC Study Abroad colleagues who have loads of experience and insight. Then I get to work with new international colleagues from a variety of countries and cultures and I let myself be taught by them. I find a freedom in being open to being taught by my colleagues and refreshing when I am surprised and delighted by opportunities they find for the students to experience during the program.

If you would like a flavor of what my life as a faculty member has been like this year check out my story by clicking on this link

It takes about a year of planning, ongoing communication with different stakeholders, location scouting, relationship building and constant revision and checking to ensure all the necessary and important academic and organizational details are in place. You have to think ahead and anticipate student needs, and you cannot work in a vacuum. You have to be humble and listen to others to scale things back or ramp things up. Student recruitment and interviewing has to be completed and attention to the mix of students and the access and affordability of the program are high priorities. I enjoy these activities, but it is tiring at times especially when you have your regular semester work and admin duties to do.

I learned a lot from the first program I led in Ireland in 2015. Every student taught me something positive I have carried forward to this year’s program in Barcelona. Our project work is different and our content even more integrated with our surroundings. My teaching assistant Arin and I have an improved approach in our preparation phase including time to develop a common approach to mentoring students for their writing assignments. We kept processes that worked for us before like the orientation schedule. It is important for me to have an instructional partner and Arin is superb at helping the students accomplish their tasks and assisting me deliver the program as it is intended. Instructional team work is vital and this year I enlisted three Barcelona based faculty to help deliver content too.

I met the faculty in December 2015 when I scouted Barcelona. They blew me away with their enthusiasm, content knowledge and teaching perspective. It was refreshing and exciting to have on the ground experts engaged with our program. This is a real bonus for us to learn with these educators. The benefits and value of study abroad for faculty leaders seem hard for others to define in scholarly literature. I define the benefits this way, firstly I get to create opportunities for students to engage in the world differently. I can be a college educator with few distractions. I get reconnected with my field and with my favorite research methods and lastly I return more curious and more excited for the next learning opportunity in the regular semester where I can work with students on imaginative and creative projects and begin planning for the next study abroad program. I learn and experience so much by leading the study abroad program that I am invigorated by how much more their is to experience in my field, the world and in the people around me.

Please take a moment to read about this year’s program.