By Betsy Rice
From South Dakota to South Korea: Breanna Helland ‘15 has made foreign travel a priority during each of her four years at USD. Souvenirs from those trips are displayed in her room. Helland will soon depart for South Korea to teach English for the 2015–16 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” -- Henry Miller, American writer
You know who’d second the notion? Breanna Helland, a May 2015 graduate of the University of South Dakota (criminal justice/political science major; Spanish minor).
Growing up on a farm in Frederick, S.D., she says, “I was always interested in travel, but never had the chance.” As a freshman, she embarked on a 10-day USD faculty-led tour to Italy and she’s left her home country every year since—five weeks in Spain, with side-trips to France and Germany, then Turkey and Guatemala.
“You push yourself, stretch yourself when you get out of the classroom,” she says. “I grew in ways I never had before.”
Tim Schorn knows those words to be true. The USD associate professor of international studies has, over the past decade or so, led 14 USD trips abroad, including Turkey, Israel and Palestine— areas from which the news tends to focus on conflict. Visiting those countries offers a broader view. “Students step beyond the television screen and into the lives of regular people going through their regular day,” Schorn says.
“Travel has had a profound impact on how I think about things and see things,” Helland says, especially the 2015 AWOL (USD’s Alternative Week of Off-campus Learning) trip to Guatemala. She and a dozen or so USD students built a home for a local family. “That culture was so different,” she says. “The people clearly have very little and yet they’re so happy and appreciative.
“I eat because I want to eat,” she says, “they eat to sustain themselves. Being there for a week has changed how I buy groceries. I buy food I need, and I try to use it better.”
After participating in AWOL as a student, Tyler Miller ’11 joined Casas for Cristo, which builds houses for families in need. He worked with Helland’s AWOL group and agrees such experiences can be eye-opening. “There’s so much to discover and experience—those life lessons you don’t find in the classroom,” he says. “Most who come here leave thinking the family did more for them.”
Travel definitely expands a person’s worldview, says Nancy Gallagher ’77. “Things are very different in different cultures and it’s all a joy!” she says. It was in 1985 that Gallagher made her first trip out of this country to Brussels, Belgium. Her husband, Tom Gallagher ’76, had been selected to participate in a five-week study program as a guest of the European Union. While his travel expenses and per diem were covered, hers were not. Nevertheless, they made traveling together a priority and extended their trip to the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Czechoslovakia. “We never ate out the whole year before, saving for it,” she says.
That was just the beginning for the couple, who divide their time between Naples, Fla. and Lead, S.D., and continue to travel the world—a learning experience they’re paying forward through their International Opportunity Fund endowment. “As two South Dakota kids who have loved going abroad, we love opening that opportunity to other South Dakota kids,” Nancy says. “We hope others will be interested in funding travel abroad.
“Education takes place in the classroom and as you travel.” Matt Moen, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, which administers the fund, agrees. “Foreign travel widens horizons and that’s the purpose of the university education,” he explains. “It’s a great way of opening the world to our students.”
The real world. “We tell students in class to take off their American hat and view things through the lens of other people. It’s easier to do that abroad,” Schorn explains.
Helland agrees. “It’s getting out and living beyond the textbook and professor,” she says. It’s leaving the familiar for the unknown. “Prior to that first trip to Italy, I was so scared on my way to the airport.
“Coming back, I thought, ‘I’ve got this!’ I was confident.”
That’s exactly what the Gallaghers hope the International Opportunity Fund will accomplish. “It’s a really great education for kids. People in other countries know so much more about the U.S. than we do about them.”
“Foreign travel has been one of the best things about college,” Helland says. “I’ve learned to love the world more.”
And she’s discovered something else. “I love being abroad. I love traveling, but that’s also how I know I want to be here. Travel makes me appreciate the beauty of South Dakota. I want to go away, but I know I’ll come home again.