"We are contributing to a conversation about the importance of global travel for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds."
During her senior year at Exeter, Shannon O’Halloran ’01 spent her winter semester in Cuernavaca, Mexico—a trip she wouldn’t have been able to take had it not been part of her regular tuition.The impact of her time abroad provided O’Halloran with the germ of an idea that eventually led to her co-founding The Wandering Scholar, a program designed to provide low-income students with opportunities for global educational travel.
“While the Mexico trip planted the seed, the light bulb came later, when I was a Spanish teacher at a day school outside of New York City,” O’Halloran recalls.“I found myself always making the same basic point: A language comes to life when you immerse yourself through travel. But this begged the obvious question: What would I tell the majority of students all over the country who do not have the financial resources? So the spark that is now The Wandering Scholar was lit.”
Founded in 2010, the program offers students from families of incomes less than $50,000 for a family of four ($60,000 for a larger family) the opportunity to spend four to eight weeks in a foreign country working on their intercultural communication skills, learning more about a topic that they have chosen prior to the trip, and documenting their travel through blog entries and any other media they choose.When they return home, they do a presentation to their home communities to continue practicing their communication skills and to share their international travel experiences.
This final presentation is an integral part of The Wandering Scholar (www.thewanderingscholar.org) experience, O’Halloran says. As participants return home, they can spread the idea of international travel and activism to others.“We envision The Wandering Scholar as a starting point for a lifetime of meaningful engagement with the world,” she explains.“A key lesson we want students to learn is that being a Wandering Scholar is a way to approach every new situation with an eye toward what can you do to prepare yourself, what can you learn from it, and how can you take those experiences and learning and communicate them in a meaningful way with others. The point being, should [the students] never travel internationally again, they will still be able to approach each new, challenging experience as an opportunity for discovery and growth, even when it’s taking place outside of a traditional classroom context.”
O’Halloran’s career has been rooted in education, both in and out of the classroom, since she received her B.S. from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. In addition to teaching at independent schools, she has worked with adult learners, led service-learning trips in Costa Rica, and recently completed her master’s degree in education at Boston University. Currently working at General Assembly, an educational startup, O’Halloran notes that building her own venture has been as much of a learning experience as the scholars’ experiences overseas.
“Co-founder Tamara Walker and I started The Wandering Scholar in our ‘spare time’ with very few resources,” O’Halloran says.“And at the end of the day, some important lessons have been learned from having to balance multiple priorities: I’ve learned that there is a lot more time in a day, in a week, than you realize, especially once you kick the TV to the curb. I’ve learned that I can do it—build a site, recruit a board, host a webinar—myself. And I’ve learned when to admit when I can’t. Most importantly, I’ve learned that a new venture does not have to take off and be fully funded immediately to be meaningful.
“Of course, we would much rather be working with 500 percent more students every summer, and we can only do this with more...support...from people who value our mission, but this does not mean our current approach is not valuable.We are contributing to a conversation about the importance of global travel for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, we are showing students that there are opportunities out there to make their dream a possibility, and hopefully we are inspiring other people to start something good.”
—Susannah Clark ’84