Editor's Note: This article was updated on 5/3/2021 for clarity. It appears differently here than in the print edition.
After over a year, COVID restrictions are lifting, allowing students to participate in three different study-abroad programs right now: Ecuador, Thailand and England.
For the past 11 years, Director of Off Campus Programs Jeff Miller has overseen hundreds of students traveling abroad to experience life-changing encounters that go beyond location, he said. It was during Miller’s undergraduate education at Taylor that he traveled abroad and his eyes were opened to the realities of the world beyond the borders of the U.S.
“It’s more than a stamp on your passport,” Miller said.
Since being on staff at Taylor, Miller has not stopped traveling, making appearances in Spain, Liberia and Ecuador. He spoke from experience when he said it is difficult to think of a reason not to go on a trip. This may be the only opportunity students have to study abroad for a semester for which they are already paying.
Miller said valuable relationships are made on these trips, which open doors for breaking down cultural barriers. Today, many jobs require working with someone from a different culture, so immersing oneself in another way of life is incredibly beneficial.
While learning the native tongue is a central part of some programs, Miller says the person to person interactions, exchanging smiles and handshakes break through the unfamiliarity to a commonality of each being made in God’s image. Miller desires to help students experience these life-long connections of deep, lasting impact.
This time last year, Interim President Paige Comstock Cunningham, her husband Jay Cunningham and Miller had just settled in Ecuador when they were faced with the reality of COVID-19. Their trip took a turn as they suddenly had to start making plans for precautions back home.
Meanwhile, two students were in Italy a few days into their semester abroad when the program was cancelled. Miller and the Cunninghams provided sanitizing necessities to the students there, since Italy foreshadowed the pattern of supply shortages all across the globe.
Professor of Biology and Director of the Ecuador Program John Moore highlights the Ecuador program with admiration for the country, but most deeply, the people.
Moore’s story starts with Diego, a high school exchange student from Cuenca, Ecuador, who stayed with Moore. During those 11 months, Diego changed Moore’s heart.
“He became our son,” Moore said.
Today, Diego is the head of the hospital in Cuenca with whom the program partners.
The familial aspect is carried on through the homestay families that welcome Taylor students with open arms.
“(It is) the heart thing, a good academic experience and becoming a part of another family,” Moore said.
Faculty and students were willing to go through high measures to ensure their semester was not canceled like Italy and many other programs were last year. Before the departure to Ecuador, students were required to test negative and isolate for ten days. Similar protocol was followed by the other two programs.
Moore realizes it can be difficult to walk away from campus life, but he is confident that the opportunity to study abroad only enhances the Taylor experience.
“God changes hearts,” said Dr. Moore.
All are welcome to apply for these off-campus study abroad programs. As long as locations are deemed safe enough and academics are not compromised, Miller said, Taylor wants to continue sending students abroad for reasons beyond a stamp on a passport.