Wade Watkins (pictured at right), the Dean of Global Education at Northern Oklahoma College, takes some time to share his thoughts on studying abroad with students, “world domination,” and the most effective ways to recruit college students for a short-term, study abroad tour.
Tell us about yourself. What is your teaching background?
I never imagined I would get into teaching. I’m from a small town in southern Oklahoma and went to a large state school. There were more students at my university than people in my hometown and more people in my biology class than high school graduating class, so I sought out internship and study abroad opportunities to “escape.” However, those opportunities became the life-changing catalyst in my life. My experiences abroad in college continue to open doors for me. I think I would have majored in ‘World Domination’ if they would have offered that degree, but instead I created my own major revolving around international relations and trade. When I was 26, I made the career switch from being an international trade consultant to being high school social studies teacher. After a few years, I went to grad school and then started teaching world geography for Northern Oklahoma College. That was six years ago.
What inspired you to begin traveling abroad with students?
Honestly, I inherited my first EF tour in 1997 from a high school teacher colleague who couldn’t go. But, I had been planning on creating a trip ever since the first week of my education career when I was teaching a unit on Europe and was overwhelmed with the idea that if I could “just take them” so they could experience being “there” firsthand, that I could provide my students with the same life-changing opportunity that I had been fortunate to have. Ironically, one of my students from my first EF College Study trip now works as an EF Tour Consultant; love of travel is definitely contagious.
What kind of an effect has EF had on your life?
As a teacher, I believe my passion for the profession is derived from watching my students transition from “bodies at a desk” to life-long lovers of learning. This transformation can definitely occur in a classroom environment, but it happens more effectively and efficiently in an experiential setting like study abroad, without question. I cannot begin to expand on how my students’ lives have been impacted through their EF travel experiences. The skills obtained by a short-term study abroad tour have greatly influenced my students’ personal, academic and professional goals and passions, which in turn keeps me coming back year after year. Many of my former students have jobs that are global in scope or they are at least more marketable because they are more culturally astute and possess a higher degree of self-confidence obtained from travel abroad.
How do you incorporate your EF tours into your curriculum?
I teach World Regional Geography so I show a lot of pictures that incorporate the places I travel into firsthand stories and lessons. Students see their peers in the photos and often that sparks a strong desire to go as well. It’s critical for me to use personal stories and photographs in my classes; it creates a stronger link to the coursework and potentially our short-term study abroad programs as well.
How do you handle all the pre-tour planning? What ways do you keep your participants up-to-date with the latest tour details?
I create flyers and signs and post them around the campus, but presentations in class and word-of-mouth marketing are the recruiting tools I use primarily. I can’t imagine not utilizing the EF website tools and email to stay in contact and provide info to travelers. I also create a Facebook group for each trip and maintain a Global Education site for general information on all programs.
Do you have a favorite memory from tour?
Watching my students interact with locals is always a highlight; I’m not sure who learns more from whom. Seeing your students mature and gain confidence right in front of your eyes is very rewarding to say the least. Oftentimes, I get the opportunity to see my students discussing with each other or locals topics and issues we covered in my class, which is fun to witness as a teacher.
Do you have any good advice for new group leaders?
Pick a trip and start recruiting! My colleague and I laugh about being cheerleaders for study abroad, but the enthusiasm is contagious and it’s the best marketing tool imaginable. You have to mention it frequently in classes; sometimes I have students sign up three-quarters through the semester, after I’ve mentioned the trip more than a dozen times. Be organized and communicate with travelers. Consider having informal meetings at a local coffee shop to fuel the excitement.