From a young age, Dr. Melissa Hardin’s parents stressed to her and her brother the importance of experiencing the world outside of their own town, state and even country.
Although they had not attended college themselves, Hardin says, “My parents had a strong understanding that higher education and traveling the world were essential ways to prepare us to lead both fulfilling personal and successful professional lives.”
Naturally, Hardin’s parents were also advocates for learning foreign languages. As early as grade school, Hardin and her brother studied Spanish. As time progressed, this led to overseas excursions and even a semester in Spain. In retrospect, Hardin knew that her parents’ appreciation for world travel would fundamentally change the family for the better. “My brother and I are now college educators with extended families that are multicultural, multilingual and transcontinental.”
In the Center for International Programs, Hardin, assistant dean for international studies, applies her transnational knowledge and manages all study abroad advising. She remarks that her primary goal as an instructor is to “encourage students to consider how studying abroad can influence their outlooks.” Above all, she explains, “Returning students report that study abroad pushes them in ways that no other experience can to become more independent. Students not only grow in confidence; they become more humble, more grateful, more adventurous, and more open to others.”
While the opportunity to study abroad is undeniably invaluable, Hardin also understands that it is a major financial investment. Despite full-semester study abroad being covered as part of a student’s tuition, other expenses, such as passports, visas, materials and airfare are not. Because of this, students and their families sometimes face fiscal barriers that can be a deterrent.
To offset some of that burden, Hardin and her husband Juan-Ramón de Arana, an associate professor of modern languages at Ursinus, have become generous benefactors of the college. Both Hardin and de Arana recognize that through charitable support, they, along with others, can help Ursinus to grow funding for student enrichment programming, as well as provide relief and assistance to low-income, first generation and other underrepresented students who wish to take advantage of these opportunities.
Programs like study abroad make up priority two of the Keep the Promise comprehensive campaign, Invest in Student Success. This particular student enrichment opportunity has the ability to shape the course of a student’s life. Globalization is the era in which we live, and by immersing themselves in diverse and new cultures, students can deepen and expand their knowledge of the world. Such experiences are invaluable in providing them with the possibility to reexamine their assumptions about not only themselves but also the broader humanity.
Hardin echoes this sentiment and expands upon it saying, “My students tell me that they emerge from study abroad with a strong sense of curiosity and confidence that leads them to face the future with optimism and wonder. I wish that joy for every student.”