The first time I arrived in 2006 at St. John’s University’s Rome campus I was an anxious, stuttering undergraduate whose most exotic journey so far was a family minivan trip to Minnesota. Nothing against the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but it was a tame adventure compared to being launched into a city with centuries of impassioned history and a personality to match. Over the course of those ensuing weeks I got lost down ancient cobbled lanes, struggled with my poor imitation of Italian and did my best throughout my first time abroad to become immersed in a city that seemed to swallow and spit out tourists by the busload.
Fast-forward to today and I’ve been back to that same Rome campus numerous times as a student, a graduate research and a professor. I’ve been blessed to not only look upon its famous ancient wonders but also revel in its quiet beating heart away from the tourist lines and souvenir stalls. It’s a city in which I’ve found lasting friendship and a personality that continues to challenge me to find truth in travel. There is not a day that goes by that I do not draw upon the experiences I’ve had abroad and appreciate how much I’ve been transformed from that nervous undergraduate to a more fully realized human being.
St. John’s University has changed as well. Not too long ago, the only location St. John’s University was known for was New York City. Yet, just last year, the university celebrated 30 years of study abroad programs, 20 years in Rome and 10 years in Paris. As a member of this community I know first-hand how valuable our international brand can be. It’s not just slogans we place on pamphlets but a testament to how transformative international education can be. Countless friends, colleagues and former students are living testaments to this power.
Yet, for all our University has accomplished abroad, we as students and faculty must not rest easy on the pillars of Catholic, Vincentian and Metropolitan (as important as those are to our identity) without expanding upon our Global purpose (a pillar that was added to the university’s mission statement in 2015). Building upon the foundation of our international campuses is a key competitive advantage we possess as a university. It provides our students with unique opportunities not found at many other academic institutions. Our campuses in Paris and Rome are year-around operations centrally located in the most desirable parts of those cities and staffed by both administrators and faculty that have poured their passion into those locations over the years.
So what can you do to expand this mission? If you’re a student, don’t listen to the voices that say because of your major or background you can’t experience an international education. Talk to alums from every walk of life that have been to our campuses abroad and have experienced what a life-defining journey it was. Talk to fellow students who can speak to how their time away from New York City gave them confidence they never knew they had and a prospective that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
If you’re a professor, regardless of your department, see ways in which our Global mission might recast the courses you teach. Find ways to utilize the amazing resources St. John’s University provides on our international campuses. If you’ve already taken advantage of these resources and led courses abroad, awesome. Now, revamp that syllabus and find new ways to engage students with on-the-ground projects and innovative approaches to make these global cities your own personal classroom.
We have made impressive strides in the last 30 years in building an international university. Yet, we cannot merely admire what we’ve created without finding new ways of engaging the world. I hope to see you in Rome, Paris or wherever this Global purpose takes you.
Douglas Cantelmo is a Discover New York and Global Passport Professor.