Former VMI study abroad director begins first full year at W&L

Cindy Irby hopes developing intercultural awareness will aid students in future careers

Maggie Barker

After 11 years as the Study Abroad Advisor for VMI, Cindy Irby joined W&L’s Center for International Education staff in December 2016.

As part of her role as W&L’s Study Abroad Advisor, Irby helped plan the university’s annual Study Abroad Fair in Leyburn Library on Sept. 21. The event gives students the chance to explore all the programs W&L offers for studying abroad, from a full year of classes, to a 12-week term to shorter, four-week spring term courses.

Before the fair, the Phi sat down with Irby to ask her how she’s settled into her new position at W&L.

Q: What would you say is the biggest difference between VMI study abroad and W&L study abroad?

I think there is more of an interest here. I think students here are very good at kind of making a plan and sticking to it. They’re very good at planning, and studying abroad takes a lot of planning. So for that reason I think that they get through the process better. At VMI, it was a lot more men that studied abroad, and that’s not very common. Study abroad is usually more women.

Q: Do you have any goals for increasing or improving W&L’s study abroad program?

I would love to see every student who wants to go have the opportunity to study abroad, so I’ve been trying to work with some of the department heads to find programs that would fit degree requirements. I’ve also, in the last semester and over the summer, tried to put more information online to make it more accessible to students .

Q: What’s been the most interesting or your      favorite trip that you’ve helped facilitate?

I would have to say my favorite trip so far has been to St. Andrews. I went with the six students that are on the W&L/St. Andrews partnership. We toured Scotland for a week in the Highlands and Edinburgh, then I was with them when they moved into their dorms and registered for classes. It was a lot of fun to see what they were interested in, what they were worried about and just to travel with them.

Q: Why do you think that studying abroad is beneficial for college students?

I think it’s so important to have a global awareness and to understand how other cultures think and perceive issues differently. So by going abroad and seeing how different people do things it makes you more culturally aware. Whether or not you’re going to work internationally, the odds are you’re going to work with an international person someday. So it’s definitely going to be a strength for you after college.

Q: What advice would you give to students when they are deciding where they want to go?

When they’re thinking about where they want to go, I have them think about a couple things. First, academics. Are there courses that they absolutely need to take abroad to keep them on track for graduation? But I also want them to think about their personal goals. Is there a place they’ve always dreamed about living? Or a culture they want to understand better? That really helps them start to narrow down the place.