Alumna’s passion for traveling, learning sparked by study abroad opportunity

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A study-abroad opportunity through the College of Education helped fuel a passion for travel and diverse cultures for one alumna. Claire Joseph, who earned her bachelor of science degree in secondary education, said that her experience in Strasbourg, France, broadened her view of the world and provided perspective for her life.

Joseph, the managing director of administration for Optcapital LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, said her Penn State experience offered a study abroad opportunity that provided enough structure for her to build independence and find success. 

“The program required a number of Penn State courses — art history, political science, literature — that helped students prepare for the experience and develop a wider perspective,” said Joseph. “Once in Strasbourg, the program included classes that built language proficiency and confidence for someone who had not traveled in a foreign country.”

Joseph said that the program offered her a safe base from which to explore all of Europe with a group of students.

“Every weekend,” she said, “we were on the train.”

Joseph said she learned a lot about herself and her country from that study-abroad experience. 

“I was grateful to have seen how others live and grateful to come home to the U.S.,” said Joseph, who added she believes that all young Americans should have an experience abroad to help them appreciate the good things about the U.S. as well as the good things about other countries.

Another educational travel opportunity Joseph took part in was Semester at Sea, where she traveled the world, exploring numerous countries including India, China, Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Sri Lanka.

“Four months at sea, circumnavigating the globe, took me out of my comfort zone, kept me (literally) off balance in rough seas and broadened my horizons,” said Joseph. “The voyage exposed me to people whose lives and lifestyles were vastly different from mine.”

While the ship was moored off the coast of India, Joseph said that the ship’s air conditioning failed, and students and staff slept on the ship’s deck for four nights in the 90-degree heat.

“It seemed fitting after seeing many Indians sleeping on the streets in parts of Mumbai,” she said.

Back in the U.S., with her background in education, Joseph responded to a call for tutors to help an immigrant population that settled in Charlotte.

“The Montagnard are an ethnic minority who have been persecuted for many years in Vietnam,” said Joseph. “I helped them learn to speak English as well as assimilate into our culture and prepare for citizenship. They were eager to become American citizens.”

Joseph said she received even more than she gave as a tutor, including wonderful friendships that have lasted 20 years.

As Joseph considers her next path in life, she believes it will involve tutoring and teaching English as a second language.

“We have so many immigrants who come to this country for a better life, and many of them struggle to find their way,” said Joseph. “I know from experience — both tutoring refugees here and traveling in other countries where I don’t speak the language — that even a little bit of help and kindness means so much in a foreign country. It’s important to me to help others who bring diversity and who contribute so much to our country.”

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Last Updated September 04, 2014