Surf – Travel – Learn: Study abroad with a McDaniel Alum and Surf Tourism Doctor

Studying abroad might not change ‘the world,’ but it might very well change yours. I know it changed mine. I believe for the better.

To be candid, when I was a student at McDaniel I got off to a pretty rocky start. I was a student athlete that was a bit more concerned about where the next party was going to be and whether or not it would have an ice luge than my studies. I found myself in a fair bit of trouble for that worldview. A few alcohol citations and a campus safety write-up for using the open third floor window at McDaniel Hall as a toilet had me in the Dean’s office yet again, down to my last strike.

It seemed like every weekend was the same party with the same people and I was just over it. I thought about transferring, I thought about dropping out, but then an older teammate from my soccer team told me about an amazing experience he had during Dr. Smith’s Fishing and Diving and Belize Jan term course. I relaxed a bit, decided not to do anything drastic, and enrolled because I thought it presented an opportunity to have some fun in a new environment and I desperately needed a change in scenery. I had never traveled outside of the country before this trip, but it was time and I was ready despite not having much encouragement from home. Though I went into the trip looking to party on the beaches of Belize, I ended up getting inspired in a way that set my life off in a new direction and with a new purpose.

Although the course was only two-weeks long, some really abstract concepts clicked for me while interacting with Belizean school children, locals and tourism providers. Suddenly, international development made sense, sustainability became relevant, global and local became inseparable, culture mattered. I grew curious specifically about how tourism was impacting the lives of the local people and whether or not they were better off or not because we were there dancing, fishing, and diving in their country – a simple question that still plagues me everywhere I go. The day I returned from this trip I decided to apply to study abroad for a full semester in Australia and began writing my economic these on sustainable tourism for Dr. Olsh.

Not to yada, yada too many of the details, but in Australia I got full on addicted to surfing. When I arrived there was a cyclone happening offshore and I saw real surfing for the first time and I vowed to learn whatever it would take to join those crazy Aussies out there on the next swell. All I wanted to do was go to class, get waves, and rest in between. The parties happened, but they were a healthy aside, rather than the focal point. I returned to McDaniel after this semester in OZ and the same dean that told me I was down to one strike called me into his office to tell me that the improvement in my behavior noticeable and he could tell that I had matured and would do great things in the world.

All of this combined to set me on track towards a Master’s degree and a Ph.D. During both of these pursuits I study studied and wrote about sustainable surf tourism specifically and received grants to conduct research in India, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama. I now work at the world’s only center for surf research at San Diego State University and I have begun my own study abroad company called SeaState, which combines everything I love into a challenging and rewarding entrepreneurial endeavor.

SeaState runs short-term study abroad programs which use learning to surf and being immersed in remote coastal communities as a lens for exploring 3 credit course topics in either Sustainable Tourism or Creative Nonfiction writing. I would love nothing more than to engage with McDaniel students in one of our future programs (insert all the “you will have the best time of your life” and all that other marketing mumbo jumbo). Even if our programs are not the best fit for you, get out there and do something that excites you. Doors will open, if you are open to them and have some courage.

To close, when I was a student there were a bunch of reasons not to study abroad; my coach didn’t want me to, my girlfriend was pissed, my parents thought it was crazy, and I was scared. Come to find out in reality, though all those excuses seemed important at the time, none of those reasons were worth missing my chance to find direction in life and the passion I now exert into everything I do and I am forever grateful to McDaniel faculty for their encouragement and support.

I offer this tale as evidence for the ability of study abroad to change one’s world completely. Let’s face it, you know what is going to happen if you stay put. If you step out there into the world off of the Hill, who knows what will happen?