January 26, 2017
Guin Robinson and Tim Parker (Above) Courtney Rogers’ sisters visited her in Australia during her study abroad semester. The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House are in the background.

January 25, 2017 | Amy Bickers


In January 1970, a dozen Birmingham college students stormed the Bastille.

“It turned out to be a busy intersection,” Lydia Cheney says, 47 years later.

The “revolutionary” act was part of a five-week study abroad trip Ms. Cheney took as an undergraduate at Birmingham-Southern College. In addition to “storming the Bastille,” the group walked from Paris to Versailles to reenact the March on Versailles, a defining moment of the French Revolution.

The trip abroad also proved to be a defining moment in Ms. Cheney’s life.

“The trip changed a lot of lives,” she says. “To this day, seven or eight of the core group of students stay in touch. One student who went on the trip named his child after the history professor who led the group.”

In late 2016, Ms. Cheney gave a gift to UAB to honor that moment in her life and provide support for other students to experience education abroad. Ms. Cheney earned a bachelor's degree in history from Birmingham-Southern College and a master’s degree in health education during her 19 years on the UAB staff. The Lydia C. Cheney Endowed Support Fund for Education Abroad will provide an annual award toward the recipient’s education abroad tuition and fees.

UAB Education Abroad provides opportunities for students to earn college credit through a variety of courses, exchange programs, internships, and service learning with more than 400 programs in 40 countries. Brian Johnson, PhD, director of UAB Education Abroad, says a junior-year semester spent in Australia led him to pursue a master’s and PhD in geography.

When Shannon Blanton, PhD, Dean of UAB Honors College and Professor of International Studies, came to UAB in 2014, she was committed to increasing Study Abroad opportunities for Honors College students. This spring, Dr. Blanton will teach a new honors course on “Socio-economic and Political Change in Contemporary Cuba,” which will include a Spring Break study abroad experience in Cuba.

Gifts such as Ms. Cheney’s provide much-needed support for UAB students who want to expand their education by experiencing the world.

“There are two major concerns that I hear most often,” says Katy Joy Vaughan, a teaching assistant with University Honors Program and an Education Abroad Peer Counselor. “First, students often say that study abroad is too expensive. The truth is that most of our programs are the same or cheaper than a semester at UAB. It’s definitely worth investigating, even if you’re worried about finances. There are scholarships and resources that we’re here to help find.”

In fall 2015, Ms. Vaughan studied abroad in Heredia, Costa Rica, attending Universidad Nacional full-time and taking courses taught entirely in Spanish for four months.

“I came back from my time abroad highly conversational in a new language and with a new worldview,” Ms. Vaughan says. “I learned that I’m self-sufficient even when I’m in a new situation. I learned that I can adapt and learn quickly, which gave me a newfound confidence. I learned Spanish and I learned a lot about myself. I went to learn another language but I came back a completely different person.”

Courtney Rogers, a Neuroscience/Chemistry minor and Science & Technology Honors Program student, went to Perth, Australia, from February to July 2016. She was drawn by the neuroscience program at the University of Australia. Her first flight over was 36 hours long.

She took the opportunity to see as much as she could, spending four days in Sydney, traveling from Melbourne to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road, and spending six days on the Indonesian island of Bali during a school break.

“One thing I never realized was what an impact the U.S. has on the world, how much we’re in the spotlight,” Ms. Rogers says. “I felt like I talked more about U.S. politics in Australia than before I left the U.S. They know every little thing that’s going on over here. I didn’t realize how much we live in our bubble.”

Ms. Rogers says the experience inspired her to plan an additional trip to Southeast Asia, where she plans to backpack for several weeks.

“You can’t really prepare yourself for what it’s like to live in a whole new country. I absolutely loved it. And the research experience offered a different side of what I am doing at UAB.”

Like Ms. Rogers, Ms. Vaughan says study abroad allowed her to see America from the outside looking in.

“I definitely had reverse culture shock when I came back to the U.S.,” she recalls. “The Tico lifestyle in Costa Rica focuses on a pure life as free from stress as possible. I didn’t see how fast-paced and stressful US culture can be until I saw another way of life. Costa Rica definitely taught me not to take anything too seriously.”

While Ms. Rogers and Ms. Vaughan have only recently returned from their trips abroad, it’s likely their experiences will remain vivid in their minds for a lifetime.

“I remember all kind of details from my trip, details that would bore other people,” Ms. Cheney says four decades after her French adventure. “I remember that our flight from New York to Paris was on Icelandic Airlines. It was a propeller plane, not a jet, and my airfare was $185. We stayed on the Rue de Turbigo, a main street there, and the hotel room was $4 a night.”

The memories inspired Ms. Cheney to help make experiences such as hers possible for others.

“How could you ever forget a trip like that?” she says. “Being part of another culture, eating new foods, walking to Versailles. For the twelve of us, this was history coming alive. It was transformational.”

To support Study-Abroad programs: Jennifer Foster, jenfost1@uab.edu; (205) 934-9476.