Retired UAB staffer creates support fund

Lydia Cheney's study-abroad experience in France was a defining moment in her life. Forty-seven years later, she made a gift to UAB to honor that moment and provide much needed support for students who want to experience education abroad.

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 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 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, Cheney gave a gift to UAB to honor that moment in her life and provide support for other students to experience education abroad. 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. Gifts such as 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, Vaughan studied abroad in Heredia, Costa Rica, attending Universidad Nacional full-time and taking courses taught entirely in Spanish for four months. “Prior to moving to Costa Rica, I had only been on a plane or actually even left the South only once. I went to learn another language, but I came back a completely different person,” she 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. It was impossible to not recognize myself as an outsider, which forced me to consider how other people viewed me. I really learned a lot about how behavior changes meaning from culture to culture.”

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.” Vaughan has only recently returned from their trips abroad, it’s likely experiences will remain vivid in her mind for a lifetime.

Learn more about supporting UAB Education Abroad: Nicky Bennett, project management and engagement specialist, (205) 975-5869, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..