Study abroad director creates connections at home and abroad

Finding a home away from home can be difficult, but for Shanon Dickerson, traveling abroad is as comfortable as working in her office in 2-64 of the Agriculture Building on the MU campus.  

Dickerson describes her primary role as the director of Study Abroad for CAFNR as increasing the visibility of her department and helping students choose the right program for their interests and major. Dickerson spends her days responding to emails, working with faculty to develop new programs and setting up meetings with potential new partners. At the end of the day, what she is actually doing is building connections.

“I would say my favorite part is those connections with students when they return,” Dickerson said. “Seeing that excitement when they come back from really having immersed in that culture and having a true lifechanging experience … that’s exciting.”

That desire for connections began as a 12-year old when her cousins visited from Spain. Dickerson wanted to be able to continue those links between the two families and chose to start studying Spanish in order to become bilingual like her cousins. She continued those studies in college, and when given the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica as an undergraduate at Illinois College, Dickerson took it.

“You kind of fall in love with the first place you go,” she said. “For me, living with a host family, studying Spanish and having full immersion in the language instead of just studying in the classroom really helped me see the impact on my language and communication skills.”

After translating for her thesis, Shanon knew that wasn’t her calling and instead took a position with the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs. That career move acted as a stepping stone on her way to work as the CAFNR Study Abroad director. Working in CAFNR has allowed Dickerson to put some of her original and creative ideas into effect. With her efforts, the study abroad opportunities have increased to 23 programs in 16 countries. Matthew Arri, coordinator for Career Services, said that Dickerson is incredibly intentional, collaborative and passionate about her job, which helps her to accomplish everything she puts her mind to. 

“She always tries to go on site to actually visit the different programs so she can actually experience what we’re sending students to,” Arri said.

Even with her busy schedule, Dickerson always finds time to visit with students to help them feel prepared as they set out on their own journeys of a lifetime.

“ I love that she is so enthusiastic about getting students in study abroad,” said Abby Turner, a CAFNR student. “Her door was always open for my endless questions before my first study abroad. When I got to France, Shanon went above and beyond to make sure I was comfortable and having the best experience possible. Now I volunteer for study abroad recruitment events like International Education Week, Shanon makes the events fun and encourages everyone to stay in touch during their time abroad. I hope to be as caring and committed as she is one day.”

Dickerson changes the lives of her students by understanding that when traveling abroad it’s important to remember that it’s not always about the destination.

“Be opened minded to see what it’s all about,” she said. “And be willing to get lost a little bit — Not  too lost to where I have to come find you — but, you know, if you took a wrong turn and it took you 10 minutes instead of 5 minutes to get home from your class … Maybe you saw something or met someone that was really cool, you know it’s all about the adventure.”