#StudyAbroadBecause it will make you a better person

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Steve Moraco believes students should get to travel the world instead of sitting in lecture halls and going into debt. He founded the Abroad Academy to support, encourage, and inform students who want to travel. It works by equipping students with the skills, mindset, and resources they need to receive scholarships, garner social support, and practice persistence as they work toward their goals.

He is chair of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Member Interest Group (MIG) in the Association for International Educators, NAFSA.

Steve loves finding ways to support fellow educators, artists, developers, and entrepreneurs. He’s is based in Southern Colorado where he helps organize and promote the startup/tech community through COSIT.co. He spends his time taking pictures, figuring out how things work, traveling, writing, and meeting people. You can learn more about him at SteveMoraco.com or on LinkedIn.

Steve Moraco of the Abroad Academy: #StudyAbroadBecause it will make you a better person

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
I went to The Savannah College of Art and Design. For some set of reasons (none of which I understand, even to this day) they have campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, France, and Hong Kong. What a list, right? 

I just decided freshman year that if those were the options, instead of picking between them, I'd say “all of the above!” This strategy has served me really well in life in general, but in this case in particular it resulted in two of the most awesome summers of my life! I spent Summer 2011 in France after my Freshman year and then Summer 2013 in Hong Kong, where I moved out and lived for my first few months after college!
Steve Moraco of the Abroad Academy: #StudyAbroadBecause it will make you a better person

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?
My experience was as eye opening as anything can be at 19 and 21. I felt so much more a part of the world as a result of getting to compare different cultures to my own up close and in person. I realize now that I probably could have done even more to get involved in the local community in each place I studied abroad, but even though I stayed relatively shy and talked mostly just to other English speakers while I was abroad, I'm still amazed at how much even that challenged and opened my world view.

My favorite memory is biking through the hills of southern France on moonlit nights. Our program had bikes we could borrow and ride anywhere at any time, and taking a bike out in the middle of the night to explore a place so foreign to me had this awesome feeling of freedom that really sat well with 19 year old me.

As far as challenges I got to “observe,” the first thing that comes to mind is the enthusiasm US kids have for drinking when they find themselves overseas. I don't drink, so I saw the experiences of my peers play out in full glory. It wasn't ever a disaster per se, but it certainly came close a few nights. I've heard many abroad programs seem to flirt with disaster on a semi-regular basis because of our culture's attitudes about alcohol :P
Steve Moraco of the Abroad Academy: #StudyAbroadBecause it will make you a better person

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?
Obviously I changed a great deal during my time abroad, but I'm not sure if that was a function of college in general or travel specifically. I also feel like this gets answered the same way often, so I'm happy to have a slightly contrarian answer for you that readers might find interesting:

I feel like more than traveling itself, the process of applying to go, making the logistics work, and meeting people who were at very different points in their lives caused me to grow most.

I applied to go to France my freshman year and was discouraged pretty heavily before even applying - but in spite of the advice from administrators, my friends and family insisted “why not?” Following through paid off big time. I was the only freshman on the entire program, and making friends with 21-35 year olds at 19 gave me perspective and insight that really helped me grow during the following years, and is still an amazing blessing to this day!

When I tried to spend my last semester at school in Hong Kong, I needed to graduate early to make it happen (so I didn't have to fly back home just to walk across a stage). 

I tell this story all the time because it happens the same way to most people who try to study abroad: I got told no. Point blank from my advisor: “I will not help you, I think this is a bad idea, you should focus on graduating, not on traveling.” But again, supportive friends and family came through, turned me around and kicked me in the butt by telling me to try again. I ended up doing a bit more paperwork and sending a lot more emails to coordinate the details, but in the end I got to go and my 6 months in Hong Kong had easily as much impact on me as a person as the entirety of the rest of my college career. I'm so thankful I was able to pull it off.

Now I realize in hindsight that universities have a lot invested in keeping their graduation numbers high, so maybe in that sense my advisor's discouragement makes sense. That said, insisting that students stay home “focus on graduating” even when the data shows that traveling in school increases success and retention rates is just short sighted. Inefficiencies like this in advising offices are function of schools applying an already troubling policy too broadly, and unfortunately they're really, really common.
Steve Moraco of the Abroad Academy: #StudyAbroadBecause it will make you a better person

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? 
Yes! The above difficulties inspired me to help other students who are in the same bind I was - I've learned since then that it's really common for students to get discouraged for largely the wrong reasons. Students who would greatly benefit from traveling while in school get advised not to by parents or administrators who genuinely think they're doing what's best for students.

I realize I'm very lucky to have had the support I did from friends and family, and so my work since college has been an effort to institutionalize the kind of support I got so that even people who don't have the same level of social support I did still get a second chance after they get told no.

My favorite quote about my work since I got involved in higher education is from Mark Shay, the original owner of StudyAbroad.com - he said, “What I think the Abroad Academy taps is the persistence that is really needed to study abroad. Early on, we (as a field) tease students that study abroad is going to happen and then we proceed to make it nearly impossible. 95% of students fail to study abroad.”

I now run the company Mark was talking about in that quote, called The Abroad Academy. It's an online course that informs, inspires, encourages, and supports students get scholarships and garner help from their friends and family to study abroad. 

My mission since my experience in Hong Kong has been to equip students with the tools, perspective, and resources to handle moments when they get told no in the best way they can - hopefully a way that results in them getting to study/intern/volunteer/or work abroad if they might have otherwise given up!
Steve Moraco of the Abroad Academy: #StudyAbroadBecause it will make you a better person

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad? 
Don't give up. You're not stupid, and you're not wrong. It's easy to doubt yourself, but it's worth trying again. It's not impossible, and you absolutely can afford it. 

Let's look at the fundamentals. There are only two questions that really make this decision for most students: “What does it really cost?” and “Who knows best?”

What does it really cost?
School outside the US is often cheaper (if not free). Living costs are lower in most places in the world than they are even in small towns in the US. If you look at the fundamental costs alone, you should save enough money living oversees to cover the difference of your plane ticket.

Obviously, if you'd like support from a program provider or sister university to your school, administrative overhead adds to the fundamental cost of your overseas education, but it's important to realize there are ways to make it work in every situation, for every budget - because fundamentally leaving the US for school is cheaper than staying here.

Who is best equipped to make the decision?
If you're toward the end of high school or in college, you should be more well equipped than anyone around you to make decisions about your own life. Obviously each situation is different, so general advice about whether or not “you should study abroad” should be taken with a grain of salt, whether it comes from some website, or even from your advisors or parents!

If you think studying abroad is a smart idea for you and you've done your research, you're probably right. Now all you have to do is fight for it.

If you haven't done your research yet, or you don't know how to try again if you've been told no, that's why I founded The Abroad Academy.
Steve Moraco of the Abroad Academy: #StudyAbroadBecause it will make you a better person

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity? 
It absolutely has. Nothing will make you a world citizen who cares about the success of all humans on planet earth more than studying abroad. International experience connects you to people who are different from you in a beautiful way.
Steve Moraco of the Abroad Academy: #StudyAbroadBecause it will make you a better person

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
Just general encouragement: Whatever you choose to do in life, do it by reasoning from first principles, and when you have determined what the right way forward is, be willing to fight for it.

That applies to studying abroad, running a study abroad office, building your own business, or running a blog. If what you're doing matters (and you should be confident that it does) even when you doubt yourself, you should keep trying.

Most people fail not because they have bad ideas, not enough resources, or didn't succeed at something they tried. Most people fail because they give up. So pick something worth doing and keep at it until you succeed.

If you know your mission is important, that foundation will give you the strength and stamina to pull it off.
Steve Moraco of the Abroad Academy: #StudyAbroadBecause it will make you a better person

#StudyAbroadBecause it will be a blast, but also because it will make the lives of your friends and family better! Because you will have seen such variety and have gained a new perspective from which to see life, you will be more empathetic, kinder, more forgiving and generous, and more likely to show up in a meaningful way when people in your life need you. 

#StudyAbroadBecause it will make you a better person. 



All photos courtesy and copyright Steve Moraco