Since Champlain College opened its abroad campus in Dublin, in 2008, over 700 students have studied with Champlain Abroad in Ireland for a semester. We decided to track some of them down for interviews about their experience in Dublin, and the impact that study abroad has had on their lives.
David J. D’Angelo is a Champlain College alumni from the graduating class of 2012 who has been involved in entrepreneurial projects with companies including Somu Energy, Nanosynth Materials & Sensors, Data Mural, Intellectual Asset Partners, International Rescue Committee, United Nations, US State Department, US Homeland Security, Social Enterprise Greenhouse and Catholic Charities Migration & Refugee Services. Currently he resides in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is the founder of Somu Energy as well as the Entrepreneur in Residence at Intellectual Asset Partners. However, six years ago in the fall of 2010, he was just a third year Criminal Justice major from Ludlow, Massachusetts, arriving in Dublin for his first true abroad experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing David to get some insight on how studying abroad launched him into the successful life he leads today.
Q: What made you decide to go to Dublin? Did the trip live up to that expectation?
A: Early on in my undergraduate years, I felt challenged by the identity discovery process. I was pursuing a major that didn’t feel like the right fit. I was still figuring out who I was and who I aspired to be. And, at the time, I felt like a major change, like studying abroad, might propel me into discovering more about myself and the direction I wanted to take my academics and career. This was a chance to connect the dots. It was a chance to throw myself against the vulnerability of being in a new place, in order to understand more about myself. It was an opportunity to adventure and explore and find my purpose.
A few close friends had already decided to commit to a semester abroad in Dublin. They were the ones who motivated me to seek out the experience in the first place. Without their push, I doubt I would have ever stepped foot into Ireland. And, thank god I did.
Going to Dublin was the best decision I ever made. It helped me feel comfortable when faced with the unfamiliar which later gave me the confidence to do things such as study in Thailand and launch a social venture in Nepal. Dublin was the first step of international exposure that I took, and it has since fueled my desire to see more of the world.
Q: What were some of your apprehensions or ‘Big Unknowns’ before you came abroad?
A: Looking back, I certainly had my apprehensions. I questioned whether I would be ready for the change. I questioned if the change was worth leaving my comfortable routine. There were people in my life that questioned the value of the experience I would have in Dublin. They would confront me and say “but why can’t you do that here in the United States?”. At the time, I couldn’t confidently convey the value, because I had never experienced it for myself. I trusted my intuition, and trusting my intuition ended up paying off in meaningful ways. You never know what it is going to be like until you get there. Now, I make sure that I always go into a new experience with optimism and trust that things are going to work out. And, usually they do.
Q: Was the Dublin experience your first timeabroad? First time away from home? First time apartment living/cooking for yourself? Tell me about some of the ‘firsts’ this trip was for you.
A: I had some previous international experience under my belt, but that international experience was limited to classy 4-star hotels in the Caribbean. I don’t see that as an experience which gives you exposure to the cultural differences that can engender personal change.
My first time away from home was when I went to Champlain College to start my undergraduate program. The freedom, the opportunity to meet new people, the new environment – it was all energizing. I loved this idea that you could enter college with thousands of other people who all were starting with a clean slate, with the opportunity to completely reinvent themselves and not be judged. College was this opportunity to be my authentic self and find and hold onto people who appreciated that authenticity.
Studying in Dublin with Champlain Abroad, in the fall of 2010 was my first time studying abroad. Living internationally was completely different from my experiences at home or at college. It was the first time that I had an apartment and didn’t live on-campus. It was the first time that I had to cook for myself. And, boy, did I fail at that!
This trip was filled with first’s. When a person gets over the initial hurdle of taking a “leap of faith” (in this case, committing to a study abroad), all the other first’s that follow tend to be easier to pursue. You build up a tolerance for risk that helps you culminate experiences that you would not normally seek. That is one of the many special assets that Ireland helped me to develop.
Q: What is a lesson, or lessons, you learned from coming abroad? Do you still see those lessons in your day to day life now?
A: There are so many lessons to take from my experiences abroad. And, I often think that those experiences abroad have transferred over to my life as a young entrepreneur. Take risks. Learn when to say no. Challenge yourself. Never stop learning. Seek to understand. Listen. Laugh. Focus on serving others. Never stray away from the hard things. Hustle. Don’t underestimate yourself. Be spontaneous. Smile. Be nice to everyone, regardless of how they treat you. Always respond with love. Have a purpose. Find something you love. Find people who love you. Substitute the word failure with learning. We all make mistakes. Remember, your response to it is so much more important than the act of mistake. The overarching lesson that stands out most to me at this point of my life is that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time around. Make sure those people inspire you to do good, think big and improve. Whether abroad or at home, that is a lesson which will propel you into progress and happiness.
Q: What is something you’d like to tell a college student considering embarking on a study abroad experience? What is something you’d like to tell a college student about to come home from studying abroad?
A: I remember sitting down with the Founder of Goal Zero in the summer of 2014, before I decided to sell all my possessions and move to Nepal to launch my social venture, Somu Energy, in March 2015. As I talked about the business model of my venture, Robert Workman graciously interrupted me and said “David, If not now, when? If not you, who?”. That compelling statement motivated me into action. If there was once piece of advice that I would give myself or students considering a study abroad, that would be it. Do it now. Don’t make excuses. Believe in yourself. You have what it takes, so make it happen!
For students returning from a study abroad, I would tell them to never stop exploring. Remain curious. Develop local solutions to global problems. Create local awareness for global problems. Maintain that connection to the world outside of Burlington, Vermont or wherever your home may be. Travel. Inspire those around you to travel. Commit yourself to a life of adventure and discovery. Never settle. Dream big. Do what others deem to be impossible.
Q: Do you think the abroad experience made you a different or better person?
A: Living and traveling abroad has been the most meaningful experience of my life. It has helped me understand who I am, it has shaped my perception of the world, it has motivated me to address global development challenges in my line of work. I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for making the decision to study abroad in Ireland in 2010. Living abroad comes with its challenges – you are away from your family and friends, you are subject to new customs and laws, you have to respond against external factors that you are often not accustomed to facing (in my case, it was earthquakes, a supply crisis, corruption, new languages, new diseases). The harder the experiences, the more potential for growth.
Being a global citizen means caring about the world around you. It means committing yourself to making this world a better place. It means feeling a moral responsibility to contributing to the preservation of this earth, to the elimination of disease, and to the eradication of extreme poverty. It’s about recognizing that we are all neighbors, regardless of where you are in the world, and together we can do more remarkable things than if we remain apart. Being a global citizen involves believing that new ideas and small groups of committed people can change the world for the better. The more days I spend on this earth, the more I am inspired by this emerging, global collaboration that seeks to understand and solve the world’s most pressing challenges. Being a global citizen is about recognizing those challenges and doing something about it!
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