Sitting in an economics class as a business major at Illinois College, Shanon Dickerson wanted to be just about anywhere else in the world. Little did she know that international travel would soon become a massive part of her life and, eventually, her career.
Dickerson switched her major from business to Spanish, and quickly fell in love with the opportunities to explore different cultures and countries. She has now visited nearly 25 countries, and, as the director of study abroad for CAFNR, encourages students to see the world.
“Sitting in that economics class, they definitely weren’t speaking my language,” Dickerson said. “I had taken Spanish since high school, and was continuing to study Spanish in college, so that switch made sense.”
Dickerson’s passion for Spanish came from her grandfather’s cousin, who was in the military and stayed in Spain after marrying a woman from Seville. When her cousins would visit from Spain, Dickerson was impressed with their bilingual abilities.
“I just thought it was really cool and I wanted that,” Dickerson said. “I wanted to learn to speak more than one language. When I got to high school, I chose Spanish because that’s what my cousins spoke.”
While study abroad was not required for Dickerson’s Spanish degree, she felt the need to immerse herself into the culture. She had two options at Illinois College – Spain or Costa Rica.
“There were two options and I went with the one that I could afford, Costa Rica,” Dickerson said. “That turned into a program that I actually went on three times – as an undergrad, a graduate student and a faculty member.”
Dickerson did her graduate work at Northern Illinois University. After earning her master’s degree in Spanish, Dickerson was on the hunt for a job. She considered doing translation work, but her outgoing personality pushed her toward teaching. Dickerson took a job teaching Spanish at her undergrad school, Illinois College.
“I also served as the interim study abroad director, working with the individual who took me on my first study abroad,” Dickerson said. “Everything kind of came full circle.”
Throughout that time, Dickerson also continued to learn. She studied numerous languages, and continues to dive into linguistics.
“My French isn’t as good as it once was. I understand it better than I speak it,” Dickerson said. “I can find water, soda or the bathroom in Japanese. I know a little bit of German and a tiny bit of Chinese. I’ve dabbled in a few others as well.
“I always wanted to learn more about the languages where I was going. As a linguist, I want that challenge.”
After teaching Spanish at Illinois College, Dickerson served on the language faculty and as international advisor for Carl Sandburg College, in Galesburg, Ill., before joining CAFNR. As the director of study abroad for CAFNR, Dickerson oversees 22 programs in 15 countries.
“We work really hard to find places where our students want to go,” Dickerson said. “Their input is so vital to what we do. We can think we have the perfect program planned, but if the students aren’t interested, that study abroad doesn’t fill. We want to always be flexible.”
CAFNR offers winter, spring, summer and semester study abroad opportunities. Winter, spring and some summer programs are faculty-led. Semester-long study abroad programs are not led by faculty – students are full-time international students on those experiences.
“There are so many positives to studying abroad, including making your mark on your resume,” Dickerson said. “Those experiences can really add to your experiences and set you apart when you enter the internship or job fields.”
Dickerson spends a lot of time working with CAFNR faculty on study abroad programs, as well as coordinating with partners overseas. She works closely with the students as well, preparing them for the educational and financial components.
“The price of the opportunity is always a part of the discussion,” Dickerson said. “I encourage our students to seek out financial aid, because you don’t know what’s out there until you research it. You have to go out and ask those questions.”