David Comp on Meaningful Travel, Family, and Working in the Field


For several years now, our good friend David Comp, author of the International Higher Education Consulting Blog and Assistant Provost for Global Education at Columbia College Chicago, has been sporting a GoAbroad.com hat all around the world. We thought it was high time we interviewed David to share his passion for international education with you, our colleagues. Keep reading to hear what David had to say about international higher education, career advice, and the importance of meaningful travel.

Bavarian Alps, Germany, 2014

What drew you to working in international higher education?

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be an exchange student in Rosenheim, Germany twice during high school. These month long exchanges through my high school were transformative experiences for me. I distinctly remember during my first exchange, in the summer after my sophomore year, riding on the bus back from a group day trip to Salzburg, Austria, thinking that the chaperones for my school group had the best job in the world because I was having the best time in my life. Getting paid to help students go on exchange in another country and to live with a host family seemed like and remains a dream job for me! After two summer exchanges during high school, I studied abroad during my undergraduate studies in Valladolid, Spain (met my wife — as we were on the same program) and sought a professional position in the field. I wasn’t successful in my job search at first, and I spent 7 years working in the human services field with juvenile delinquents and troubled and disadvantaged youth, as well as with individuals with developmental disabilities. Once I landed my first position in international education at the University of Chicago, the rest is history!

Great Wall of China, 2013

You have extensive and varied experience in the field — what is your top piece of advice for international educators starting out in their career?

Great question! Just because someone is young and/or new to the field, they shouldn’t think they don’t have anything to contribute or become involved in. It is very important to contribute and become involved in the field as soon as one enters. If you create a resource that you think colleagues in the field will also find valuable, find a way to promote it, and make it available to the entire field. Also, put your name on everything that you create and distribute! Personal branding and name recognition is incredibly important and helps in career advancement in international education. I’m going to sneak in a second piece of advice here but it ties in to my previous point — that is to have an active presence on social media platforms and in particular on Twitter and LinkedIn. Post links to news, events, and research that are pertinent to the field and engage with others. The key words above are to “have an active presence on social media platforms.” Colleagues notice and appreciate who is active on social media and who provides valuable content on these platforms. One should not have a “build it and they will come” mentality when it comes to being on Twitter or having a LinkedIn profile. It takes years to build a social media network and it requires engagement in these spaces beyond one’s full-time job.

Zurich, Switzerland, 2014

In your experience running the International Higher Education Consulting Blog, what topics should international educators be focusing on this year?

I think a major focus for international educators this year should be advocacy — and not just international educators who are based in the United States. Our collective voices need to be heard as we advocate for and against policies that have a direct impact on our field and the students we serve. While I think international educators should always be active in advocacy and policy matters that impact our field, the current climate across the globe makes it even more important. For example, colleagues who work in international education (including those who work in study abroad) should understand and advocate for comprehensive immigration policies that are legal and efficient in terms of international student and scholar mobility to U.S. college and university campuses.

I also think that international educators need to pay attention to and consume the research and scholarship that is being produced. It’s critical that we are well informed on the current state of research findings and mobility trends. Keeping up with the literature in the field is more important than ever for international educators, but it is not an easy task as our administrative loads seem to be on the increase.

Machu Picchu, Peru, 2012

What does meaningful travel mean to you / how would you describe the importance of meaningful travel?

Meaningful travel goes beyond seeing a new city or natural wonder in one’s own local area, their own country or abroad. Seeing new places and having new experiences are most certainly meaningful and important, and visiting the new is something I actively seek for myself and my family. However, meaningful travel goes beyond just seeing new places and having new experiences. It involves learning about other peoples and cultures while visiting new places whether it’s locally or on the other side of the globe.

For example, my family and I live in Chicago and my wife and I recently decided that we want to find a set day of the week (perhaps a Friday night or weekend day) where we take our three children to a different ethnic neighborhood in Chicago and eat at a local restaurant. Our goal is to visit neighborhoods such as Pilsen (Mexican neighborhood), China Town, Korea Town, Devon Avenue (South Asian neighborhood), Avondale (Polish neighborhood), as well as other neighborhoods. For us, these experiences will be meaningful and while we aren’t traveling by air, we are driving to a new part of the city of Chicago for our entire family to see and experience a new place in a meaningful way.

Another example comes from our recent family vacation to Paris. To be sure, going to the top of the Eiffel Tour or strolling through and eating in the Latin Quarter was meaningful travel for our entire family; however, for our children, we wanted and needed more. For the second summer in a row, an inflatable playground was set up in Parc de la Villette which is located well beyond the main tourist areas up in the 19th arrondissement. We chose to spend several hours up at this inflatable playground as we wanted our children to have a break from being tourists and to participate in some child-friendly activity. We also wanted to our children to have a more immersive experience (even if only a few hours) as we were the only non-French people at the playground. Only French was spoken (as it should have been, but was not the case at the main attractions in Paris) and our children had to navigate this reality when ordering food and interacting with other children. This language barrier made my children uncomfortable at times and that is exactly what my wife and I wanted from this experience. My children had a wonderful time at the playground, but the challenges they faced by not speaking French were quite meaningful for them (even if they don’t understand that now), as well as for my wife and I.

David’s kids in Teotihuacan, Mexico in 2014

You’ve been a long time fan of GoAbroad — from your perspective, why are resources like GoAbroad so important?

Resources like GoAbroad are important because they provide information for students to make better and informed choices about which programs abroad best meet their academic and individual interests.

Beyond that, there is a reason why I am a long time fan of GoAbroad. I consider myself to be a student of the field and I pay very close attention to many things and I really like GoAbroad’s model as a company. In the simplest of terms, the GoAbroad team gets it! The GoAbroad team are innovators, collaborators, contributors, entrepreneurs and just really good people! They have an understanding of how to engage with students today and they do so successfully via a variety of social media platforms and a visually appealing and comprehensive website. They are well respected international education leaders and their work advances the field!

Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2015

Thank you David for sharing your wisdom with us! Looking forward to seeing the next photos of your meaningful travels!

Are you an international education professional that would like to be featured on GoAbroad? Get in touch.

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  1. My Thoughts on Meaningful Travel, Family and Working in the Field from my Interview with GoAbroad.com | International Higher Education Consulting - Tuesday, 14 November 2017

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