One hundred years ago in July of 1923, eight University of Delaware students embarked on a journey to France. The students studied at various French institutions, attended operas and immersed themselves in the French way of life.
To our modern minds, this trip seems like nothing special. Study abroad programs are offered at nearly every major college and university across the Untied States. At the time, however, this was the only program of its kind—an experiment in American higher education.
The experiment was largely made successful by Professor Raymond W. Kirkbride, an instructor in the modern languages department and a World War I veteran. Despite the circumstances which brought him to France, Kirkbride enjoyed spending time with French people and the parts of their culture he was able to experience.
After the war, many American academics believed it was time to focus on greater understanding between nations. Kirkbride agreed, believing that his students should learn about the world beyond U.S. borders. It was in this spirit he pitched an idea for his students to travel to France for their junior year.
The Junior Year Abroad (JYA) was born, and the program began drawing students from peer institutions including Princeton and Harvard to take part in study abroad trips like the one to France.
In 1939, the start of World War II put a halt to study abroad programming, but not before the University of Delaware had expanded into Germany and Switzerland.
Study Abroad Revitalized
The lapse in programming lingered after WWII. With international tensions high, few institutions were offering study abroad programming. In 1971, the university’s Community Design Commission called the lapse in programming “a paradox…and a rather embarrassing one.” By 1972, University of Delaware revitalized the program.
The University of Delaware program was innovative even after the decades-long lapse. The program served a broader portion of the student population by offering short-term study abroad options. The vast majority of universities at the time were offering only semester-long programs.
The broad reach was wildly successful. In fact, so many UD students signed up for study abroad programs in 1972 that Pan American Airlines painted “Delaware Clipper” on two of its planes.
Since the revitalization of the 1970s, more than 24,000 University of Delaware students have studied abroad. About one in every 10 students in the nation will study abroad. Three in every 10 UD students take advantage of the study abroad programming. The university also works to make study abroad programs more accessible, providing approximately $1 million in scholarships each year.
With a wide range of programs across majors and an international network of faculty to assist students, the program remains exemplary. Design students at University of Delaware have assisted at Paris Fashion Week. Students have hiked through Costa Rica’s tropical forests, interacted with spider monkeys in the Amazon, and participated in various humanitarian projects across the globe.