Hannah Marie Morris, PhD
Chris: Welcome everyone to the Study Abroadcast. I’ve got a very special treat today with Dr. Hannah Marie Morris of hannahmariemorris.com. Dr. Morris, welcome to the Study Abroadcast. How are you doing today?
Dr. Morris: Hi, I’m doing great. Thanks for inviting me.
Chris: Thanks for being here. Dr. Morris has extensive international experience. She probably embodies what study abroad is in terms of the people I’ve found and I’m going to turn it over to her because, as far as this interview goes, more of her and less of me is probably better. She’s got a lot more experience, probably more than most. So Dr. Morris, again, thank you for being here. And, by the way, if you want to learn more about her – and I’ll talk about this at the end of the interview – you can go to her website, hannahmariemorris.com, to learn more about her and what she does. So Dr. Morris, could you maybe start by telling us a little bit about your background and how you got into study abroad.
`Dr. Morris: Yes, of course. I was the child of a third culture kid and my mother loved to travel so I was raised with these amazing stories about living in the Philippines and living in Germany, and I lived on military bases in the continental United States. So I always wanted to go out and see more. Not that we don’t have a beautiful country, but I wanted to see something that was different, have different languages, and so when I was in high school, I signed my family up to host an exchange student. And then I was able to be an exchange student myself, to Cognac, France, while I was in high school and I actually helped plan that trip. There were nine of us together that just made our own thing. We pitched it to our parents and they said sure, go buy flights to France. So since then, I just loved to study abroad. I got involved with our exchange student organization in university right away. Through that, we hosted students and kind of did everything that was non-academic for them. Obviously, the international center would help do the F-1 visas, but we helped them with everything from housing to understanding American culture. We took them to all the football games and the fun parties. Just let them understand what it was like to be a student. I studied abroad then, in Rouen, France, and then Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and by then, if you can’t tell, I was hooked. And so for the past decade, I have been focused on making sure that we open more pathways to more places in the world to more types of students, supporting students of all walks of life, all interests just to make sure that we continue this cross-cultural engagement and education.
Chris: You mentioned the word “hooked” and you’re really lucky, especially so early in your career, or even when you were in school, to find something that you’re so passionate about. And I guess the feather in your cap is that you get to travel. I was listening to Trevor Noah and he said, “You can’t waste your money on travel. You can waste your money on a lot of things, but travel is one thing that you can’t.” So you’ve kind of got the best of both worlds.
Dr. Morris: That’s a funny thing to say because we just are booking flights next month to Addis Ababa which I assumed would be very cheap from Sudan, and it’s not. And I literally said that last night where I was like oooh, are we really wasting money? This is going to be a good experience anyhow. But it was funny that you said that.
Chris: Right. So talk a little bit more about, so you had all this experience, especially in school, and you started in high school. And you evolved through to college and, like we said, you morphed it into a career. Talk to us a little more about hannahmariemorris.com and your consultancy which you’re working on now.
Dr. Morris: Of course. So, I started a non-profit called Intercultural Transitions with a colleague and a great friend of mine, Megan Norton, and she herself was a third culture kid. I want to say she’s probably lived in ten countries at this point, but it’s really hard to keep track with her so let’s just guess it’s that. What we did is we came together and we realized that there are so many students around the world that are continually moving and they’re crossing cultures. But not all universities, not all international schools, not all high schools are prepared to really accept that and help these students with transitioning. I know you were a study abroad student yourself, Chris. You probably had great support at your university that said this is what it’s going to be like. It’s going to be a different culture. And when you got there, they said welcome, here’s this new culture. And so what we do is we work with institutions to help them develop that programming for kind of the non-traditional style study abroad opportunities, or even when it looks like they might be a domestic student but they actually need that study abroad support, or they need that cultural transition support. So that’s what we do. It’s lots of fun. It means a lot of travelling, working with advisors and counselors across the world just to make sure we have people supported.
Chris: Ok, I was reading about it and that really sums it up. So you’re not going to London, England, where they’re probably already set up for things like that. But, for example, I studied abroad in Buenos Aires and the transition for students coming there and studying at those schools is out. Is that right?
Dr. Morris: Yes and no. Actually, I worked in London earlier this year because the thing that we forget is that we only often think about students as study abroad or foreign if they need that passport. So what do you do? Let’s say, Chris, you have a U.S. passport, correct?
Dr. Morris: But let’s say you were born in Japan and raised in Korea your whole life.
Dr. Morris: When you go to the United States, do you think that they would give you any orientation support?
Chris: Probably not.
Dr. Morris: Right, exactly. But you’d probably need it, right, because while English might be your mother tongue – I wouldn’t know – you might need to understand how are classes held in the United State, what is insurance and how do I make sure I’m using it properly, right. There’s all those little things that a lot of students actually fall through the cracks with. So I do help students, obviously, in places all around the world. But the United States and the UK are actually two markets that also are missing students and not always supporting them the way they need to be supported. So it’s really important that everyone kind of steps back and says are we really helping all the students or just the ones that we know to look for.
Chris: Oh, so that’s perfect. You literally probably have an endless amount of places you can go to help set this up. Am I right? I mean there’s always something that can be improved and there’s always transitions that need to be bettered.
Dr. Morris: Exactly, exactly. And I think that’s a really great way to say it because I was just in a meeting a few weeks ago and they’re finding that with the new generation of students coming in, international families are able to potentially come along with their students, right, so for a lot of students you might go to study abroad alone. But what happens when parents come to help with that move-in, right, the way you were moved in your first day of class.
Chris: Exactly, yes.
Dr. Morris: It’s on the university to make sure that they’re culturally sensitive and appropriate to a culture that may have only one child and that might be an important part of that culture, making sure that the parents know what their role is and how they can be supportive. So it’s an industry that’s always evolving. We’re always striving to be better. It’s why I love education.
Chris: Right, and I didn’t say this at the beginning of the interview, but Dr. Morris is actually in The Sudan right now.
Dr. Morris: Yes.
Chris: That’s pretty cool. She’s our first international – I’m in the United States – and she is our first global interview. I hope to have much more of these, but thank you for being the trendsetter here.
Dr. Morris: Happy to help!
Chris: All right, as someone so well versed in the area of international education, we know that only ten percent of students study abroad. What would you tell someone who’s on the bubble about study abroad and they’re just thinking well, no, it’s not worth it. Why should I study abroad? What would you tell a student? What would be your advice?
Dr. Morris: I think a lot of students, when they think of study abroad, they think of that semester in Europe and they say, well, that’s not for me. And what I’d like to remind students is that you can study abroad pretty much anywhere. I tell students: you can’t afford that passport yet, go to Puerto Rico. You’ll still have an intercultural exchange, you’re still getting on that plane, you’re still learning in a different language. You know, you don’t have to go and do what the traditional is. There’s somewhere in the world that you’ve never been where you’re going to learn and experience and gain perspective on yourself and the world around you. So I tell those students, yeah, you’re right, maybe you don’t need to go to that place a lot of your classmates or friends are going. But let’s try to find a place that has everything that you’re interested in and will help you learn more about yourself and the world around you.
Chris: I tell people – and I’ve written about this – it’s infinitely more costly not to go as far as the longevity after you graduate and whether or not you’re going to go to graduate school, or getting a job. It’s more costly to not study abroad than it is, I think, in the long term.
Dr. Morris: Oh absolutely. You probably talk about it all the time, but the skills that you can actively cultivate on a study abroad, skills such as learning how to navigate new environments and new language skills and just being in a diverse group of people who don’t see things the same way you do, are valued by so many companies around the world. I know. I meet in my life, because I live abroad for a lot of it, I meet lot of people who work for corporations or international schools and their stories all started in an educational study abroad, too. So it’s amazing the doors that’ll open and the friends that you’ll have for the rest of your life because you took this chance to open your experiences and open your life.
Chris: I know. Social media has changed so many things so it’s nice to be able to go on your trip and then you meet these people from all walks of life, all over the world. Then you’ve kind of got them and get to check up with them and that’s forever. You’ve made that connection for the rest of your life. That’s really cool and it’s something that students that don’t study abroad don’t get to have. So it’s perfect.
Dr. Morris: We just had this conversation. I was meeting with some people from the government and they were saying how many leaders of foreign countries, and the United States, how many world leaders studied abroad. And how important international education is and that we need to keep promoting this because that’s how they’re able to go and have these summits and meet with people that are different from them, right. Because they’ve been there. They’ve done these international exchanges. Study abroad really does educate the world.
Chris: Well put, Dr. Morris. Study abroad educates the world.
Dr. Morris: By the way, you can all me Hannah. I forgot to tell you that in the beginning.
Chris: All right. Well, very well put, Hannah. Thank you. Now could you share with us maybe an epic travel story or something that you’d tell at a dinner party.
Dr. Morris: Something I tell at a dinner party, but I very rarely tell a group of students that I’m taking abroad because I might disown them if they did this. When I was studying abroad in the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, my friends and I decided, on a whim, to go see Victoria Falls which sounded a lot easier to get to, but it actually included a two-day train, almost being denied a border crossing, having to take multiple buses that broke down, staying a night in Lusaka – I mean everything that you could imagine. We were like a confederacy of dunces. We were not planned at all and we somehow made it. Making it to Victoria Falls, you see this beautiful natural landmark of the world that is revered by the local people to that area. I’d butcher the name if I would say it in it’s local language, but it really is this gorgeous waterfall. And then, of course, we hitchhiked on our way back to Lusaka, somehow got another bus, then got a train, almost got kicked off a train again, made it back into Dar es Salaam. We still joke today that some of those experiences that we had where we didn’t plan it out – you know Zambia is a very safe country – we really were able to experience the kindness of humans, learn that life actually happens whether or not you’re planning it out. So go out and kind of have fun. Go do some of those crazy things. Please don’t do what I did. It was not the smartest, but at the end of the day, it really helped me embrace that the world is nowhere near as scary as people say it is.
Chris: No, it’s not. It’s a fallacy that people think this. That’s another reason why people don’t go. But that story gives the idea that the journey is just as important as the destination, and had everything gone smoothly, you wouldn’t have remembered it as well. Now you’ve got this story to tell so it worked out great.
Dr. Morris: Absolutely, and my mom doesn’t know the whole story yet so sorry, Mom!
Chris: Well, maybe she’ll listen to the podcast and she’ll get educated on the story.
Dr. Morris: She’ll have some questions.
Chris: Moving on, what would be a book recommendation that you could give?
Dr. Morris: I usually give two, and I’ll go through them quickly. I’m just going to start this over – sorry. I usually give two recommendations and they each come from one of my study abroads. The first one was the book, The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova and it’s about travelling through the middle east and Europe through multiple generations, multiple time periods. If you love to travel and you have a sense of adventure, it’s a beautiful story to follow. And then while I was living in Dar es Salaam, I read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. That book just beautifully depicts the disastrous repercussions of colonialism and where arrogance and prejudice can lead, especially when you’re entering a new culture in a new country. I just really appreciated that book because it helped me remember to be humble and to go into a new country or culture and say ok, I’m here to learn, what’s next?
Chris: Right. I’ll have to check those out and I’ll definitely link them with the post. Now, getting into my favorite part of international travel is food. What is your favorite dish from abroad that you can remember and I know that’s kind of a loaded question given everywhere that you;ve been. So feel free to say more than one. And what favorite do you miss from back home? What do you like when you come back home?
Hannah: I had the pleasure of living and working in Chengdu, China, which is the capital of the Sichuan province and that, in my opinion, is the culinary capital of China – by far the best food in the world. People think of Sichuan and think only of spicy, but really you need to think flavorful. We joke that the food of Sichuan dances on your tongue. You have sweet and salty and sour and everything. People might know Kung Pao chicken, this is the real deal. This is real hot, hot. We have a great little restaurant her in Khartoum that I finally found run by people from Chengdu and I’m so excited. So that is what I miss from my travels. And while I am abroad, I very much miss fruits and vegetables native to North America, such as the sweet potato, squashes and all of our colorful berries. You can’t replace those. They don’t travel well and so that is what I miss whenever I think of if. Like now.
Chris: I know. You take for granted when you’re living in these places that you can just walk out and go a block away and get something that you now miss. My thing when I studied abroad in Buenos Aires was empanadas. That’s what they’re known for. I’d just go out and there’s a local shop that sells them and now you can’t get them anywhere.,
Hannah: It’s a little packet of happiness. I love a good empanada. You’ve got to go down to Florida. We have them in Florida now.
Chris: Actually, my dad lives in Florida, so I will keep that in mind. Piggybacking on the food, when you go to a bar, you’d order what?
Hannah: I always go for the local beer. Local beer is what you’ve got to do. One, we know it’s safe to drink. It’s going to be much safer than any water source in a lot of parts of the country. If you can get it cold, that’s even better. And there’s just something great about having a nice cold beer, laughing with some stranger, often when you don’t even share a language. I also always try to encourage students to not drink too much when they’re abroad, especially in a new environment. The nice thing about a local beer is it’s probably going to be on a lower percentage as long as you’re outside of central Europe. So it’s a nice way to stay safe, have a great conversation and still have a refreshing moment.
Chris: I know. It’s interesting, as with food – well, food and drink – how it varies and it’s different in every part of the world, as to the quantity, the time that it takes, everything.
Hannah: Oh absolutely.
Chris: It’s actually part of the experience and you morph into that. You adapt to the culture when you’re there and then when you leave and go back home, or somewhere else, it’s completely different again and you’ve got to go back to what you started with.
Hannah: I always joke that the French ruined my palate for wine because now I have such high expectation after living in France. I was actually just in France last month and I totally understand because you get used to something that tastes so divine and when you don’t have it any more, it will always be missed.
Chris: Right. Good. I want to go out right now and get something and I don’t know what to get. There’s nothing. So I’m kind of jealous of you getting to travel to all these places.
Hannah: Well, you’ll have to book a new flight soon.
Chris: I know. I will. I’m planning on it actually. Finally, what’s a quote you’d like to leave us with.
Hannah: The background or the wallpaper to my computer is a quote this is attributed to Susan Sontag. Now that I say this, I’m not sure if it’s her. I’ll have to actually google that. It says, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.“
Chris: That’s a lot of places to go, too.
Hannah: I’ll keep trying.
Chris: Honestly, if anyone could get there, it’s you. You guys have to get on hannahmariemorris.com. You’ve got to see everywhere she’s been. Ok, that is all I have. Is there anything you’d like to add, or did we pretty much cover everything?
Hannah: No, I think it’s wonderful that you’re starting to highlight how fascinating and accessible study abroad can be, and I hope that you keep finding ways to bring more diverse topics. I know I have a pretty typical story when you think of study abroad and my background, but I hope to keep listening to your stories and hearing who else is going to be coming along.
Chris: Right. Study Abroadcast is really simple, but I think I may have told you the first time we had this conversation, there’s an infinite amount of blogs, travel blogs and people recollecting their adventures of study abroad. But there’s nothing really in the audio format that focuses on it. So I’m really excited about the project. All right, I think that does it. Hannah, thank you very much for being here. You can find out more about Hannah again on hannahmariemorris.com. I’m on social media and I’m on Studyabroadsmarter.com, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat (when I have time) and Instagram. So thank you very much, Hannah, and we will talk to you soon.
Hannah: Sounds good. Have a great day – bye!