An unexpected path to travel, a rewarding destination
By Sophia Harris
Robert O'Neill, 36, fell in love with traveling in high school after a class trip to Spain and France with his Spanish teacher.
Little did he know he would live in Spain after graduating college, and develop a lifelong love for traveling.
Originally he planned to be a history teacher after graduating from Westfield State in 2009 - but a three-year stay in Spain after college “changed the trajectory” of his life, he said.
Once he got the travel bug in high school, he decided to incorporate travel into his life any way he could.
O'Neill said he never saw himself as working in international education.
After working for language and cultural systems at the Ministry of Education in Spain, he said he returned to the United States, with an entirely new idea of what he wanted to be.
O'Neill worked at Westfield State for 10 years as the study abroad coordinator before coming to Framingham State to work as the assistant director of international programs in January.
O'Neill’s love for travel, the time he spent living abroad, and his experience at Westfield State made him a perfect fit for the job at FSU.
Through that career experience, one of the most “rewarding” travel stories to date was when he took students and alumni of Westfield State to Seville Spain in 2016 over spring break, many of whom had never left the county before this experience, he said.
“That whole experience of getting students and alumni involved in study abroad was really great,” he said.
He said he valued the opportunity to bring alumni overseas because students often regret not taking the opportunity for studying abroad.
“Being able to take students who graduated five, 10, 25 years ago was such a great experience,” he said.
His most treasured memory from this trip was when “all the students, even the older guys, [were] learning how to dance flamenco, which was cool,” he said.
He said he enjoys working at the study abroad office for this reason because he can influence students to take adventures like the one which changed his life.
“International education is a really great, amazing job - motivating students to study abroad and enjoy life outside of the classroom,” he said.
Jane Decatur, director of the study abroad office, said O'Neill “comes to FSU with a great deal of knowledge and experience.”
She added, “As someone who lived in Spain for several years, he also understands first-hand the adjustments that students have to make in living in a new country.
“In short, he is a terrific addition to our office and as he gets to know both FSU faculty and students better. He will be an outstanding asset to us all. I know that students will enjoy working with him and getting all their questions answered from someone who has a wealth of knowledge about study abroad,” she said.
O'Neill started at Framingham State on Jan. 9 and said before coming to FSU he already heard “great things from friends and colleagues,” about Framingham State.
He said he came to FSU to build on his career and this was the next step up from Westfield State.
Liz Walker, a senior and a study abroad ambassador who studied abroad at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, said she first heard about FSU study abroad opportunities on her campus tour in high school.
“Anyone who is interested should study abroad. It was fantastic,” she said.
Walker said she learned lessons traveling abroad that she would have never been able to learn otherwise, and thanks to the attentiveness of the study abroad program, she would have never been able to have that experience.
One thing she learned about herself while studying abroad was the unique sense of independence that she gained while being on her own in England.
She said she had to accomplish tasks she has never done before while studying abroad such as booking excursions, cooking every meal, and navigating the city by herself.
O'Neill said he has recently been traveling around New England, visiting all of the little cities and towns that make New England so unique.
He said he hopes to go to Europe this summer for a nine-day trip with a friend.
O'Neill said he wants students to know study abroad opportunities can be affordable, often at the same or a lower price than what a semester costs at FSU.
He added, any major has the opportunity to study abroad.
Walker said she has “nothing but good things to say” about the study abroad office.