College of Sciences International Coordinator

Maureen Crawford Dear College of Science students,

I am thrilled to be your International Coordinator for the College of Sciences.  Why?  There is nothing I am more passionate about than study abroad.  Are you ready for stepping into the unknown?  If so, get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

When I was 20, I was an SDSU student, and studied abroad through CSU International Program in Aix-en-Provence, France.  It turned out to be the most life-altering experience I’ve ever had.  You will likely never get an opportunity like this again… after college life tends to get complicated with mortgages, relationships, children and other obligations.  I’m quite old.  I know these things.  So GO!  Just GO!

But why study abroad?

Open market flowers and vegetables

The open air market – a wonderful ritual, Aix-en-Provence, France.

Your comfort zone will expand which allows you to grow by leaps and bounds.

In a new environment you are deluged with newness.  It can be wonderful, but it’s also strange and a bit uncomfortable, because you’re out of your element.  Over time, there’s a shift that happens in your brain… you reach the point that you’re accustomed to being uncomfortable, and you kind of embrace it.  It’s exciting!  This cannot be learned in a classroom, it has to be experienced.  It’s like being on Survivor…you  have to do things you’ve never done.  You meet most of the challenges (understanding the train timetable – score!), and you laugh about the ones from which you run screaming bloody murder (Dear Lord – that bathroom drain hole thing is just not right!)

You will develop self confidence.

You learn that you are capable of making good decisions on your own.  Equally important, you learn that you don’t burst into flames when you make a bad decision, so there’s no use being paralyzed by fear about possibly making a mistake.  There’s wisdom in the adage “do something every day that scares you.”  Learning you’re made of tough stuff is what builds authentic self confidence. More on this subject is addressed in my article about culture shock and homesickness.   If you would like to read some of the SDSU study abroad blogs and watch the videos made by SDSU students who have returned – you will see an unmistakeable recurring theme – students come back  from studying abroad with more self confidence.

Self reliance helps prepare you for a career.

I didn’t know it when I was in college, but I realize now that in order for growth to occur, it’s absolutely necessary to get uncomfortable and solve problems.  Margie Warrell’s article in Forbes Magazine “Why Getting Comfortable With Discomfort Is Crucial To Success”  talks about Lori Garver, who worked her way up in the male-dominated aerospace industry from an administrative assistant role to the Deputy Director of NASA.  Although she experienced criticism and setbacks,  she never let fear keep her from stepping beyond the confines of her comfort zone and expanding her confidence to try new things, take risks, speak up and act with the courage.  Studying abroad, you will be astounded at how resourceful you will be and the things you can do when it’s up to you to solve problems. My article on why studying abroad gives you an edge in the job market explores this topic more.  And now, a few esoteric lessons learned on the road.

You learn it’s possible to live on very little.

Men sorting laudry at ashram in India

Laundry day at an ashram in Haridwar, India. Photo by Maureen Crawford

When your backpack contains your life, it dawns on you that people in our culture have a lot of “stuff.”  Traveling made me realize that we (like all cultures) are raised with pervasive unspoken rules rules, about beauty, college, behavior, career, money, influence, marriage, owning a home, and cars.  Exposure to other cultures teaches that we do not need to fall mindlessly, lock-step, into any pattern of belief.  There are many other realities out there.  We can question everything.

You learn the kindness of complete strangers can be astounding.

people harvesting bags of tea ;eaves, Darjeeling

Harvesting tea leaves, Darjeeling, India. Photo by Maureen Crawford

I cannot count how many times people have shown me kindness in traveling.   I’ll  tell one little story.   I had been looking forward to visiting the Taj Majal in India my whole life. The three days prior to our arrival in Jaipur, the temperature had soared to over 105 degrees F., and my 16 year old son had contracted food poisoning.  The day we arrived in Jaipur it was an insufferable 112 degrees F.  We had to skip the Taj Majal and stayed in a dark, air conditioned hotel room the whole day.  I was beyond disappointed.  That night we boarded a night train. Besides the heat, my son being sick, and missing the Taj Majal, I had one more issue:  the only train tickets I’d been able to buy for my son and me were located in separate sleeping compartments.  It was just all. too. much.   Once we sat down in our compartment, the kind where the long seats face each other, I put my head in my hands and started to cry.   The 60-something Indian woman sitting across from me said, “Madam, why are you weeping?” in that perfectly enunciated British/Indian accent.  I didn’t look up.  I was embarrassed, and was hoping she would just ignore me and go away.  After about 30 seconds, again she again asked, “Madam, why are you weeping?” Clearly, she wasn’t getting the hint.  I showed her my tickets, and tearfully explained the problem with my son who was ill.   “Madam,” she said to me, “we will take care of you, and God will take care of you.” She huddled up the other passengers in the compartment, rattled off a bunch of fast Hindi,  and about 10 seconds later one of the other passengers picked up his bags and relocated to the other compartment.  Problem solved.  I was dumbfounded. I will never forget that kindness as long as I live.

You learn we share a huge common bond.

Indian couple on motorcycle with baby sandwiched between them

The family vehicle, New Delhi India. See the little baby’s foot and hand? Photo by Maureen Crawford

Meeting masses of people across the world made me start thinking about much alike we all are. Perhaps we are all connected somehow.   We all have love, fear, joy, heartbreak, birth and death.  We are all made up of the the same molecules – mostly hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen.  Since all earthly life evolved on our planet I think it’s possible we all share a bit of the same star dust from the big bang origins of our universe.   People all over the earth, in a way, are my cousins. When I hear of earthquakes in Nepal my heart falls remembering the little uniformed schoolboys circumventing the cow sitting in the middle of road on their way home from school in Kathmandu.  In hearing about the November 2015 attacks in Paris occurred, I remember the evening I spent at Chez Paul, on Rue de Charonne… the waitress who wordlessly slipped me the adorable little ashtray I had admired.  Chez Paul is just down the road from one of the cafes that was shot up on November 13.  It breaks my heart when natural disasters and violence hurt people, especially in the places where I’ve gotten to know some people.

You will make friendships that last a lifetime. 

2 women in pyjamas singing karaoke

Christmas 2014, 37 years later, singing karaoke in pajamas with my dear friends Margaret Martin, right,  and Ivona Xiezopolski – two of the wonderful people I met in France in 1978.


girls in Halloween costumes 1978

Halloween 1978, France. Margaret is in the brown sweater, Ivona is is in the brown vest, and I’m in the Viking horns. This entire group is still friends with each other. Sue Hrychyk (red shirt) was my maid of honor. To the right of Sue is Susan Worsham… I was there when her baby Amber was born.

You eat together, laugh together, commiserate together, go on trips together, tell stories together, get lost together. And the bonds of friendship can last for decades. See photographic evidence.

What is holding you back from study abroad?   

If you are interested in studying abroad, do not let money stand it the way.  If you have financial aid, we can talk about transferring it and I’ll plug you into scholarship opportunities. We can talk about pricey locations and not so pricey locations.    If you’re concerned about delaying your graduation, don’t be – there are programs offered during the summer and winter breaks.  If you’re nervous about transferring credit for sciences course work we’ve got that covered… comprehensive, transferable science coursework is offered in many exchange programs in English, including the Chinese University of Hong Kong, University of Stirling, ScotlandJames Cook University in Australia, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and the University of Leicester in England.

I look forward to helping you launch what will certainly be one of the most exciting experiences of your life!  Are you ready to take the first step?

Maureen Crawford
San Diego State University
College of Sciences
International Programs Coordinator
5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182-1010
Phone: 619 594-1813
Office hours by appointment, GMCS 604 Like me on Facebook and Follow me on Twitter for College of Sciences Study Abroad news!


Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. – Albert Einstein