Gold’s passion for study abroad brings him to UW-Madison

The seeds of Dan Gold’s international interests were planted even before he was born, when his parents took a year off to travel around the world.

“I remember hearing about that trip and seeing the pictures,” recalls Gold, who lived in the San Francisco Bay area and Northern Virginia while growing up. “It inspired me to do similar things.”

The experience that brought his passion into full bloom occurred in 1987, when, as a teenager, Gold went on an American Field Service (AFS) exchange program to Finland. Prior to that, his only other international experience had been a two-week family trip to Europe.

“Since my AFS experience in high school, everything I’ve done has been connected to international education,” he says.

His next adventure in international education brings him to Madison, as director of UW–Madison’s International Academic Programs (IAP), the office that runs a majority of the study abroad programs offered on campus. He begins May 1.

Gold comes to UW-Madison from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where, since 2002, he directed Asia programs in the Study Abroad Office and lectured in the Department of Asian Studies.

Dan GoldGold received his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College in East Asian Studies and his master’s from the University of Washington, Jackson School of International Studies in International Studies/China Studies. As an undergraduate, he studied abroad at Fu Jen University, in Taipei, Taiwan, and at Yunnan University, Kunming, China.

Prior to UNC, he served as director of summer programs for the Yale-China Association and as assistant director of Yale-China’s Hong Kong Office prior to that. He also taught English and Mandarin Chinese at the Berlitz Language Center in Virginia, and received an Oberlin Shansi Fellowship to teach English at Yunnan University in Kunming, China.

He has traveled to 48 countries on five continents, including extensive travel throughout Asia and Europe. He met his wife, who did anthropological research on overseas Chinese populations in her native Thailand, while she was teaching in China. In addition to English, he speaks, to varying degrees, Mandarin Chinese, Thai and French.

Among the experiences that he most vividly recalls is meeting his AFS host family in Finland. Since they spoke little English and he spoke no Finnish, the three-hour drive to the family home was awkwardly silent. In bed that first night, he questioned why he had come.

“I’ve never had that fear since,” he says.

His experience fueled his interest in cross-cultural communication, and led to his passion for providing similar experiences to other students.

What gives him the greatest satisfaction, he says, is receiving notes from students, saying something like, “the international experiences you opened up for me have changed my life.” He has received many notes to that effect.

He enjoys connecting students to cross-cultural experiences: “I basically teach them to think about things in a different way.”

Gold regards his strengths as programmatic creativity and logistics. His proudest accomplishments at Chapel Hill include helping to implement UNC’s Undergraduate Joint Degree Program with the National University of Singapore, overseeing approximately a tenfold increase in Asia study abroad participation numbers, and developing the Phillips Ambassadors Program.

The Phillips Ambassadors, the largest endowed study abroad scholarship program at UNC, combines study abroad in Asia for undergraduate students and research abroad for graduate students, with an academic course on campus and outreach service to the greater community. Developing a cohesive course for students from a variety of majors going to different places at different times was most challenging, he says.

Gold has high hopes for the future of study abroad programs at UW–Madison.

“UW has a great reputation for study abroad,” he says. “I want to build on the strengths that exist. I consider myself to be a bridge builder.”

He adds, “I do not view study abroad to be a stand-alone office.”

Current trends in international programming for students are pointing in some exciting directions, according to Gold. This includes the growth of different program content models, such as internships, field research, and service-learning.

Also, he sees an increased emphasis on curricular integration—that is, “creating academic relevance” by making study abroad an integral component within a broad range of academic programs, from languages and humanities to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.

As a bridge builder, he talks about forging connections between study abroad and major campus-wide initiatives and creating international partnerships that lead to linking of academic programs. He also suggests that international partnerships might offer one way of helping to address financial constraints by sharing resources.

Gold stresses the need to break down barriers and make it as easy as possible for students to have international experiences.

“I’m always open to talk with students and parents about these opportunities,” he says.

His message to students is: “Study abroad is one of the best decisions you can make as an undergraduate, regardless of your major. We can find a program that’s right for you.”

He also has a message for parents: “This is going to have a huge impact on your sons’ and daughters’ personal, academic, and professional growth. It’s not a vacation.”

He emphasizes that the top priorities of the study abroad office include the security of students abroad, as well as reducing the barriers to study abroad for students, particularly financial.

Overall, he hopes to spread the understanding that study abroad is “not just a fun add-on,” but something that promotes personal and professional growth and is integral to students’ academic development.

— by Kerry G. Hill