“Take smart risks and get out of your comfort zone.” – Dan Colleran 🦘

Dan Colleran has been a study abroad advisor for 23 years and I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off the podcast. Dan talks about the path he took to become an advisor, tells stories of his travels, and gives advice to students who are considering a journey of their own.

As we get into the interview, Dan actually touches on a lot of the topics we have been blogging about, like the psychology of studying abroad and justifying it. Other notes: Italy has the best coffee, Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer, and Greek weddings are a hoot.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” – Mark Twain

Dan’s book recommendations

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Open Veins of Latin America – (good one if you’re heading to South America)

Full Interview Transcript

Chris Carlton: All right. Hello ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Study Abroadcast. I am here with Dan Colleran and he is a study abroad advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, which is my alma mater. And we are going to get into some study abroad stories, tactics, and tips, whatever we can do to help foster you on your journey.

Dan, thank you very much for being here. I really appreciate it. And why don’t you start off by giving us a little background and telling us how you got to where you are right now?

Dan Colleran: I did all of my academic work at the UW Wisconsin-Madison. I received a Master’s of Fine Arts degree. My background is painting, originally.

Chris Carlton: No way. Wow!

Dan Colleran: And then I went back and got a second undergrad degree in history. While I was in Madison I had a gap year and a half between my undergrad and grad work, and I traveled all over Europe during that time for a full year of travel.

And I utilized one of the offices in Madison. Madison at the time had five different study abroad offices. So I had utilized one to get information on travel there. I went to visit many of my friends that were studying abroad at the time. And then I came back, started grad school. I had gone to Guatemala for six weeks.

Chris Carlton: So you went to Europe for a year, got back, and then went to Guatemala?

Dan Colleran: Not only that, I went to Europe for a year, so I had that gap period for a year and a half. So I went there for one year, then worked like a dog for a month, and then actually went back again for two more months.

Chris Carlton: Wow! What did you do while you were there?

Dan Colleran: Bummed around, basically. I was on a $15 a day budget back in the 1980s. Get by on just that much. I hitchhiked and stayed in hostels, or at friends’ houses. I loved it so much, that’s why I had to go back. But then when I started grad school, I wanted to travel other places. So I had gone to Guatemala for six weeks.

Then a student position opened up in that office that I had consulted with. So I took on a role as a student worker there while I was in grad school. Then I continued traveling throughout grad school. I went back to Europe several more times. I went to Guatemala again. And then when I finished with my master’s degree, a full-time position opened up there in the office, so I said, “Okay, I might try it.”

Chris Carlton: Yeah

Dan Colleran: So I applied and then I got the position. And I stayed there for 17 years as the assistant director. So then long story short, Madison consolidated its offices, they closed ours and then they were down to four offices.

Chris Carlton: Wow!

Dan Colleran: So I then looked for another job. I wanted to stay in the field, I decided, so I found the job here at Whitewater. And I’m doing similar things in Madison that I’m doing here now. And I’ve been to Whitewater now for six and half years. So that’s how I ended up in Whitewater.

Chris Carlton: It’s a good place, isn’t it?

Dan Colleran: What I do here specifically is I coordinate faculty-led international programs. Those are classes they take here at Whitewater and then they travel with the whole class to the country they studied for a couple of weeks. And then I do some advising on long-term programs as well, but that’s mainly what my colleague handles.

Chris Carlton: All right, so just a few spitball questions off that, going back to your Europe trips, right? You’ve spent a lot of time there.

Dan Colleran: Yes.

Chris Carlton: Let me ask you something. What was your favorite country while you were there, and on the flip side of the coin, what was your least favorite country?

Dan Colleran: I don’t have favorites or least favorites. I like all countries for a variety of reasons.

Chris Carlton: That’s a good answer from a study abroad advisor.

Dan Colleran: So, one place I stayed at for a substantial period of time was I spent three months in the city of Bologna, and that’s in Italy. So I got to know Italian culture, especially the Tuscany area that it is.

Chris Carlton: Sure.

Dan Colleran: So Italy, by region the culture changes quite a bit, so I was in that kind of an area, so I learned quite a bit about the Tuscan culture of Italy. I had spent another three months in Athens. And then I traveled quite a bit around Crete while I was in Greece, so I spent three months Athens, and then I traveled around different Islands.

So I got to know Greek culture very well. And I loved both, Italian and Greek. They are different, but I really did like them both. I had gone all over Europe. I can tell you, for me, probably the more challenging part was, at the time, Germany was split into East Germany and West Germany. So, there was a communist part and a non-communist part.

And it was a challenge when I went to the eastern part of Berlin actually to just follow all the rules the communists had there. That was my biggest challenge.

Chris Carlton: So, when it was the East and West Germany and not only Germany but Europe, you could go over, right? I mean, how did that work?

Dan Colleran: Well, it was more complicated. You could only go to East Berlin. So, Berlin was a city in the middle of Eastern Germany. The Western part was the free part of Berlin, even though it’s still in the middle of Eastern Germany. To get to the other side of town, the eastern part, Americans could only go there for 12 hours.

Chris Carlton: Wow! Really? So, how would they time it?

Dan Colleran: When they stamp your passport, everyone has to be back by midnight.

Chris Carlton: And if you’re not back, what? You can’t come back?

Dan Colleran: Then you get arrested. So following those rules was a challenge

Chris Carlton: God, I can’t think of a better background for a study abroad advisor, especially as distinguished as you. You definitely are qualified to be here. Currently, so right now, is there anything that you’re sinking your teeth into here at Whitewater? Is there anything that you’re trying to innovate or anything that you’re working on or pushing?

Dan Colleran: Well, as the advisors we are, we don’t have too much time to be working so much outside the box. It’s a matter of trying to just keep up with the load that we already have. So, it’s basically trying to follow best practices and make our programs as solid as possible academically and safe to do and culturally essential.

Chris Carlton: And from what we talked about earlier, it sounds like you’re excelling at that. Talk about the 3%. What is that?

Dan Colleran: Our numbers have increased and the program seemed to be more academic.

Chris Carlton: Right. So 3% of the students at Whitewater are studying abroad, whereas the national average is about 1%, which is good.

Dan Colleran: We’re still pretty low on the UW system side. A lot of schools are at around 10%. Madison is at 10%.

Chris Carlton: Oh, wow.

Dan Colleran: So we have ways to go. We’re still working on our numbers this year, but we might have almost doubled that.

Chris Carlton: Wow.

Dan Colleran: So, we might have as many as about 600 in the past year.

Chris Carlton: So let me ask you something. A big deal I think with kids today and students is affording, affording to study abroad, right? So, there are resources online. What advice would you give to someone that wants to go that can’t go without scholarships, needs grants, is trying to scrap their way in there? What advice would you give from just your expertise and your opinion that you maybe couldn’t find on a blog or a website? What would you tell someone?

Dan Colleran: Well, I don’t buy the excuse that money is an issue because there’s programs out there where you could actually almost be paying less than what you pay at your university. Wherever you go, even if you stay at your home university, you do have to still eat, so some costs are involved with food. Wherever you go, including your home university, you have to find a place to live, so you have housing cost.

You’ll have housing cost while you go abroad as well. So those are similar costs. Tuition or a program fee is something you pay even if you stay at your home university, so you have that. So, some of the outside costs are going to be costs of living and an airplane ticket.

Chris Carlton: Yeah.

Dan Colleran: So, if you’re worried about cost, you probably shouldn’t think about going to Australia because the airplane ticket will cost you $2,500. If you go somewhere like Costa Rica, you will pay $475 for your airplane ticket, about the same price you pay to go to Portland, Oregon, from Chicago. The standard of living in Costa Rica, for example, would be a lot less than the standard of living here in Wisconsin. So, you’d probably save money on food costs.

So, there’s ways to do it where it’s not going to cost so much more. If it does cost more, there are grants and scholarships available through our university here at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. So I imagine other universities have grants and scholarships as well. There is a national one that’s fairly well-known for students who have received a Pell Grant, and they can get up to 5,000 for study abroad experiences.

How long are you going to go? If you go for a whole year, you’re going to spend a lot more money than if you go for two weeks. So you can do study abroad experiences for two weeks. So, there’s multiple ways to find a program within your budget. Beyond the budget, you also have to look at the investment you’re making into your academic plan. You’ve invested money to already go to university and you’re paying money for tuition, et cetera.

We’re asking you to further your investment in your education by adding a little bit more money into it and maybe getting some more results. So, if you have an international academic component on your resume, hopefully, that will make your resume percolate to the top when you’re applying for jobs as oppose to those that have absolutely no international experience on their resume.

Chris Carlton: Sure.

Dan Colleran: Employers are looking for that for a variety of reasons. It shows that you can rise to a challenge. You challenge yourself by trying something different. It shows that you might be able to communicate and work with diverse groups of people. It shows that you probably have some problem-solving skills, things of that nature. So, there’s ways employers can look at your study abroad experience in a way that might help them further you as an applicant.

Chris Carlton: Sure. Yeah. I’ve written about this. Go to Canada for two weeks in the summer and then you can say you studied abroad. I’d much rather have you go somewhere for a semester a year ideally, but don’t just not go. You’ve got to get it on the resume. There’s no excuse really. You’ve got to do something to get out there.

Dan Colleran: So, essentially, when people ask about the cost, I tell them it’s priceless. It’s a priceless experience.

Chris Carlton: There’s no price to what you got.

Dan Colleran: Well worth the cost and if you don’t go, that’ll probably be your biggest regret in college, that you didn’t go.

Chris Carlton: Right. I couldn’t agree with you more. Next, out of your travels, extensive as we now know they are, could you share a funny travel story or experience? Maybe something you’d tell at a dinner party.

Dan Colleran: A funny travel experience. I’ll have to think about that one.

Chris Carlton: Maybe we’ll come back to it at the end. All right. And then as far as we talked about your current, day-to-day and what goes on here at Whitewater, is there anything maybe in the future that you’d want to do? I know you guys get to take trips, if you want to.

Dan Colleran: Get to take trips?

Chris Carlton: Well, don’t abroad advisors go?

Dan Colleran: We’re under a very tight budget constraints here at the university. So, there’s not a whole lot of room for extra professional development at this time.

Chris Carlton: Did it used to be different?

Dan Colleran: Maybe once we get rid of the governor we have to get a new one, we might have some.

Chris Carlton: All right. And so, I’ve got a few rapid fire questions here. Are you ready? One book that I would recommend would be?

Dan Colleran: So, a book I would recommend? There’s a couple. I would recommend Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. That was a book I enjoyed bringing on my travels because people would see it and then we would get into conversations about the Native American Indian population and issues related to that in the United States. People abroad, they’re very curious about it.

Another book I would recommend, Open Veins of Latin America. And you learn a lot about Latin America, the history, the colonialism involved in Latin America and how that affects it to this day.

Chris Carlton: Wow! Well, thank you. Moving on. And where are you from?

Dan Colleran: USA.

Chris Carlton: What’s your favorite dish from back home?

Dan Colleran: Cheese broccoli soup. There’s not much food in the USA that’s good, so.

Chris Carlton: All right. And your favorite dish abroad, where and what would it be?

Dan Colleran: Well, I have a lot of favorite dishes abroad. There’s a couple I’ll mention. So I had mentioned Greece and Italy. So in Italy, I learned coffee. They have the best coffee there. It’s impossible to replicate it here. They claim it’s the water and now I’m starting to believe them because I keep trying.

So when I went to Italy, I was introduced to the stovetop espresso maker – a very simple machine. You don’t plug it in. You just put it on top of your stove. As soon as I came back, I bought one and I’ve been using it ever since. It’s the only way I make coffee now, is with my own stovetop espresso maker.

Chris Carlton: Interesting.

Dan Colleran: And even though I can’t replicate the delicious taste of the coffee there, I get pretty close.

Chris Carlton: Right.

Dan Colleran: So that is one of my favorite beverages from abroad. It’s the coffee of Italy.

Chris Carlton: I’ll tell you what, I know. I used to live in LA and there are bagel places because a lot of people from New York live in LA and there are bagel places that fly in water from New York to make their bagels with the water. So, maybe you have something there flying in water all the way from Italy to make that Italian coffee, huh?

Dan Colleran: Oh, yeah. And so, a Greek dish that I just love, even to this day I crave it all the time, is Tzatziki, which is a Greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic, maybe a little bit of lime and salt and pepper or something like that. But it’s absolutely delicious. Hard to get the same quality Tzatziki here as you can get there.

Chris Carlton: That a fact, yeah, because I love Tzatziki too. And if I’m going to somewhere that has it, I’ll order it 9 times out of 10. And, yeah, you can tell the good between the bad, and I haven’t been to Greece since I was a little kid, so I’d love to try it again. Walk into the bar, what are you going to order?

Dan Colleran: Walk into a bar, I always order a local beer.

Chris Carlton: Like microbrew kind of thing?

Dan Colleran: Well, it depends. Some countries don’t really have that many microbrews. They may have a national beer that’s their beer. So, it depends.

Chris Carlton: If you could have dinner with one person, who would it be? And we’re going to go living because maybe this podcast will climb all the way to the top of Reddit or some other venue and they’ll hear about it and they’ll call you and say, “Hey, Dan, I heard you wanted to have dinner with me. I was wondering if the offer was still on the table.”

Dan Colleran: Let’s pick Jimmy Carter. He’s still alive.

Chris Carlton: Sure. Yeah. I like that.

Dan Colleran: Do you need to know why?

Chris Carlton: That was going to be my next. Yes, why Jimmy Carter?

Dan Colleran: Well, he’s old, so he probably has a lot that he could talk about – a very interesting life, a modest peanut farmer, to governor of Georgia, to the President of the United States. And he does a very wonderful philanthropy work through the Carter Center which I had gotten to visit in Georgia, Atlanta. But he does a lot of stuff around the world. He did work on eradicating the guinea worm, just a variety of worldwide philanthropic work that I’m very interested in.

Chris Carlton: Sure. You said his parents or his father was a peanut farmer?

Dan Colleran: He was.

Chris Carlton: He was a peanut farmer. Wow! Really? And then he’s president. I always love hearing those stories. I’m in heaven when I’m… insert.

Dan Colleran: I don’t really believe in heaven. So I don’t think I would know if that’s the right…

Chris Carlton: It’s nirvana for me when I’m…

Dan Colleran: I would say I feel at my best when I am traveling and witnessing new cultures.

Chris Carlton: Right. Do you have a favorite quote?

Dan Colleran: I do like the one from Mark Twain about, what is it, travel. Something about travel and prejudice. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

Chris Carlton: Wow, I like that. It’s really good. By the time I’m done with this, I’m going to just have an army of quotes. And then, circling back, any stories?

Dan Colleran: Any stories? Well, I guess I can tell you one funny one.

Chris Carlton: Here we go.

Dan Colleran: I was in France and I wanted to go to Geneva, Switzerland. So I go to the conductor, “I need a ticket to Geneva.” Little did I know that French don’t call Geneva, Geneva, they called it Geneva. I ended up paying a ticket to Genoa, Italy. We went right past Geneva. It was like, “Wait, what’s going on?” And then I realized that my ticket was to Italy.

Chris Carlton: So, you were aware of it as you were going, or did you have to get all the way there before you…

Dan Colleran: I didn’t realize it until we had passed it and the train wasn’t stopping there.

Chris Carlton: Sure.

Dan Colleran: So that was an early mistake I made and you shrug your shoulders, kind of laugh it off and then try to make your way back.

Chris Carlton: Yeah. I’ve got to tell you, I hope that never happens to me. I’ve had my fair share of travel snafus though, booking and rebooking tickets. I told you I did South America and everything, just the way the economy is and everything is buses there. So, if you travel around the continent, you’re going in a bus. Now, the cool part about that is, is that the buses are extremely nice.

We’re talking wine with your meals there on the bus, a movie, or just reclining chairs, as nice as you could get on a bus. Not like the coach buses we have up here. But that being said, it’s tricky to get them booked. And so, my buddy and I had to end up doing a red-eye to get to Patagonia. And I’ll probably write a post about this, so not to get too much into it here. I’m also afraid of dogs after living in South America.

Dan Colleran: In Chile, they treat their dogs like the Indians treat their cows. We saw purebred dogs that looked as healthy as they could be with a city worker out every morning feeding them with fresh pounds of meat.

Chris Carlton: Right. So, growing up you never run into a dog that’s not domesticated in the States. But there are dogs.

Dan Colleran: Where are you from?

Chris Carlton: Madison.

Dan Colleran: Yeah. You haven’t been to the South yet. There’s dogs running around all over the place.

Chris Carlton: Oh, really? So, it kind of gave us a hint to where you’re from. But I had never run into one. And so, to see these dogs running around Buenos Aires, I’d go up, I’d put my hand out so they could smell me, nothing happened. And one day some guys said something to me. He’s like, “Watch out. One of them might be hungry.” And I was like, “He’s not going to…”

And then one day I put my hand out and he snipped at it. He didn’t get it, but he made like a “ruff”! And it was pretty scary. So, after that I’m kind of weary.

Dan Colleran: He probably just thought you were trying to feed him something.

Chris Carlton: Yeah. That’s true. Anything else you want to add or maybe want people to know about, or anything in closing?

Dan Colleran: Well, I think they need to really approach study abroad or any kind of global experience, they do with an open mind, and the idea that they’ll just jump right in and take whatever smart risks that are there. For example, I remember another example in Greece where I was at a tavern with some friends and then there was actually a Greek wedding going on, we were invited to that part of the tavern and then they started commencing in their Greek traditional dances.

So, of course, they wanted us to join in. The two Americans as we are, tight, rigid, and didn’t want to get out of our shells, so to speak, after a couple ouzos we did.

Chris Carlton: There you go. Opa!

Dan Colleran: And of course, we danced horribly to the Greek dances and they laughed at us and we laughed at ourselves, and that was a classic example of what you should be doing when you’re abroad.

Chris Carlton: Right. Did you break any plates?

Dan Colleran: I don’t know. I can’t remember if I actually did. But, yeah, so we broke plates all over the place.

Chris Carlton: So, in case you’re wondering why I asked that, I’m actually Greek and I’ve been to a wedding in Greece, and a tradition that they have at the reception is they break plates. I don’t know why. You could probably look it up. It’s probably some good luck. So, it’s pretty fun breaking plates.

Dan Colleran: So just kind of getting out of your comfort zone, go explore the world.

Chris Carlton: Couldn’t have said it better myself. All right. Well, thank you very much, Dan.

Dan Colleran: You’re welcome.

Chris Carlton: I look forward to speaking with you again. Her you go!

Dan Colleran: Sounds good! Thank you.

Chris Carlton: All right. We’ll talk soon. And thank you for tuning in to the Study Abroadcast. Keep an eye out for future episodes. And we’ll talk to you guys soon. All right. Bye!

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