Archive for Friday, November 9, 2012

Professor returns to Baker after many travels

Robyn Long flips through her passport, filled with destinations she has visited since her Baker student days.

Robyn Long flips through her passport, filled with destinations she has visited since her Baker student days.

November 9, 2012

As Robyn Long flips through her passport, there’s hardly any room left for more foreign stamps.

But the Baker University assistant professor of psychology has plenty of room in her future to squeeze in every last stamp she can.

From Scotland, the place where she fell in love with the man she would eventually marry, to Australia, her husband’s homeland, Long has been to and seen countries many people only dream about.

Although it’s been 12 years since she graduated from Baker University, this is the place where she made her dreams of traveling the world become a reality.

“My favorite book when I was a kid was ‘The Secret Garden.’ I was like, ‘I’m going to move to England someday,’” she said. “I knew before I even got to Baker that I wanted to go to Harlaxton (College).”

Many Baker University students choose to study abroad at Harlaxton College in Grantham, England, where they can live in a Victorian manor and study British culture, history and literature.

Growing up with parents who loved to travel, it was no coincidence that Long would inherit the passion. Though she dreamed of living in England, her travels began primarily in the United States. Her family would take road trips and camping trips to national parks.

“I was a lucky kid; my folks liked to travel,” Long said. “But it was all domestic. It was all primarily driving to the South to see my family who lived in the Georgia area. So I had always kind of thought that I would be interested in traveling, but never really got to exercise that abroad until Harlaxton.”

Her international journey began in the spring semester of 1998, her sophomore year at Baker.

This semester-long study abroad was what gave Long the “guts to do the next thing,” which was taking a trip to Mexico to follow the migration of monarch butterflies for an interterm.

Four years later, she found the courage to begin her next journey by moving to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a year in search of “being a totally different version” of herself.

“That was some of what motivated me to go to Scotland in the first place, because at that point I had been a student forever, since kindergarten,” she said. “And I wanted to see what it felt like to be something other than a student.”

During her stay in Scotland, Long met Ben Gerrard, an Australian native who eventually became her husband.

“I met her in Scotland because we both were working in a bar/restaurant. She was actually working in the restaurant, which was part of the bar, and I was working in the bar downstairs,” Gerrard said. “It seemed unique to meet someone in that atmosphere who had such an interest in people and life and travel and culture.”

At the time, Gerrard had been working as a journalist for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Under Australian rule, after 10 years of service, employees must take three months of paid leave.

“So I caught him in the middle of his long service leave and then he just extended that and stuck around and very graciously and bravely moved to the U.S. a couple months after I moved back,” Long said.

After marrying Gerrard, Long’s traveling agenda was only extended.

“I think once I figured out that I could live abroad and it wasn’t just a program, it kind of makes you fearless to travel,” she said. “So that kind of started for me what has been a really great decade of amazing travel opportunities.”

The two have traveled extensively inside the U.S., but have also spent time in Canada, which includes their honeymoon to Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

Their list also includes Ireland, Mexico, Morocco, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Gerrard’s home country, Australia.

Long has since returned to her “favorite country in the world,” Scotland, in order to lead study abroad groups from Emporia State University, where she taught and was the director of the clinical psychology program before coming to Baker.

Sarah McCannell, one of Long’s former graduate students in the clinical psychology programs through Emporia State, had the chance to join Long in two trips to Scotland, once as a student and once as a teaching assistant.

“One thing that really stood out from that experience that might differ from other people’s experiences studying abroad, was … we had a whole other trip beyond the classroom experience,” McCannell said. “We had enough free time, enough free weekends that we could go do things we wanted to do and that interested us.”

Adding to her list of places she would like to travel, Long is now interested in travel “that kind of pushes me rather than just traveling for luxury and fun.” She hopes to visit Sweden, St. Petersburg, Russia, New Zealand, Prince Edward Island and Montreal, Canada, just to name a few.

Although she does have a track record of spotting American celebrities around the world such as George Clooney, Blink 182 and Green Day, that’s not to say her early days of travel were always filled with luxury and fun.

“Morocco was the only time I ever got into North Africa and I would say that that experience was probably one of my most valuable because it pushed me,” she said. “I was not comfortable.”

With her blonde hair and comparatively fair skin, Long felt as though she “did not fit in well in North Africa.

“Living in Scotland, you got to choose whether or not you were a novelty. When you wanted to … open your mouth, and speak with your American accent it was really fun to be a novelty,” she said. “But if my mouth was shut, nobody could tell I was an American. As opposed to Morocco, it was just clear that I was not of Morocco.”

The hardships that come with traveling, however, are what drive Long’s passion for traveling and are part of what shapes who she is.

“She’s been able to experience the world in ways that a lot of people haven’t,” McCannell said. “I think she has a different perspective of the world and has seen a lot of different cultures. And I think that’s made her a more open person and a definitely more caring person.”

Although her passport has been stamped far more times than it had been when she first boarded her flight to go to Harlaxton, Long hasn’t forgotten what made her lifetime of opportunities possible.

“Education is what paved the way for me for almost all of my travel experiences. Had I not gone to college, I wouldn’t have gone to Harlaxton or Mexico. Had I not done that, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to go to Scotland,” she said. “If it weren’t for parents who pushed education and parents who pushed the value of travel, I realize I wouldn’t even recognize why this is something valuable to do. I’ve been very fortunate.”

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