Paul Chamberlain: Professor Embraces the Lessons that Can Be Learned Abroad

By Anna Dirkse

When I first walked into Paul Chamberlain’s office three years ago, I was struck by the abundance of souvenirs on the bookshelves that line the walls. They’re filled with everything from miniature Moroccan “tagine” dishes to ornate Tibetan prayer scrolls to a Hard Rock Café glass from Sydney, Australia. Mixed among the old chemistry textbooks from Paul’s years of teaching are dozens of Lonely Planet travel guides from cities and countries all over the world. On the wall are pictures of sunburned, beaming students on white sand beaches, as well as old photos of George Fox science faculty.

There are stories behind everything in the office, and Paul’s good at telling them. I recently asked about a photo on his wall and was regaled with a story about the time Paul’s entire Juniors Abroad group got massages on a beach in Zanzibar. Paul laughed as he told the story, his eyes twinkling behind his wire-rim glasses.

He says he has too many favorite stories to count, but he’s pleased to share them with anyone who asks. I’ve been working for Paul for years, and every time I walk through his door to ask him to sign a document for a student or to ask his opinion on a flier I’m working on, he’s happy to tell the stories and share memories of his travels.

Paul’s office is a reflection of his time at George Fox University. Starting as an organic chemistry professor in 1976, he’s been in charge of coordinating all of the university’s Juniors Abroad trips since he took over as director of the program 20 years ago. He eventually became director of the Center for Study Abroad in 2014, when Juniors Abroad and the semester abroad office joined together. The office has changed significantly over the last four years: His old chemistry books have started gathering dust as the shiny new travel guides take over the shelves.

Paul’s work at the Center for Study Abroad led to the growth of many of the programs offered. “When we took over there were 26 students per year who studied abroad due to budget limitations,” Paul says. Now there are close to 60 a year – and many pay the same to study abroad as they do for a semester at George Fox. Paul hopes to see even more students studying abroad in the years to come – a goal that seems attainable as application numbers continue to rise.

Paul would argue that traveling abroad, and getting to experience a culture different than your own, is one of the most valuable things you could do as an undergraduate student. He says that traveling abroad “will be one of the greatest experiences of your life. Take time to reach out to the local population and get to know local folks, or at least students from other countries.”

Many George Fox students who travel abroad agree, and one of Paul’s favorite parts of the job is traveling with students on Juniors Abroad trips. Often students’ first time overseas, they are deeply impacted by the cultures they experience. Paul’s love for travel and his knowledge from his many trips are imparted to his students through their shared experiences abroad. When I asked some of his former students what they learned on their trips, two repeated Paul’s infamous motto: “Nothing ever goes quite as planned.”

“Embracing different cultures takes on a whole new meaning when you are physically in those cultures,” says student Bailey Sauls. This sentiment is echoed in other students’ statements and stories. Both Cayla Smith and Hannah Love say they are much more likely to travel after their experience on Juniors Abroad, and that Paul’s attitude and stories have impacted the way they think about international travel. “[Juniors Abroad] made me want to go seek out every other country in the world and see what amazing things they have to offer,” Cayla says.

Paul’s expertise and enthusiasm have impacted many George Fox students over the years, and I am glad that I’ve been one of them. Paul values traveling and studying abroad, something that has already greatly impacted my life. The chance to experience other cultures has changed the way I think about my own culture and about my place in the world.

I’m grateful to attend a university that promotes international experiences; I’m also grateful that George Fox has hired Paul to run the Center for Study Abroad. He hopes to make international travel accessible to more students, allowing more people to be changed by the world before they change the world themselves.

Someday, there will be a generation of George Fox alumni whose bookshelves also have souvenirs from around the world – all thanks to Paul Chamberlain.