This past spring, The University of Texas at Austin called upon its alumni, students, and friends to take part in 40 Hours for the Forty Acres, an unprecedented social giving campaign to raise $40,000 for UT in just 40 hours. Part of the university's Campaign for Texas, which is barreling toward completion in August, 40 for 40 gave Longhorns the opportunity to give back to any area they were particularly passionate about on campus. And they did so in droves, tripling the initial goal and raising a whopping $128,516 in the short timeframe.
A graduate of UT's College of Liberal Arts and School of Law, Susan Kennedy had many ways she could have participated in 40 for 40. But Kennedy—now a litigation attorney with Baker Botts LLP in Dallas—opted to support the International Office's Study Abroad programs, which regularly send more than 2,500 students to study in more than 70 countries each year.
Below, learn more about this successful Texas Ex and what motivated her to give back.
Where did you study abroad?
I went to Lyon, France for a year through UT Study Abroad. Both of my parents had studied or worked in France; both had an affinity for French culture. At UT, I was planning to take Spanish as my language, but the class I needed was full. So I went with French. And when I was considering study abroad options, France was the country that made the most sense.
What was your experience like in Lyon?
The whole year was such a wonderful adventure. Until I got married and had a child, it was the best year of my life. There was a great group of international kids studying there, and we’d take weekend trips to Venice. I even went with two English girls to Spain for two weeks.
Academically, my courses were in French—they didn’t have special courses for international students. So I ended up taking a course about the history of Africa entirely in French, which was incredibly challenging. But we got the opportunity to sit in on classes where French speakers were learning English, so that helped us pick the language up much faster.
You generously gave to Study Abroad during the university’s first 40 for the Forty fundraising campaign in April. What motivated you to donate?
Studying abroad provides you a totally different education and different perspective on the world. With the world becoming more and more interconnected, being able to have that experience is just terrific. It’s an opportunity like no other. And I want today’s students to be able to have that experience, too.
What lessons did you take away from your time abroad?
One lesson I learned was just being able to navigate around in an unfamiliar situation. A friend and I visited Budapest, which wasn’t a place where you could glean locations off street signs. The language was not like the ones we knew! We had to step outside our comfort zones and work with strangers. Studying abroad shows people—and employers—that you’re not afraid to take risks.
Have you had the opportunity to travel much since your year in France?
I would say yes, but maybe not in comparison to some people! I made some great friends in England, who encouraged me to live in London for six months after I graduated. My roommate, another UT student, actually grew up in Lyon, and she still has family back in France. So I’ve been back with her, once for a two-week sailing trip in Greece.
Through traveling with her, I worked up a bit more courage to take a trip to Norway by myself. It’s funny, when I studied abroad, I didn’t have a cell phone. I had to ride a bus down to a computer center, and I’d write letters to my parents back home. It’s a very different time now; it’s much easier to keep up with friends and family while abroad.
Why would you encourage current Longhorns to study abroad while at UT?
I think from a variety of perspectives, it is completely worth the experience. It’s one thing to experience a new culture on a two-week visit. It’s another thing entirely to actually live there and be immersed in the day-to-day of something so different than you’re used to. And now’s a wonderful time to go, without the ties of a long-term job, spouse, or kids. I guarantee they’ll look back at the experience for years to come.
Interested in supporting UT’s Study Abroad programs and students? Find out how here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Top, Kennedy hooking 'em with her son, William. Inset, a photo of Kennedy (far left) during her yearlong stay in France. Photos courtesy Susan Kennedy.