The Impact of a Dialogue; An Alumni Success Story

• from Jenny Woodford

[Article by Katrina Haase, GEO Student Worker] Northeastern students pride themselves in the expansive professional development opportunities offered by the university. But often, somewhere among the balancing act of resume building, academics, and co-op, the inherent value to global experience gets lost in the noise. The Global Experience Office (GEO) had the pleasure of reuniting with class of 2009 Alum and current Director of Finance and Administration at Penn Global, Drew Cahan, to reflect upon the impact of his summer (10 years ago) on Professor Richard Katula’s Greece: Then & Now Dialogue of Civilizations Program (DOC).

Cahan entered Northeastern with a love for travel and an interest in study abroad, but a lack of direction regarding where his degree would take him. By the time he found his footing as a Finance and Accounting major, he had few credits left to embark upon an entire semester abroad as he originally intended. Considering his interest in Greece culture and history, Professor Richard Katula’s Dialogue of Civilizations Greece: Then & Now served as the perfect opportunity to learn abroad with the constraints of his limited schedule. Currently, the DOC boasts 12 summers of intertwining antiquity tours and interactions with locals to understand the nation’s journey throughout history. This program has repeatedly met the Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who has hosted students in the Presidential Palace and spoken with students about the importance of international education since 2015. Although Cahan was not part of a cohort who met Mr. Pavlopoulos, he is no stranger to the value of Katula’s program.

Cahan spent Summer 1 of 2007 touring both “the antiquities of Ancient Greece, and the modern lifestyle of its citizens in Athens, Thessaloniki and Crete.”  From talking to people, seeing the sites and walking the streets, the experience gave Cahan “a completely new perspective and appreciation on living outside the US and understanding a culture different than my own”. Later, the month-long immersion motivated Cahan to embark upon a backpacking trip in Europe and inspired a career track based in international education.

After the completion of his co-ops at John Hancock Life Insurance, Batterymarch Financial Management, and at Harvard Medical School as a Grants Manager, Cahan was hired as a Grants Manager at UPenn’s Annenberg School for Communication’s Center for Global Communication Studies; where he worked on programs focused on comparative global media and policy studies in conflict or post-conflict regions. According the Cahan, it was this combination of professional, international and educational experience which portrayed him as the well-rounded, open and passionate candidate that he was. Not only that, but his participation on Katula’s DOC “directly influenced my decision when weighing two countering job offers immediately after college.  Working for Penn was already appealing to me, but the chance to continue to learn about different areas of the world, and potentially travel, was a difference maker for me.  My initial experience working on international programs ultimately set my career path and where I am now.”

But what is it about opportunities abroad that make them so impactful? Why do students so often leave campus one way and return another?

For Cahan, it is that “any time you travel with a group or through a foreign country, you are in a position to learn about yourself.  You are forced to be more flexible, learn about perspectives and viewpoints that are different from your own, and have to get used to stepping outside of your comfort zone.”

As Northeastern sends more and more students abroad, whether be it on dialogue, study abroad or global co-op, we can certainly see this phenomena within our classrooms, with students bringing in their experiences from hundreds of locations. Such connections are only expected to grow, as a university at the forefront of professional development and experiential education, global experiences such as Cahan’s are a central part of the university's vision for 2025. According to the Northeastern 2025 Plan, “Cultural agility, diversity, and inclusiveness are characteristics of strong, dynamic communities that respect and benefit from the individual viewpoints and qualities of each member”; an acknowledgement driving an expansion of global experience opportunities and international professional networks.

Such merit to international experiences is a value which Cahan certainly understands. Upon being asked what made experiences so professionally unique, Cahan responded “You have a chance to learn how to connect with new people and appreciate the differences in people.  All of these are important inter-personal traits that will benefit you in life and being a contributing member to a successful team.”

For students considering an experience abroad, Cahan is a strong advocate. He encourages students not only to consider both the location and purpose of the program, but to also make a real effort to get involved. Reflecting on his time abroad, Cahan shares “It’s often small moments or unexpected experiences that lead to the most memorable, transformative experiences.  The more you connect with others, learn something new, or open yourself up, the more likely you will be to find these experiences.”

For students looking for experiences such as Cahan’s, be sure to swing by the GEO office at 403 Richards Hall to chat with the GEO staff about the opportunities available.