Dr. Richard Cahill: Transformative Learning through International Education
Dr. Richard Cahill, Director of the Francis and Louise Hutchins Center for International Education (CIE) and Associate Professor of History, has poured his passion for international education into the College through various programs sponsored by the CIE.
“Life in a different cultural setting,” Cahill said, “can be a really transformative experience.”
Cahill earned his bachelor’s degree at Westmont College, his master’s degree at the University of California, his Ph.D. at the University of California and has also studied at the American University in Cairo.
Interest leading to a deep passion for the Middle East began with Cahill’s first visit at the age of eighteen. After Cahill’s first year of college, he pedaled his heart out biking around Europe. His plan was to explore, observe and discover new cultures and viewpoints. After four months of biking in Europe he decided to hitch-hike in Africa. “I discovered the genuine hospitality of Egyptian people and fell in love with their way of life,” Cahill said. Cahill remembers feeling, even then, that all students should have opportunities for study abroad.
The life of academia had always influenced Cahill. Throughout high school and college, teachers and professors encouraged him to become an educator himself. He followed their advice. At Berea College Cahill teaches “Pre-modern Middle East,” “Introduction to Islam,” “History of the Arabic-Israeli Conflict,” and “Contemporary Global Issues.” His academic background is in Islamic and European history.
The first part of Cahill’s academic career was focused on both Middle Eastern and European history; however, in 1996 he switched over to only Middle Eastern history. That same year Cahill was appointed the Director of the Middle East Studies Program (MESP) in Cairo, Egypt. He lived in Egypt for six years. In 2002 he returned to California and taught for three years — until a friend from Cairo, who was living in Washington, DC, contacted Cahill about a position as CIE director at Berea College. “He knew that I was into the kinds of things that Berea cares about,” Cahill said. “Primarily social justice, inclusive world views and interesting students.” After researching the college and discovering its ideals and history, he applied for the directorship of CIE and a position on the faculty. Cahill has been working at Berea College since 2005.
As Director of the Center for International Education, Cahill oversees education abroad, international student and scholar services, campus programing for internationalization and faculty and curriculum development. The campus programming entails events every Friday, known as the “Think Globally Its Friday,” or TGIF, and the first Monday of the month, which has a global focus on cultural events. Faculty and curriculum development encourages teaching abroad, researching international and global issues and bringing international and global issues into the classroom.
International events on campus arouse curiosity and desire to study abroad. Cahill said, “Students often say that traveling abroad is a life changing experience. Sometimes the students experience hard transitions into the culture. It isn’t always an easy experience, and it takes time to reflect on how monumental the experience actually was. It’s nice when students return to Berea years after graduating and reflect on their experiences studying abroad.”
Cahill notes that it is also a transformative experience for the international students who come to Berea College. When domestic students become friends with international students, their view of life becomes multi-cultured and diverse. Many domestic students have a different view of life because they had a roommate from someplace far away. Currently there are over sixty countries represented on campus.
What better way is there to expand your knowledge than to take a class abroad? Dr. Cahill shrugged. To ensure this remains the case, the CIE is always looking for new and improved international education opportunities. “We are always trying to raise awareness and encourage students to take advantage of opportunities to study abroad,” Cahill said. He was between his freshmen and sophomore years when he first biked and hitch-hiked abroad, and now he’s realizing a notion that came to him at that time — that students should have opportunities to study abroad. “It seems to be going very well,” Dr. Cahill said with a grin that won’t be restrained. And behind his bright blue eyes you just know there’s a part of him that wishes he could go with each and every one of them.