Not Your Average Joe: Redefining the Typical Study Abroad Student

What do you get when you combine a 40-year career, an award winning research publication, a handful of nearly completed college degrees, 6 kids and a gaggle of grandkids?

Meet Joe.

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Joe in Arezzo

Joe is experiencing Italy with the rest of the CCU students abroad, but he is absorbing the Tuscan sun with a different perspective than most students.

Like, 45 more years of perspective.

Originally from New England, Joe spent his first 20 professional years in the planning and development area of hospital administration. After that, he segued into anti-poverty work in Brunswick County, NC, which kept him busy for the next two decades. In love with the sunny and salty Carolinas, Joe retired to Murrells Inlet, SC. Of course, the term “retired” is used quite loosely when it comes to Joe. Not one to waste time, he enrolled in Coastal Carolina University about 4.5 years ago to start his Bachelor’s degree in marine science. A long-time lover of the water, Joe grew up wanting to be an oceanographer and finally found his chance to learn more at CCU.

But why go back to school now?

Joe’s answer: Why not!

“I’ve seen way too many people retire, sit on their porch all day, and just get old. That wasn’t going to happen to me.”

Joe declares that he has always loved learning and describes himself as just a “passionately curious guy.” CCU is the perfect place for curious thinkers of all ages; the university follows South Carolina state policy, which provides tuition exemption for all citizens over the age of 60. In Joe’s eyes, there are really no reasons he shouldn’t go back to school. “It gets me up every morning,” he says. “I’m busier than I was when I was working, but I’m a whole heck of a lot less stressed.”

Besides, Joe has a bucket list, and right near at the top is “go to Europe.” The only item listed above that? “Pass calculus.”

So Joe tackled his degree in marine science, and he did nothing halfway. In fact, he did a significant amount of research in marine science and won first place at the South Carolina Academy of Science. He even got his research published, a noble feat in any field.

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Joe with his awarding winner poster presentation // image via

But Joe wasn’t done quite yet, so he started toward another degree in biochemistry. And history. And creative writing. And sociology. And hey, Joe doesn’t discriminate, so he wants to get started on his English degree as well. He also enrolls in 6 credits per semester through Palmetto College, the University of South Carolina’s online degree program.

Oh, and in his spare time, Joe tutors at CCU’s Writing Center.

It seems like the better question is to ask if there is anything this man hasn’t done.

Well, up to this point, the answer was this: Travel abroad.

“I’ve always wanted to see Europe. Italy has always been number one on my list,” says Joe. “So I saw this program advertised and thought, ‘Hey, here’s my chance.’ I talked with my wife, and we agreed that this was the opportunity of a lifetime. Besides, there’s no way I could’ve planned all this on my own for a lesser cost.”

So far, Joe’s favorite part of the trip has been seeing all the churches. “I lost count after 40, but I’ve tried to see and go in churches in every city we’ve been to.” Highlights included going to mass at St. Peter’s in Vatican City and at St. John Lateran in Rome. “For a good ole Catholic boy like me, there is just nothing like it.”

Joe finds it interesting to compare how each church approaches tourism. “Some just go about their way, others really cater to the tourists. I went to a little church in Pisa that had incense burning, the priest up there doing his thing, a chant going on, candles lit… It was incredible.”

Joe’s adventurous spirit and propensity toward reading maps has allowed him to show up in a city, look at the map and conquer the churches around. “To me,” says Joe, “most of the beauty in this area is in the churches. The stuff that was in there, the years that went in to making them… Stumbling upon all the churches has been so cool.”

The amount of churches Joe has seen is impressive, but so is surviving doing life with three dozen 20-ish-year olds. “It keeps me young! Of course, there are some elements of ‘been there, done that,’ but there is also that element of keeping up,” chuckles Joe. “Mostly on the hills!”

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Joe enjoying an authentic Italian dish.

So who should study abroad?

Everyone, according to Joe. “If you have the resources, definitely do it. Here, you can view things with a different perspective and totally be yourself at the same. And I’m very comfortable being myself.”

Carolita, a Los Angeles resident, shared her experience in this article, proving that there successful study abroad can happen at all different seasons of life. If learning a language abroad sounds appealing, check out this site that offers programs from Argentina to Paris to Germany. If you’re South Carolina resident like Joe, be sure to review the complete list of lifelong learning programs offered in South Carolina here. In addition to tuition exemption for regular classes, CCU offers the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Supplementary resources may be available to you through Veteran’s Affairs programs.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I could,” says Joe.

Looks like he’ll have to start making a new bucket list soon. He passed calculus.


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