Grandma Inspires Passion for Global Travel

Transylvania University’s Smith Now Empowers Global Experiences

When Courtney Smith was little, her grandparents traveled the world. They always made sure to bring Smith home a doll.

Courtney as a kid with her grandma, Marge Flasher.

“When I was super young, it was like, ‘Oh, cool, another doll.’ But as I grew up, I started to ask more questions. I was intrigued by these dolls and why they didn’t look like me and why their clothing wasn’t the same as mine.”

Her grandmother, Marge Flasher of Dayton, Ohio, was happy to answer those questions and to tell Smith all about their global experiences. It’s why Smith, 27, credits her grandma for her passion for global travel—a passion she wants to spark in students through her role as director of global and international engagement at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. Smith has been in the job since January 2019.

“If there’s one thing my grandma wanted to instill in me was that there’s power in knowledge. There’s power in experiencing things. There’s power in learning. Travel is something that allows us to do that,” Smith says.

Her grandmother and grandfather, Harry Flasher, have been to 82 countries. Smith has been to 86—and has magnets from all of them, which she has on display in her office. She’s hoping the pandemic won’t keep her from her 87th global experience: In December, she plans to go to the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador with a friend from graduate school at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

A young Courtney and her grandpa, Harry Flasher (left), ready for their next trip!

The reason for choosing the Galápagos Islands? It was her grandmother’s favorite.

“When I asked her, ‘Of everywhere you’ve been, where’s your favorite?’ she said, ‘Oh, that’s so hard, but I just loved the Galápagos Islands.’ She went on and on and pulled out her photo book. Ever since then, I’ve told myself I want to go there before she’s gone so that we can have that shared bond.”

Smith grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and moved to Lexington to attend Transylvania University, where she studied abroad while earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology. At George Washington, the 2016 Transy graduate earned a master’s degree in education and human development with a concentration in international education.

Smith’s hope was to land a job where she could help make sure others had global experiences too. It was her grandmother and mother who suggested she go for her current position when it opened in 2019.

“I was 24 at the time. Though I had a lot of experience in the field of international education through internships and part-time jobs, I hadn’t yet held a full-time job, but my grandma and mom said, ‘Go for it. You don’t know unless you try,’” Smith recalls. “I got the job and I was so excited because this was my dream job. I remember helping people in my dorm to study abroad even when I was just a student here.”

She’s been in her position for 2 ½ years—the majority of her time, of course, impacted by the pandemic.

“The hardest part of my job right now is that I’m not getting to see my students experience what changed me and what is a life-changing experience that helps you grow as a person,” she says. “It’s really important in today’s intercultural society and they’re not able—not by choice but given the situation—to have that. That’s the hard part: Having to look them in the eyes and say, ‘Unfortunately, I have to cancel your program.’”

She looks forward to being able to send students abroad again. Until then, she’s been using virtual events and tools to get students involved. “I just taught my first pre-study abroad course, and that was fun,” she says. “We used Google Earth to try and get students to explore the country they’re planning on going to once COVID allows it. It’s an important tool to help mitigate culture shock upon arrival and learn more about their host country before they go.”

Global travel is important, she says, because “the world is becoming ever global.”

“When they go into the professional world, they’re going to be working with people from different backgrounds, different cultures—even in the U.S. For them to be able to go abroad and experience something that’s so different to them and realize they can navigate it, that’s most important. When they figure out they can get around and figure things out without knowing the language, they become a stronger individual. They’re learning life skills through study abroad and they’re also learning professional skills.”

In high school, she went to Barcelona as an exchange student. When Smith was a Transy undergrad, she went to Ukraine and Poland on summer programs, Israel during May term, and Guatemala on service trips during alternative winter breaks. She studied abroad through Semester at Sea, a floating university, where she visited 15 countries over one semester. She also served as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Slovakia. None of this would have been possible without a family that fully understands the value of international travel and studying abroad, she says.

Courtney embracing her grandma, Marge Flasher, with a hug.

Smith also traveled extensively in the United States, including as a child with her grandparents, parents, and her aunt and uncle. She’s also gone abroad with her family, including on a Mediterranean cruise and a trip to Ireland for her grandparents’ 50th anniversary.

“I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to travel with my grandparents and that they showed me their love for travel because, for me, travel has been the biggest thing in my life. It’s created who I am. I have so many friendships around the world because of it,” she says.

“My grandma doesn’t realize how many people she’s touching because when I send a student abroad it’s because of the love of the world she instilled in me. My passion for what I do is driven by the desire to be a lifelong learner, something I so admire about my grandma. It’s because of her that I am who I am today. I think it’s really special that, even when she’s gone, I’m still going to be sharing what she loved and everything she instilled in me.”

Let’s Connect

Like Courtney Smith, Via TRM believes global experiences will change our world. That’s why we created traveler relationship management and travel risk management software, which helps universities like Transylvania empower global experiences. If you or someone you know shares Via’s “why,” please let us know. We might just feature you here.


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