Will My Daughter’s University Ensure Her an Exceptional International Experience?

by Darin Mackender —

My daughter said, “I knew you would cry.”

“I’m just so happy for you,” I said as I wiped a tear from my cheek. “I’m so glad you decided to study abroad.”

I had landed in Copenhagen 12 hours earlier and was getting my first glimpse of the city that my daughter, Ally, a rising senior at Trinity University, had called home for the past semester. She had predicted my reaction. I’m a soft touch. For the next two weeks, Ally guided my wife, son, and I around Copenhagen, Berlin, and Iceland. We saw her school and housing, ate at her favorite restaurants, visited her favorite museums and castles, and enjoyed time together after four months apart.
Trinity University senior Ally Mackender, at left, with her dad Darin, mom, and brother in Copenhagen
In the months since, I have had an opportunity to reflect on Ally’s experience. I am confident her semester abroad expanded her horizons in all of the expected ways. Her academic program, which was arranged through Trinity, was thought-provoking and challenging. Focusing on gender and social justice issues in Europe, she was forced to think critically about U.S. policies and reexamine her own opinions. Her extracurricular and study-travel experiences exposed her to different political, social, and cultural perspectives, some of which continue to be cornerstones of her personal beliefs and attitudes.

Ally also grew immeasurably as a person. As her mom and I watched her disappear, by herself, into the Denver airport, we struggled to imagine how she would handle living and traveling in Europe for four months, which was her first experience living outside our house or the Trinity dorms and traveling independently. She was fine. She shopped and cooked, got a cell phone, got her card for health services, figured out the trains and buses, and did all of the things necessary for day-to-day life. She immersed herself in the rhythm of Copenhagen. She visited 13 countries.

At times, she traveled with large groups from her program. At other times, she traveled with one or two friends. She traveled by plane, train, bus, car, and bike; and slept in hotels, hostels, and even a tent. She visited or hosted three of her best friends from Trinity, who also were studying in Europe. She returned more confident, more worldly, more mature, and more prepared to succeed at Trinity and life thereafter.

An unexpected benefit of Ally’s semester abroad was our growth as parents. Like many parents, we always have been eager, perhaps too eager, to solve our children’s problems, offer advice (sometimes unwanted), and generally meddle in their affairs. We try to strike the right balance, but are never quite sure that we have succeeded. Our relationship with Ally changed, permanently and for the better, when she stepped off the plane in Denmark.

We knew that, in addition to the much greater geographic distance between us, there would be a knowledge gap. How do you fix a laptop in San Antonio? Same as Denver. How do you fix a laptop in Copenhagen? Sorry, dear, you are on your own. The change became apparent to me when Ally returned from a weekend trip to Switzerland. I realized that I had known very little about her plans. She went to Switzerland with friends, had fun, called when she got home, and was fine. It was an epiphany for her mom and me to realize she’s “got it covered.”

It likely would surprise Ally to know that one of my fondest memories of her semester abroad doesn’t involve a museum or castle, performance, restaurant, or even our family. When I arrived in Copenhagen, Ally had just said goodbye to her housemates and classmates for the past four months. She was the last to leave. Ally told me about a particularly difficult goodbye to a new, close friend the day before. I knew immediately what she was feeling. At some level, we all have experienced it. The story is familiar. You begin a new, challenging adventure with a group of strangers. Through the highs and lows, you become friends with those strangers and develop a special bond, a deeper connection, with some. Then, the adventure ends, and everybody goes their separate ways.
Ally and Darin Mackender
As adults, we don’t experience those situations much, it seems. But, we know the feeling. The transcendent joy of deep connections forged by overcoming, followed by the sweet sorrow of the adventure coming to an end. You carry those memories with you forever and know that things—you—will never be the same. Ally experienced that, and it is priceless.

About Darin

Darin Mackender received his undergraduate degree from Nebraska Wesleyan University and his law degree from the University of Nebraska College of Law. He is an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Denver. His daughter, Allyson, will be a senior at Trinity University this fall.


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