Accent Stories

Rebecca Parillo


Director of Ashland University’s Study Abroad program

Sometimes your first experience with a place just doesn’t quite take. This is what Rebecca Parillo, Director of Ashland University’s Study Abroad program learned firsthand.

“I was advising students on studying abroad,” she says about her first stint at AU, a position she started in 1998 as Director of Service Internships before the title and responsibilities evolved into the role of Director of Study Abroad and Community Service. “But as I was guiding them, I realized I needed to have that kind of experience for myself. So my husband and I quit our jobs, boarded a plane, and went to Japan, where I taught English for two years.”

Upon returning to the United States in 2004, Rebecca and her husband Scott–who now serves as Ashland’s Director of International Student Services–planned to move to Maryland. But when she received a call about an ideal position opening up at Ashland, their plans—along with how much the University and the people here would come to mean to her—changed.

About this pivotal moment, she says: “I realized just how special our community is here on campus. My husband and I always joke that we only realized how amazing Ashland is after going halfway around the world!”

Rebecca’s own undergraduate experience set the stage for how she would come to feel about Ashland University and the surrounding community. Before earning her MA in higher education administration from the University of South Carolina, she graduated with a degree in psychology from St. Michael’s College, a small liberal arts institution in Vermont. Her experience there, in fact, was what initially sparked her interest in taking a position at Ashland. 

“I love everything about the small liberal arts environment,” she says. “The sense of the community, the personal connections you make, your ability to engage each student individually.”

For Rebecca, though, the setting is just the beginning of what she loves about helping Ashland students find and fulfill their study abroad experiences. 

“I love working with our students,” she says. “College kids have one foot in the real world and one in this safe space where they can try new things and make mistakes without losing their jobs or experiencing long-term consequences.”

A big part of her job, she says, is helping students become comfortable with the uncomfortable. And in terms of the educational experiences themselves? This is where things get really fun for Rebecca.

“When students come back from a semester abroad,” she says, “they’re more mature, their worldview is so much broader. Sometimes the experience changes the entire trajectory of their career, but it always changes their life. They tell me all the time that they’ve found themselves. It’s so amazing!”

For students looking to take advantage of the study abroad opportunities at Ashland, she points to week-long guided group tours, fully-immersive full-semester solo study experiences, and a range of options between. Through Ashland’s study abroad program, students have the chance to fully immerse themselves in a new culture and gain confidence in their own ability to solve problems, make new connections and experience independence in ways that aren’t always possible back home. 

“For both parents and students,” she says, “the feeling around study abroad opportunities has changed a lot over my time at Ashland. Twenty years ago, I would be at college fairs and you could see the parents steering their kids away from my table.” Now, however, the parents are the ones guiding their prospective college students toward her at these events. “I think the whole perception has changed. I think people now see how valuable a week or a semester abroad can be.”

While she is still navigating the after-effects of COVID-19–travel restrictions, local laws and regulations and other details involved in ensuring students remain safe and legally compliant in communities and on campuses across the world–she sees even more potential for study abroad opportunities in the future. 

“Our biggest challenge in growing the program is a question of access,” says Rebecca. ”The students who are able to study abroad typically do. But we have many students who want to go but can’t afford it.” 

The good news: donors have the option to give directly toward supporting students whose sole impediment to experiencing these life-changing opportunities is financial.

And the opportunities are, indeed, transformative. She says, “I’m not sure there’s another single opportunity on campus for students that makes as big a difference in their lives as being able to go to another country, immerse themselves in the culture, learn to take care of themselves–by themselves–and learn so much. Every student, if they can, should at least explore the chance to experience this opportunity.”

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