Kevin O'Neill '76 helps others get the most from their time abroad


Since his first expedition to france, Kevin O’Neill has formed a tightly knit global community which he is constantly expanding through his organization, Experiential Learning International (ELI). Kevin’s passion for lifelong learning and organic cultural exchange is made accessible to many through ELI which fosters international relationships.

A strong proponent for public education, Kevin always knew he would attend a UC School. He committed to UCSB after being recruited by the Varsity Tennis team. Though tennis was of great importance to Kevin, it was his year spent abroad in France that his interest in international education was sparked.

7  Questions

What drew you to study at UCSB for your undergraduate degree?

I was recruited as a tennis player. The UC system was my only interest, and Santa Barbara gave me a call. I played varsity every year except for a year abroad.

What was the academic environment like for you, during your days at UCSB?

I was thinking of being an English major, but I always liked languages. I didn’t feel that I’d ever get my French up to the level I wanted, so I decided to study abroad in France through the UC program in Bordeaux. When I came back, I had so many credits in French that I decided to continue in French literature instead of English lit.

What first drew you to the value of an international education?

For me, as is the case for most people who study abroad, my year in France was the most rewarding year of my undergraduate education. I went to Berkeley for my Ph.D., and did an exchange in Paris. That was the most rewarding year of my graduate education.

You have done so much to create programming for students around the country and the world to make global connections through education. What inspired you to devote your career to creating these opportunities?

As I mentioned above, my most meaningful time has been spent abroad. During my years as a professor, associate dean and director of international programs, I met many people from all over the world, developing many friendships in far-flung places. It’s hard for me to imagine that others wouldn’t profit from similar experiences. Of course, I’ve discovered that not everyone does.

Why did you found ELI Abroad?

One thing I found during my university years is that not everyone is cut out to study overseas in a classroom setting. ELI – Experiential Learning International – was my attempt to provide other options to get people out of the country and integrated into a local community, whether in France, Uganda or Cambodia. Programs placing Americans side by side with locals, either as humanitarian volunteers or in professional internships, seemed more “real” than sitting in a classroom.

If there is one lesson you hope volunteers take home from their ELI Abroad experience, what would you hope it would be?

Humility. You will meet people of extraordinary talent with boundless energy who, by virtue of where they are born, will never achieve the comforts that we take for granted.

What is a typical day at work for you?

I work with a great like-minded staff. We deal with questions from potential volunteers and interns from all over the world. We’ve had participants from over 50 countries in our programs. A Mongolian to Patagonia – yep. An Albanian to Shanghai – check. A group from Spain doing earthquake reconstruction in a Nepalese mountain village – done. With the rise of Skype and emails and online chats, the concept of the “global community” is no longer an ideal, it’s a reality.

Reason's We're Proud to be Gauchos

"I believe in public education. And from the many years that I spent in academia, I know the value of quality faculty. Then put a university in one of the most beautiful locations imaginable – what’s not to like?"


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