Growing up in Mishawaka, IN, Rick Goddard FR’69 never imagined he would one day study abroad, but he was always interested in languages. At the local Catholic elementary school, he enjoyed the required Latin and jumped at the chance to take a summer French class. Once in public high school, he relished taking French full time. Yet few in Goddard’s school or community shared his feeling that “there was more to learn” outside the bounds of Indiana.
Then one day in the fall of 1967, Goddard’s French teacher, Leah Silver, gave him a pamphlet she had received from an organization called School Boys Abroad. They were starting a program in France. Would he be interested?
“I was thrilled by the idea,” he says. “I had never heard of these schools that sponsored the program, but I sensed a way of learning beyond anything I knew. A chance to expand my horizons.”
The fifth of 14 children in a family of modest means, Goddard (above, far right) encountered initial skepticism from his parents, but they allowed him to apply. Much to their surprise, he received a generous scholarship, and the next fall, he was off to Rennes.
“The trip took nine days by ship,” he recalls, “and we used that time for language placement testing. I soon realized the massive gap in my education. I went from being a top student in my school back home to someone who had never heard of most French verb tenses. It was a huge challenge.” Meanwhile, Harris Thomas, Walter Burgin, and other teachers were kind and supportive and reassured him that “things would click.” Within a few months, they did.
“I was learning constantly,” he remembers, “not just the language but the art, the city, the food. French novels, poetry, and theatre. Ancient and modern European history. The political climate. It was an extraordinary time.”
“The travels our group took to Paris, Provence, the Loire Valley … no one I knew in Mishawaka had ever seen these places. I soaked up every moment.”— Rick Goddard FR’69
At the heart of the experience stood Goddard’s host family: Pierre and Geneviève du Merle and their six children, Henri (19), Alain (17), Véronique (14), Clotilde (13) Béatrice (8) and Christophe (5). Goddard had just turned 16 and dedicated himself to becoming part of the family. “I wanted to know everything,” he recalls. “Shopping, cooking, hobbies, games. The travels our group took to Paris, Provence, the Loire Valley … no one I knew in Mishawaka had ever seen these places. I soaked up every moment.”
For over 50 years, Goddard has remained close to his French family through countless letters along with family visits on both sides of the Atlantic. Their relationships continue to be joyful, sustaining and a hallmark of his transformation into a global citizen.
“SYA altered the course of my entire life,” he says. “I applied to Oberlin on Walter Burgin’s suggestion, making me the first in my family to graduate from college. We have four children; all of them studied internationally, and two now live abroad. SYA introduced me to a lifetime of travel and language study. Most important of all, it gave me perspective. There’s so much to learn. The world does not revolve around my country or my individual experience.”
Throughout his life, Goddard has championed SYA—as a volunteer and a 41-year donor to the SYA Fund. He shares this distinction with just one other alumnus. “There are so many organizations a person can support, but I think the most important thing we can do as humans is to create opportunity for others,” he says. “I had doors opened for me many times, starting with Leah Silver. SYA creates opportunity on an unparalleled scale—I’m living proof of that. We need to do everything we can to preserve this experience for the students of today and tomorrow. The SYA Fund is the most critical and fundamental way we do that.”