The Value of an International Learning Experience

President Link discusses from Rome life for her family

Moving across the world poses difficulties for all involved, no matter the prize on the other side. That prize, however, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will help shape people into the best versions of themselves that they can be, something that Allegheny’s new president is familiar with.

President Hilary L. Link was appointed Allegheny College’s 22nd president and first female president in January 2019. Link assumed her position on July 1, 2019, and moved her family from Rome to Meadville — an, approximately, 4,500-mile move.

“There are advantages to moving to a smaller town that I think (my family) hadn’t even considered when we were moving,” Link said. “We have lived most of our adult lives in kind of big, anonymous, complicated, chaotic cities, and we have really been appreciating the quieter environment here in Meadville.” 

Prior to moving to Meadville, Link served as the dean of Temple University Rome since 2013, where she was instrumental in the expansion of the university, according to a Temple University article.

“She is a visionary whose innovations and leadership helped our university celebrate Temple Rome’s 50th anniversary, while keeping an eye toward the next 50 years and further expansion of Temple’s already impressive European footprint,” said Temple University Provost JoAnne A. Epps in an article published on Jan. 15, 2019, by the university regarding Link’s departure. “While her departure is a great loss for Temple, it also represents a great opportunity for Hilary and Allegheny College.”

Having worked at Barnard College of Columbia University, New York University and Yale University, Link is no stranger to big cities. However, she noted that this was her first major move to a small town.

“We feel very safe here and already, even in two-plus months, embedded in the community, and that’s something that in a big city is very hard to have,” Link said. “We are still finding our way and figuring out different ways to spend your time in a small town in (Northwestern) Pennsylvania versus being in Rome, Italy or New York City, but we’re getting there.”

Link emphasized the “warm” environment of the college, which her entire family has found welcoming. She enjoys the neighborhood where the president’s house is located as well as the nature in the area — something that is less familiar in a big city.

“Jokingly, we like to say there’s really no traffic and you can park anywhere you need to park, which is not the case in Rome,” Link said.

Pam Higham, assistant to the president, noted that Link has been welcomed with open arms by the campus community.

“I’ve heard wonderful things about her from students, faculty, staff and the Meadville community,” Higham said. “We are very lucky to have her as president.”

While Meadville has proven to be a welcoming community for the new president and her family, she noted the benefits of living in Rome, including the amazing food and year-round sunshine. Link pointed out the uniqueness of her former home, such as the ability to be just mere miles away from architecture that is thousands of years old.

The last big move for the Link family occured six years ago, but Link said moving back to “their home country” made the transition easier. However, logistics are still being sorted, despite the move occurring two months ago.

“We still haven’t unpacked all of our boxes and so while I had to hit the ground running in terms of the presidency, at home we’re still trying to find papers that we know we packed somewhere back in June in Rome and will at some point resurface,” Link said. “I think it’s just a matter of having enough time given how busy and all-consuming my position is — finding enough time to also feel settled enough at home.”

The move concerned more than just the president. She had to have her three sons in mind when she made the decision to move back to the U.S. The change in schooling was the top priority for her family. Her thirteen-year-old son Alex is currently attending public school in Meadville, while her youngest son Zachary, who is 8 years old, is attending a school called the Creating Landscapes Learning Center.

“They have had very different schooling when we were abroad in Italy, and so we were lucky enough that here in Meadville we were able to find two different options that kind of fit what they both need,” Link said.

The family knew that they were not going to stay in Rome forever, but Link said that Western Pennsylvania was never somewhere they planned to live, until the opportunity to be the president of Allegheny came along. She believed that because they were citizens of the U.S., the move had a sense of comfort.

“(The kids) really had two very specific demands in order to agree: They want … a trampoline and a dog,” Link said. “Those are the two things that every day they’re saying, ‘Where’s our trampoline and where’s our dog?’ but as you can imagine, my husband and I have been a little bit busy settling in, unpacking a house, starting new jobs, etc. So we are working on it.”

Link added that once the family adopts a dog, she will bring it to campus.

Link’s husband, Jeff Link, perhaps, had the easiest move of the entire family, as he did not have to change jobs. He works for The College Board out of its Reston, Virginia, office but was given permission to work remotely from Meadville.

“He just basically moved from being in an apartment in Reston to being home with us,” Link said. “He’s mostly working from home and he’s really excited to be here in Meadville.”

The entire Link family is not located in Meadville, however. Her oldest son, Jason, is finishing  his last two years of high school back in Rome.

“It’s a great situation in the sense that he’s attending the same school that he was attending for the past two years,” Link said. “We know the teachers and the administration really well, we know his group of friends really well, so we know he’s in really good hands, and we know that for him this was the better choice.”

Link said it was for the best that he remained in Rome so he can finish his last two years of high school in a familiar environment. 

As a mother, she pointed out the difficulty of having her son so far away.

“I think it actually made me very able to relate to all of the parents of first-year students on move-in day because my son was about to leave to go 5,000 miles away, and so I can fully understand,” Link said. “It’s both exciting because you’re proud of them, that they can do this and that you know they’re going to be OK, but it’s really nerve-racking because you’re not there to make sure that everything’s going to be OK.”

Having been the dean of Temple University Rome, a study abroad campus, and having studied abroad herself, Link knows the struggles of moving away from home and the difficulties of having to adjust to a completely different culture and way of life. However, she believes that going abroad and stepping out of your comfort zone is one to learn who you are as a person.

“When you go abroad and you put yourself in that challenging position, nobody knows your background and that can be both liberating and really hard,” Link said. “When I first went abroad, the biggest thing that I took away from it is figuring out ‘how do I define who I am’ in a context that is not my own, and it made me think long and hard about who do I really want to be, how do I want to treat other people and how do I want to be perceived by other people.”

Link said that it is hard, as a mother, to have a child studying in another country, but she believes studying abroad helps students adapt to new situations and become creative problem solvers.

“As a parent that’s the most exciting thing to see because you watch your child become a global citizen, whether they’re coming here or they’re going elsewhere,” Link said. “They become someone who learns how to speak other languages, adapt in other cultures, learn to interact with people who are radically different from themselves — and those are all things they are going to need moving forward.”

Although the move changed how Link and her family live and grow, she remains firm in her beliefs regarding liberal arts.

“A liberal arts college is a perfect place for students to really find out who they are, how they think, what really excites them, and to figure out how to take the skills and the processes of learning that they’re able to develop while they’re in college and apply those beyond college and into the real world,” Link said in an article published on May 8, 2019, by Pittsburgh’s NPR News Station.

Link has made increasing accessibility to study abroad programs a top priority at Allegheny. This includes the passport fair hosted during first-year move in, where the college covered the cost for 82 students to obtain passports. She said that any student who wants to study abroad should be able to, without having to worry about financial difficulties.

“We want it to be that any student coming to Allegheny has both the incentive and all of the tools to be able to have a global experience, because we think that learning to be a global citizen is a really important part of a college education,” Link said.