Paul Currant, ODU's New Senior International Officer, Thinks Globally, Acts Aerobically
By David Simpson
Paul Currant, Old Dominion University's new senior international officer, punched his ticket as a globetrotter early on, starting with an exchange-student stint in Paris at age 13.
But growing up in St. Albans, about 20 miles north of London, he never imagined the complicated path that would lead him to Virginia and his current career. His great interest back then, besides golf and tennis, was drama.
"And still is," he says.
That passion led him to acting, then to studies in playwriting at Aberystwyth University in Wales.
Upon graduating in 1983 he packed his bags and headed for America, where he earned a master's in speech and drama at Kansas State University - and won the heart of his future wife, Sharon.
After three years together back in London, they returned to the States, and in 1991 Currant completed his Ph.D. in drama and theater at the University of Georgia.
He had spent years amassing his academic credentials. At the same time, he was absorbing critical information outside his studies.
"Although at that point I had no interest in making my career in international programs," he recalls, "I was living the life of an international student and learning about the challenges and rewards first hand."
On returning to London in 1994, he worked as a writer for theater, television, and radio. The pay was good, he says, but the checks were sporadic.
So in 2002, with two children to feed, he and his wife qualified as teachers of English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). That launched another international journey - are you sensing a pattern here? - this time to a private English language school in Lyon, France.
From there he took a teaching job at the nearby French/American school of management called CEFAM. His drama background helped a great deal in the classroom, he says.
It was at CEFAM, moreover, that he got a taste of his future career. Currant took over a program that welcomed U.S. students for a semester.
"I found I really liked it," he says, "in spite of the 3 a.m. phone calls when some disaster had struck or the annual event when some newly arrived student would be desperate to leave hours after touchdown."
He moved on to manage the school's international recruitment program and became director of undergraduate studies before moving on to the University of Mauritius. But during his administrative stretch on the Indian Ocean island he decided to return to the U.S., and in 2015 he began work as director of international education at Radford University.
Now he could focus on global education full time.
He spent three years at Radford "essentially building up a department that had not had a permanent head for years," he says. "I ran the recruitment program, oversaw study abroad, and worked with the faculty on everything from internationalization of the curriculum to organizing sabbaticals."
Eventually he sought an opportunity in a more ambitious environment and, in July 2018, found one at ODU. As Senior International Officer here, his role is "more strategic and 'big picture.'"
He says he will concentrate on pedagogical innovations - "technology being a key to the future of international education" - curriculum internationalization; the role of business in education; community engagement; and global political and social shifts.
He has also been charged with building international partnerships to give students access to ODU. China and India are currently his focus in that regard.
Another task entails creating opportunities for ODU students to take part in semester-long exchanges at the same cost as spending a semester in Norfolk. He expects the University to offer new options in Spain, Italy, and France in 2019.
The onetime exchange student finds his new role exciting but doesn't diminish the challenges.
"This is not the easiest time for international educators," he says. "The number of incoming students is declining, and year-on-year automatic increases in the number of students studying abroad are, for now, well, not automatic."
In that climate, he says, global education must "aggressively promote its message of student success through internationalization."
"The message has to get through to everyone that student - and faculty - mobility is good for careers, good for personal development, and is good for global societies in innumerable ways," he says.
He is depending on close cooperation with the Office of Intercultural Relations, the English Language Center, International Admissions, and other campus departments.
For a traveling man such as Currant, it perhaps should not be surprising that he and his wife can often be found on the move in their new home city of Norfolk. Both are dedicated runners.
"Sharon has already embarrassed me in a couple of 5Ks in the area," he says.
What's more, he has signed up for the Ironman 70.3 Virginia triathlon in Williamsburg. Although he plays down his prowess in the demanding race, he is enthusiastic.
"For your own good," he advises, "do not ask me a question about it. It will be an hour of your life you never get back."