University of Delaware
Michael Bennett's study abroad experience to Costa Rica in 1999 inspired a career in helping others to transform through travel. ​

Transformational travel

Study abroad inspires career of UD alumnus and travel entrepreneur


1:03 p.m., Feb. 11, 2016--“Study abroad was the highlight of my entire University of Delaware experience,” said Michael Bennett, a 2000 alumnus and founder of the California-based transformational travel company, Muddy Shoe Adventures.

Looking back, Bennett’s own life-changing UD study abroad experience to Costa Rica in 1999 would be the impetus for a 13-year journey toward inspiring others to do the same.  

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“As I sat in Costa Rica, reflecting on all of my experiences, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “I came to the realization that life is short and nothing can or should be taken for granted.”

A marketing major, Bennett found himself enrolling in internationally-focused courses once he returned from the Spanish language program directed by Suzanne Tierney Gula.

Upon graduation, he traveled the world while working in marketing, higher education admissions, and organizational development and counseling. 

Bennett then went on to earn his global MBA and doctor of education degrees from Pepperdine University.

It was during his doctoral dissertation in organizational leadership that Bennett stumbled upon 38 interviews of individuals who had experienced life-changing adventure travel. The interviews were recorded by his now business partner, Don Mankin, author of Riding the HulaHula to the Arctic Ocean.

These interviews, vetted and analyzed by Bennett, became the basis for his next entrepreneurial venture, Muddy Shoe Adventures, and an e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Transformational Travel.

Now in its third year of business, Muddy Shoe Adventures offers 8-10 day guided “journeys” around the world including Italy, Nepal, Namibia, Norway and Switzerland. At each stop, the company relies on primarily local, family owned businesses to provide in-country guides, goods and services.

“Our goal is for participants to adopt new, more empowering stories about who they are, what they are capable of, and where they want to go in their life,” Bennett said.

Bennett’s research, based on Joseph Campbell’s model of The Hero’s Journey, posits that there are eight key steps to transforming one’s life through travel. Among them all, he says that two – meaningful reflection and an intentional action – stand out.

“You can travel to a brand new place, meet new people, and really challenge and immerse yourself in the experience,” he said. “The sort of coup de grâce is to take time to reflect on that and to let it inform your life once you return.”

This advice is timely, as over 1,100 UD study abroad students arrived back on campus for the spring semester this week. 

To these students, Bennett said, “Costa Rica was the launch for my current path. It has been a winding one, but none of this would have happened if it weren’t for study abroad.”

Study abroad returnees looking for opportunities to continue their global engagement at UD are invited to attend the Spring Study Abroad and Global Studies Fair, where representatives from the University’s globally-focused academic minors, the UD Fulbright initiative, and International House Living and Learning community, among many others, will be on hand.

In addition, for those seeking to study abroad in the future, representatives from many of the over 70 winter and spring 2017 programs will be available to answer questions. 

The event will be held from 2-5 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 24, in the Multipurpose Rooms of the Trabant University Center.

For additional information on study abroad at UD, visit the Institute for Global Studies website and follow @UDGlobal on Instagram and Twitter.

Those interested in learning more about Muddy Shoe Adventures, should visit the webpage or follow the company on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  

About the Institute for Global Studies

The Institute for Global Studies was created in 2009 to enhance the international dimensions of teaching, research and outreach at the University of Delaware. IGS provides leadership and support for programs and experiences that contribute to the education of informed, skilled, open-minded citizens of the world.

Best known for coordinating the University’s study abroad program, IGS also awards scholarships and grants to faculty and students for a number of global opportunities, and administers internationally-recognized State Department-sponsored programs such as the UD Fulbright Initiative, Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Student Leaders Institute, Mandela Washington Fellowship Program for Young African Leaders, and most recently the Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders on Women’s Leadership (SUSI-WL) program.

IGS sponsors such signature events as Global Month each fall and country-specific celebrations each spring.

IGS collaborates with other global partners on campus, including the Office for International Students and Scholars, the Confucius Institute and the Center for Global and Area Studies.  In addition, IGS partners with Enrollment Management to coordinate the UD World Scholars Program.

Article by Nikki Laws

Photo Courtesy of Michael Bennett

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