Shandin Rickard-Hughes graduated from OSU with degrees in both English and Business, discovering a love for books and travel that has taken her to Cheltenham, England, where she runs Brewerism Brewery Tours and coordinates study abroad programming. Here, Shandin shares how her passion for international experience and global perspectives was nurtured as an undergraduate and the ways in which her coursework continues to pay dividends.
Can you tell us a bit about your connection to OSU?
When I was a junior in high school we had a college visit day, and OSU, UO, SOU and quite a few others came to the school and did presentations and activities with us to recruit applicants. I was lost at this point in my life – no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I come from a tiny Oregon town where most people aren’t educated past high school and most people never leave the state, let alone the country. Yet somehow, I grew up fascinated with world and other cultures, and knew that I wanted to travel.
The OSU presentation was different from every other in one key detail: the ambassador talked about study abroad. The idea that I could study toward my degree for a semester or a year in another country, and use my OSU financial aid to do so, blew my young mind and soon after I applied, got accepted and was offered a small scholarship to attend Oregon State University. As a weird and wonderful coincidence I was placed in a dorm room with a British exchange student my freshman year, and the course of my life was well and truly changed.
For my junior year I did a year-long exchange in England through the International Degree and Education Abroad (IDEA) office (now OSU GO), studying British Literature as part of my English degree. It was fantastic and I caught a bad case of the travel bug. When I got back I started working in the IDEA office as an International Ambassador, sharing my story and helping other OSU students achieve their own study abroad dreams. I went abroad again in my fifth year, spending three months in Romania doing an international internship in International Education. After I graduated in 2011, the IDEA office hired me on as an Administrative Program Assistant. With my experience and ambition I was able to work my way up quickly to become an advisor and then the Office Manager and Assistant to the Director. It was an amazing experience, helping to build and grow the programs and improve the services to students to help more and more Oregon students go abroad.
I left OSU, after eight years there as a student and employee, to move to the UK with my British husband in December 2013. I kept in touch with many of my OSU colleagues and in 2016 I began working with a previous IDEA advisor who is now an Academic Advisor in the College of Agricultural Sciences to plan a faculty-led study abroad program in the UK in July 2017. I hosted a group of 10 OSU students for a week in my new British home. My connection to OSU has come full circle, and I am proud and delighted to be hosting my fellow Beavers abroad! We are currently planning the July 2018 program.
What’s the story behind starting your company, Brewerism Brewery Tours?
I’ve loved craft beer since I was 21 and could go into bars and order the interesting local brews on draft. I was amazed at the range of flavors available (I’d only ever had cheap lager) and enjoyed tasting new brews by Block 15 and the breweries in Eugene and Portland. I started doing a lot of brewery tours to learn more about how the beers were made, and volunteered for my first beer festival, in Portland, in 2013. Essentially, I became a beer nerd very early on, which is so easy to do in Oregon – we have some of the best beer in the world in our awesome state.
Then, beer became my job in 2015. I worked at the local university in my English town for my first year and a half in the UK, but it didn’t work out. I decided to try something new and take a break from the stress of university employment. At the same time I found a summer job at a local microbrewery running tours and managing the office during their busy season. I didn’t have a lot of experience with the tours side but I had a lot of passion, and I applied and got the job! I had a ton of fun working for the brewery and learned a lot from the brewer. After that summer I wanted to keep working in the industry – the people are so friendly and the day-to-day is fun and varied. I started working with a friend who was starting his own brewery, and helped him get it get off the ground, working in the taproom for the first eight months.
I had the idea for a beer tourism business for a long time before I took action on it. Through my work with the microbreweries and volunteering for small local beer festivals I made a lot of contacts in the beer industry. I went on tours with Brewvana in Portland and Vancouver Brewery Tours in Vancouver, B.C. on my travels home, testing out the idea. In February 2016 my husband and I decided to go for it and I spent the next four months writing a business plan, building a website (which I did myself!) and planning tour routes with my new business partners.
It’s really good fun to meet new people and show them round the brilliant breweries, taprooms and pubs of my region. I share my knowledge of brewing and the fascinating history of beer, and guide people in tasting new and complex flavors, helping them come to appreciate the art and science of brewing. It’s not all fun and games, of course. Owning your own business is a challenge for sure. Brewerism Brewery Tours is nearly two years old now, and I’m hoping to see real growth this year. I’m working with a laughable budget, so I do pretty much everything myself in terms of managing the business: the website, marketing, accounting, strategy, you name it. It can be exhausting and overwhelming at times, but I have a strong support network, and I’ve made friends with other people running similar companies who I can bounce ideas off of and who understand the struggle. All in all, it’s rewarding to create something of my own.
How would you say your time at OSU and coursework in English serve you in your current position?
My fellow English students will all have experienced the skepticism about the usefulness of an English degree. ‘What are you going to do with an English degree, be a teacher?’ People have pigeonholed us Lit geeks into a maximum of five career paths, which is just wildly unrepresentative of the value of studying Literature or the Liberal Arts generally. Sure, a lot of people doing a BA or MA in English are planning to write or be a teacher, but I pretty much knew from the start that I was going to do something else, although for a long time I didn’t know what. I just love English Lit. It was my favorite subject in high school and I was very good at it. I love the discussion. I love looking critically at a text, pulling out all of the meaning. I love how much you learn about humanity from reading hand full of books closely; stories, like the classics we all read, contain history, anthropology, social norms, the hopes, dreams and fears of nations and generations of people. Literature encompasses nearly everything about us, if you study it carefully. I find that fascinating and thrilling. So, I started as a Business major – the ‘practical’ major – and realized a year in that I had to go back to English. So I did both, and I’m very glad that I did.
My coursework in English was so much fun and I had a couple great professors and a wonderful advisor, Steve Kunert, who was extremely supportive of me going to the UK for a year to study English. It helps that English is so flexible – all those studying it should be going abroad! – I could easily find classes at my British exchange university to fill in OSU degree requirements. I took
classes like Chaucer, Romantic Lit, British Theatre, and Irish Writing in England and I got to travel to some of the iconic places hat my favorite authors are from or wrote about, which was magical. So I am very grateful to the degree for that flexibility an opportunity. Really, though, it was the study abroad experience that got me on the path I was meant to go down – I fell in love with traveling and study abroad and finished out my degree knowing I wanted to work with students to help them have life-changing experiences like mine.
I couldn’t have studied just anything and got to where I am, with the skill set that I have. It was that particular combination of English and Business that has helped me to build a great International Education career and start my own beer business. For instance, the English degree prepared me for analyzing contracts, writing website content, reports and blogs, critical thinking in every aspect of my job, etc. Above all else, though, my love of English set me up early to have a broad and flexible mind, empathy, curiosity and a good understanding of how people and society work. It gave me a lust for exploring new places, new cultures, new stories.
You’re also involved in study abroad program development. Why do you think having that experience as an undergraduate matters?
I never traveled outside of west coast America until the summer following my freshman year at OSU. I had never been on a plane before I was 19 years old. I’m not alone. In my experience a lot of American youth grow up in a bubble, influenced by the narrow perspective of their parents and peers, surrounded by people who look and think like they do, unaware of the intricate, connected, diverse and difficult world in which we live. Going abroad rocked my world view and gave me the confidence to face truths to which I had never been exposed. I met people who were so different and I talked about American and world politics with people living in other countries and realized that they knew more about my country than I did. I experienced being a foreigner, which is a powerful eye-opener, especially for Americans, what with the anti immigration sentiment which has been strong for several decades. Traveling by myself, away from my family for an extended time, with no school or camp counselors or anyone to help me, was difficult. I made mistakes, I offended people, I got lost. I had so much fun and grew more in a short time abroad than I did in years at home.
A typical undergraduate is a bit like a toddler: a sponge, taking in the new information around them, trying to figure out how they fit and who they want to be. Going abroad at this time is hugely valuable to undergraduate development, both academic and personal. Some people commented that I changed after going abroad, but I argue that I found myself. I changed my major and my career path because I found my passions, and I finally worked out my own religious and political beliefs after years of nodding along with my parents and teachers.
I do not think study abroad is for everyone. In fact I have met a lot of people on my travels who should probably just stay home because they are rigid and rude and intolerant, trying to take America abroad with them. That said, most of our students would benefit from the experience, and in turn they help make the world a better place. I think the world needs more people who have struggled through culture shock, who have fumbled with another language, who have had a difficult encounter with someone and learned to see another perspective, and then who have ultimately come out the other side in love with the world and tolerant of difference. These undergrads will bring these experiences home with them - to their classes, their jobs, their families and their communities.
Were there any discoveries you made as a student here that have stayed with you?
Absolutely. I can still remember some specific lectures that altered the course of my thinking forever. Probably the most impactful classes that I took were part of my Bacc core: Ethics of Diversity was a not stop thrill ride of confrontation of racism, sexism, classicism, etc. International Relations was the first time I gained a realistic foundation for understanding the ways and reasons that countries interact. I took the role of Belgium in our mock UN project and learned about colonialism, the diamond industry, and the truth of Western success at the expense of African enslavement.
In terms of English classes I still remember a few of my teachers, lectures and texts which have stuck with me. I took Literary Theory and Criticism with Tara Williams, who I thought was brilliant, and I discovered Marxist and Feminist readings and Michel Foucault’s theories on power. I took American Women’s Writing with Marjorie Sandor and discovered a passion for the female perspective in classic and contemporary literature, and read A Mercy by Toni Morrison, who is now one of my favorite authors. I had other brilliant teachers and classes and moments, of course. I loved my English degree and I am so glad that I changed my major to English, despite the change adding time (and debt) to my B.A. I miss sitting in Moreland on a warm day with the trees swaying in a breeze that I’ve sat next to the window to enjoy, my book open with tabs and notes, ready to break into the intense discussion at hand.