Language and Cultural Understanding are Key for International Careers - Alumni Spotlight – Bill and Carol Pendergast

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IES Abroad
October 26, 2021
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Bill Pendergast and Carol Stamatis standing together

Meet Bill Pendergast and Carol Stamatis (IES Abroad Paris 1964-65). A year of studying abroad in Paris, which gave them a common international experience and broadened their world view, led to their marriage in 1968 and to Ph.D. degrees at Columbia and Yale that were rooted in their international experience. Their three children were all born in Europe during the 17 years that the family resided there. Now retired, they return frequently for visits. 

IES Abroad: What fueled your decision to study abroad in Paris? 

Carol Stamatis (CS): At age 14, I accompanied my grandparents’ return to Greece to see family for their 50th wedding anniversary. We stopped in Paris and Rome on the way. It was a life-changing experience to discover my European roots and a world I determined to explore. 

Bill Pendergast (BP): I studied French for two years in high school and another two years in college. I thought I was really good at the language and a year in Paris would top it off! As it turned out, I was barely conversant in the Parisian dialect, but in fact the Paris year did top it off when I began dreaming in French. A bonus was that I escaped winters in South Bend and Chicago. 

IES Abroad: What was your ‘aha’ moment/memory during study abroad in France?  How did your thinking, actions, or plans change? 

CS: Many moments were knit together by the underlying experience of intensive language acquisition that proved the key to immersion in a new culture. For me, language fluency provided a path to French university courses, breaking barriers of communication with locals, and ultimately determined the course of my life. 

BP: There was no ‘aha’ moment, but I experienced major changes in perspectives and plans during the year. I changed my undergraduate major and my plans for post-graduate study. My political perspectives and mindset evolved dramatically. I attribute this to the dynamic cultural, social and political context of Paris and our close-knit group of students at IES Abroad. 

Bill Pendergast and Carol Stamatis standing together in the middle image and old images of them around the middle images

IES Abroad: You’ve spent many years living and working abroad.  What challenges and surprises did you face? 

CS: Language skills and experience as students abroad provided a mindset of enthusiastic openness to other languages and cultures, and an ability to navigate numerous obstacles like red tape, resistance to outsiders, and different cultural norms.  

BP: The year in Paris laid a foundation of flexibility and ability to deal with uncertainty. It fostered curiosity and appetite for cultural exploration that led to our subsequent 17 years of living and working in Europe. Plenty of surprises provided opportunities for growth but none proved insurmountable. Just a few were: challenges of communication, cultural differences, daily issues of logistics and hygiene, and geographic distances not yet attenuated by today’s technology. 

IES Abroad: What led you to create an endowed scholarship fund at IES Abroad, and what is your best advice for students who are headed abroad now? 

CS: Our year in Paris with IES Abroad was the catalyst for decisions and experiences that changed our lives and gave us opportunities to become citizens of the world. We are convinced that study abroad can provide other students comparable impact on their lives. My advice is to immerse yourselves in the language as an indispensable part of your journey. 

BP: We are grateful to IES Abroad for the experience of a lifetime, and we want to enable other students to access similar opportunities. The more that do, the better the world will be. My advice to students is to remain abroad as long as it is practical, commit to immersion into the local community rather than study-abroad tourism, develop and maintain strong relationships with fellow students, and embrace the opportunity to acquire foreign language skills. 

Learn more about studying abroad in Paris and check out Alumni Features to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives and careers of our former students. Carol and Bill recently established the Bill and Carol Pendergast Endowed Scholarship Fund. To learn how you can make an impact on the future generation considering make a gift to IES Abroad here or to create your own named fund, please contact Advancement at  

“We are grateful to IES Abroad for the experience of a lifetime, and we want to enable other students to access similar opportunities. The more that do, the better the world will be.”
Carol Stamatis • IES Abroad Paris 1964-65
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