So when the motivational speaker and writer decided to finish her college degree to improve her communication skills, Sarah Dodd did not let the fact that she was following another dream — traveling the world — stand in her way.
Dodd, a native of Mountain Home, Arkansas, was interested in the online bachelor’s degree in speech communication at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. After a one-hour phone conversation with Dr. April Chatham-Carpenter, chair of the UALR Department of Applied Communication, Dodd was sold.
“I talked to Dr. April on the phone, and it completely blew my mind. I decided right there that I was going to join the program, and I decided I was going to do it all in one year while traveling,” Dodd said.
A year later, the 27-year-old is graduating early, having completed her degree online while traveling to more than 20 different countries.
For all her hard work, Dodd was awarded the Department of Applied Communication’s Making a Difference student award in spring 2016.
“Every time I talk to her, I am encouraged by Sarah’s fortitude and desire to make a difference,” Chatham-Carpenter said. “Her passion in life is to motivate others to explore and live their dreams. In order to do this, she has had to face her fears and do things that she never thought were possible.”
Dodd received the award for her international motivational speeches, in particular a speech she gave to the largest TEDx conference in Leon, Spain, earlier this year. Dr. Kristen McIntyre, associate professor of applied communication, helped Dodd develop the speech, which she delivered in Spanish.
“Her recent TEDx talk in Spain, spoken in Spanish — a language she didn’t even know three years ago — about facing down your fears, is an example of the courage and persistence that is so typical of Sarah,” Chatham-Carpenter said.
Following her dreams
Dodd is no stranger to making her dreams a reality. At 17, she graduated high school one year early, packed up everything she owned, and moved to Florida to attend college.
By 2012, she found herself with a long list of dreams waiting to be fulfilled, while also trapped in growing debt from college loans. After completing her associate’s degree in nursing, Dodd was determined to live debt free.
She spent the next year working as much as possible, working double shifts, holidays, and overtime. Dodd was able to pay off $43,000 in debt in a little over a year. Finally free of debt, Dodd got a job as an au pair and moved to Spain in 2013 with the goal of learning Spanish.
During this time, Dodd was careful with her money, because she planned to embark on a trip across Europe, Africa, and Asia. One of the highlights of this trip was the Camino De Santiago. In 2015, she walked 650 miles over 31 days from a small town in France to the west coast of Spain.
“During the Camino, I was faced with my own silence for days and days, when I am used to talking all the time,” she said. “I was so empowered by this experience that I changed all of my habits and all of my life.”
Finishing her bachelor’s degree online while traveling was often difficult. Dodd recalls many instances of sitting in the corner during a party or leaving social gatherings early in order to write papers and turn in her assignments on time.
“It’s called balance,” Dodd said. “When I was traveling, my answer was I got up at 5 in the morning, whether I wanted to or not. I meditated and exercised and ate right, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to give 100 percent to my university.”
Life after graduation
Back home in Zaragoza, Spain, Dodd plans to build up her Nomadic Dreamer website, social media presence, and motivational speaking. She already has more than 130,000 followers on social media.
Once she receives her diploma, she is going to hang it on her wall, along with her other UALR accomplishments, as a reminder of all the hard work, time, and effort she put into UALR.
Dodd also has a goal of traveling to every country in the world, including Antarctica, before her 35th birthday.
“The message is about achieving your dreams on a professional and personal level,” Dodd said. “It’s about facing your fears and going out and living your dreams. It’s about not just doing it good, but doing it excellent.”