Barbara Dirks: an inspiration for her generation and those who followed

World Learning
2 min readMar 12, 2024

This Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting some of the impactful women of World Learning, School for International Training, and The Experiment in International Living. This series seeks to showcase their extraordinary journeys and indelible contributions to our more than 90-year history. Each of them, in their own way, has helped us create a more sustainable, peaceful, and just world.

A black and white photo of a woman against a green circle.
Barbara Dirks

During a memorial service in November 2012, a path down to a pond on School for International Training’s campus was officially named “Barbara’s Way” to honor and remember Barbara Dirks — an inspiration for those who knew her as well as generations to come.

Barbara graduated from Smith College in 1936 and then served as a Red Cross volunteer in New Zealand and various Pacific islands during World War II. Following, she participated in The Experiment in International and then in 1953, Barbara began leading summer groups, taking students to Scotland, Sweden, Holland, Finland, and Germany. In 1957, she joined The Experiment staff and two years later moved to San Francisco to serve as the director of The Experiment’s office on the West Coast. There, she was approached by Lewis and Clark College to set up a collaborative semester abroad program in Japan. In 1965, she moved to Vermont and worked for The Experiment on special assignments, including training Peace Corps groups slated to serve in Korea, Kenya, and the Marianas Islands.

Barbara’s career took her to Washington, DC, where she served as resident director of the International Student House, a nonprofit that houses international students and young professionals studying or interning in the city. After 12 years, she returned to Vermont and began earning her master’s degree at School for International Training in Brattleboro. Due to health reasons, she was unable to complete her final project and internship but was awarded an honorary master’s in teaching languages from SIT Graduate Institute.

Barbara later served as a volunteer for World Learning’s Alvino E. Fantini Institutional Archives. Upon her passing in 2012, she left her estate to World Learning in unrestricted support, an impactful legacy that inspired and helped all those who followed in her footsteps.

We wish to thank the volunteers at World Learning’s Alvino E. Fantini Institutional Archives who provided the research and photos for this story.



World Learning

World Learning works globally to enhance the capacity and commitment of individuals and communities to create a more sustainable, peaceful, and just world.