When two professors and a former TCU president shipped out to Europe 100 years ago, they couldn’t know that they would revolutionize the educational opportunities TCU students would be able to get their hands on for the next century.
It all began aboard the U.S.S. Uranium– a ship that would take these three individuals on a 30-day voyage to more than 12 European cities.
50 years later, students began going abroad annually. In the summer of 1951, students departed from a New York City harbor on July 14 towards four European countries. The trip offered six credit hours for religion and history majors.
Now, jump to the summer of 1978.
Karen Parker (formerly Turley) was part of a 28-day program to Europe spearheaded by Kenneth Lawrence, former chairman of the religion department. The trip was “intergenerational” as Parker put it, as not all the trip’s participants were TCU students.
The art history major explored Italy by day and was changed by the iconography and art within the Anglican and Catholic churches. By night she settled down in Vatican-owned apartments, where nuns would cook dinner for the group. They continued their tour of Europe by way of buses.
The study abroad boom
Julie Herrick went to Milan, Italy for the entire 1994-1995 academic year. She lived in an apartment with other college students from around the world.
Herrick was one of the first students to be able to take advantage of some new benefits offered to students going abroad.
At the beginning of her stay in Milan, she was walking around with some people from her program when she bumped into a friend from high school. He was a native Milanese who had attended her high school when he studied abroad in Kansas a few years prior.
Herrick was shocked that she was able to run into someone she hadn’t seen in four years, in a city filled with three million people.
She did, however, bond with other American students. On Thanksgiving, she got together with some friends and cooked a Thanksgiving dinner with them. She said she didn’t realize how different it is not having the holidays Americans are accustomed to while in a different country.
TCU previously only offered summer programs, which added additional fees on top of student’s yearly tuition. But, the Higher Education Amendments that passed in the early 1990s changed everything.
Under Title VI, Part A of the Amendments, The Pell Grant was increased to $3,700 for the 1993-1994 academic year, and included that this basic amount would “be exceeded for students participating in a program of study abroad approved for credit by the institution.”
And with that, TCU began its semester abroad program in London and expanded its relationship with long-time partner programs like Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and Institute for the International Education of Students (IES) to send students to cities all over the world—that’s how Herrick got her chance.
A technology revolution
Parker’s only means of communicating home in the 70s was through postcards she’d send from every city she visited. But then again, this didn’t cause much culture shock for her, since the main way she spoke to her parents from TCU was through letters.
Herrick was able to completely immerse herself into Italian culture in the 90s due to two things: her friend from Kansas, and a lack of technology.
“My situation was unique,” she said. “I think it’s natural for young students to gravitate to people who are of similar cultures. But because I renewed my friendship with Fabio, I was forced to speak Italian and spend more time with Italians.”
She said because they didn’t have computers or cell phones, it was easy to completely shut out and enjoy the culture. She said she made an occasional phone call to her parents.
“Even though I didn’t have a cell phone or email, how could you wish you had things that didn’t exist?” she said. “It was my only option.”
Oh, how standards have changed
Hayley Votolato, who studied abroad in Florence, Italy during the Spring 2013 semester, said she felt she wasn’t too connected to home because wireless internet was very limited.
The creation of the Apple iPhone has revolutionized communication since Herrick’s trip in the 1990s. With downloadable applications like WhatsApp and Votolato’s favorite, Viber, students are now able to call and text family and friends for free.
Votolato didn’t feel her ability to enjoy Italian culture was inhibited by excessive Internet and phone access, though.
“People in Europe don’t text or spend all day on their phones,” she said. “They spend time talking to friends, and in that way, I was able to get more valuable time and memories with my friends.”
Votolato was disappointed that she didn’t learn more Italian while abroad. She said Florence was very “Americanized” and that she did not have the opportunity to speak Italian everyday. She attended a university that taught primarily in English and hung out with Americans in social settings.
Tracy Williams, associate director of TCU study abroad, said technology is a positive addition to the study abroad experience for students in 2013, rather than a way of limiting them.
“It’s a great resource to process what you’re doing,” she said “We hope to have students complete assignments through photo journals, video, and blogging to better capture their experience.”
Williams said the biggest change TCU study abroad has seen in the last five years is an increase in scholarships and financial aid. She said students can now use the financial aid they received when they entered TCU while abroad.
Students can also apply for a scholarship through study abroad. Applicants are required to write a brief essay about how study abroad will benefit them from an educational and personal standpoint.
Williams said they try to keep the program affordable for students by keeping housing fees similar to those they pay for on campus housing and meal plans. However, students are in charge of airfare and extra spending money.
TCU offers study abroad programs on five continents, and students can choose to study abroad for an entire semester or for a summer. The study abroad office is located in Reed 214 and at http://www.studyabroad.tcu.edu/.