Honors study abroad students make Europe their classroom

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    When sophomore Brandon Corcoran signed up for an honors college study abroad trip, he didn’t expect white water rafting in Interlaken, Switzlerland, to be part of the curriculum. It was just one of many surprises that he said made the trip an experience to remember.

    “Berlin was really cool, because we all set off and explored the city on our own,” Corcoran said. “In Munich we got to go see a castle, and we even got to do some hiking behind the Alps.”

    The Interlaken rafting trip kind of capped everything off because the group were free to do what they wanted, Corcoran said. Dr. Ronald Pitcock led the first study abroad trip designed specifically for the John V. Roach Honors College this summer. Fourteen sophomores began their trip in Munich, making stops by train in Berlin, Interlaken, Florence and Rome. The program, called Cultural Routes, allowed more freedom for students than most study abroad trips, Pitcock said.

    “The trip is different from other study abroad (trips) in that the students find that their classroom is the cities or countries that they are visiting,” Pitcock said. “They would go out in small groups on their own, and find their way around the city.” Pitcock said the majority of traditional teaching the students received flowed organically through conversations between small groups.

    “Lessons differ from student to student,” Pitcock said. “In some cities like Florence, art was obviously a big part of the conversation. In a city like Berlin, we talked a lot about politics … Our conversations covered a number of different disciplines.”

    The unusual curriculum filled a need unique to honors students from a credit perspective as well.

    Students on the trip received credit for their Cultural Visions Sequence in the Honors College, Pitcock said. First- and second-year students in the honors college are required to take 15 hours a semester – nine elective, and nine toward their cultural visions sequence he said.

    “Because (this trip) is so intense in terms of experience, and because it encourages (students) to really go out and engage the culture, we award credit for that sequence,” Pitcock said. “Students benefit twofold from this. One, they receive credit for the cultural visions sequence. But they also gain flexibility to pursue a double major, or additional classes.”

    Corcoran said the trip has freed his schedule to pursue an accounting and finance double major.

    “I already fulfilled lower division honors requirements from the trip, so instead of having to take a history class like other honors students are doing, I can add another business class,” Corcoran said.

    David Neal, a biology major, said using a loose itinerary let the students maximize the value of their time. In each city the students visited, they were allowed a day that was completely theirs.

    “We would end up going to different sites, go shopping and do our own thing,” Neal said.

    The trip was paid for in part from the J. Vaughn and Evelyne H. Wilson Honors Faculty Fellowship, but each student paid $2,750 for the trip. The money covered housing, two meals a day, Eurorail pass, Eurorail sleeper car from Munich to Berlin and cultural activities, Pitcock said. Airfare, passport, and spending money were not covered.

    Lindsay Lock, a film television and digital media major, said the price was well worth the trip.

    “I thought it was definitely worth it, because it was a good time and I had never been to those countries before.” Lock said. “It was very enriching.”

    Pitcock said his enjoyment came from watching the students on the trip embrace new experiences.

    “The most engaging thing on a trip like this for me was watching kids experience Europe for the first time,” Pitcock said. “Being with kids who saw mountains for the first time in their entire lives, seeing kids in Berlin who weren’t familiar with the history of the divided city actually have to walk the wall and experience it and seeing them ask questions about all of these things that they wouldn’t have asked before (was the most enjoyable experience for me).”

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