Students gain new experiences through spring break study abroad

Three student groups ventured across the Atlantic Ocean to Scotland, London and Greece for out-of-the-classroom learning experiences during spring break. 

Despite varying educational goals for each trip, the study abroad courses brought together people from different walks of life and introduced them to new cultures and educational subjects. 

Augustana journalism and English professors Janet Blank-Libra and Beth Boyens led the course “Scotland’s Stories,” which focused on analyzing how the country’s crofting tradition and literary history affect the Scottish identity. The group of 19 traveled to Inverness, the Isle of Skye and Edinburgh. 

“When we study the work of the great literary figures of Scotland, we find ourselves simultaneously immersed in the history and culture of Scotland,” Blank-Libra said. “When we study the work of such writers in the places that inspired them, we learn immeasurably more about both the author, the landscape and the life of Scotland.”

Senior Molly Lenz said being able to immerse herself in the culture of famous writers added depth to her understanding of their work. 

“Studying abroad is the best way to learn,” Lenz said, recalling her time in Scotland.

Sophomore Elizabeth Toso said witnessing the daily life of another culture was an eye-opening experience that made her appreciate the differences between her own culture and that of Scotland.

“We were able to see a lot of amazing historical sites and experience Scottish culture, which was very interesting,” Toso said. 

Apart from her academic lessons, Lenz said that the value of expanding her social group was the most important thing she learned abroad. 

“The group who went to Scotland was a mixed bag: current students, current professors, alumni, friends of friends,” Lenz said. “I knew only a fraction of the people there on the first day. I hope to stay in touch with some of the people a decade or so older than I am and those who live halfway across the country. Saying goodbye to them was painful.”

Toso, a math major, said the Scotland trip was the perfect opportunity to break out of her traditional courses while still getting course credit for her travels. She also said she enjoyed getting to bond with her fellow travelers.
“I think there were around eight students that went and like 10 alumni, and it was really fun to have this experience with all of them,” Toso said. 

About a six-hour train ride away, another group of students investigated the historic and modern multiculturalism of the English identity on the trip “Changing Identities: From Londinium to Brexit,” in London, led by English professor Patrick Hicks and sociology professor William Swart.

Swart said that he also sees the unique social dynamic of studying abroad, which he enjoys for his students.

“I love the way studying abroad binds a group of students, who often didn’t know each other before departure, into a group that maintains lasting friendships long after the course is over,” Swart said. 

Junior Hanna Beshai, a student on the London trip, said the value of wandering was the most valuable lesson she learned. 

“You never know what you will find while wandering around, and sometimes not having a plan makes for a more enjoyable experience,” Beshai said. “We ended up stumbling across sites that we would never have considered seeking out, and it was such a wonderful experience.”

The trip “Tracing the Roots in Greece,” led by environmental studies and philosophy professor David O’Hara and classics professor Rocki Wentzel, taught students about Western intellectual and cultural heritage through visits to historic sites around Greece and exposure to the Greek language.

“Studying away is a reminder that education is not merely training or receiving information,” O’Hara said. “When you study away, you experience a place and its people in a much fuller way than merely reading about them in books. It’s like the difference between reading a cookbook and enjoying a home-cooked meal.”

Freshman Maia Morrison said the trip to Greece reinforced their passion for learning new things.

“Going to a country I’ve wanted to visit since childhood and getting to see just a fraction of the country and its monuments really solidified the fact that I love learning,” Morrison said. “I’m always happy when I find out I don’t know something because it means I get to learn something new.”

In addition to new experiences, the trips created funny moments that both students and faculty remember fondly.

Beshai said her group stumbled upon an “American décor” shop in London, which had items such as state license plates for sale with prices that depended on how popular the state was. Blank-Libra said a snowstorm canceled a day trip in Scotland, but the group salvaged their experience with a snowball fight. 

“We managed to enjoy a seaside snowball fight that left us rather exhilarated,” Blank-Libra said. “I won, of course.”

Students from each course said these shared adventures of their spring break trips helped them break out of their comfort zones and gain refreshing perspectives on the world in which they live. 

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