Students immersed in new culture, service during spring break abroad

Penn State students in Paris

Penn State students traveled to four varied overseas locations during the University’s spring break. 

Credit: Penn State

MEDIA, Pa. — Penn State students from across the Commonwealth recently traveled to four varied overseas locations during the University’s spring break.

Global Programs, offered to students at all Penn State campus locations through Penn State Brandywine, allowed the students to explore Cuba, Ireland or Paris for a full week, all while earning credits toward graduation. Brandywine’s Office of Student Affairs also hosted an alternative spring break service-learning trip to the Bahamas. 

Brandywine's Global Programs delivers distance-education courses with short-term travel destinations worldwide. Each course includes pre-travel and post-travel coursework that is completed on an independent study basis, working with the instructor through distance-education technologies. Courses in business, art, philosophy, wellness and English are typically available for this unique study-abroad experience.

Students who traveled to Ireland and Paris toured some of the locations’ most acclaimed landmarks, such as the Cliffs of Moher, Kylemore Abbey Castle, the Eiffel Tower, Seine River and several other historic sites.

“Since this was my first trip to Europe, I learned to step out of my comfort zone,” said Brandywine communication arts and sciences major Meaghan Daly, who went to Paris. “I was so grateful to study abroad with Penn State Brandywine because I learned so much about not only the French culture, but myself. It was a real growing experience for me.”

While students on the Cuba and Bahamas trips also had the opportunity to experience new cultures, both trips had unique service-learning components.

“We wanted to teach our students that illiteracy is a worldwide problem,” said Associate Director of Student Affairs Stephanie Jones, who was one of the Brandywine staff members that led the student group to the Bahamas. “It’s something that affects not only our local communities, but our global communities.”

Students from Penn State Brandywine and Penn State York partnered with the Brighter Bahamas Foundation, which focuses on promoting literacy for Bahamian children. According to its website, the mission of the nonprofit organization is to improve the lives of all Bahamians by encouraging reading from a young age while ensuring access to children’s literature.

Before the trip, students collected books that they later donated to both the Brighter Bahamas Foundation and their local community. While on location, the group worked closely with AF Adderley Junior High School in Nassau, where they helped restore the school’s library by laminating, alphabetizing and stocking the shelves with more than 2,000 donated books. The Penn Staters also spent time tutoring and mentoring the AF Adderley students.

“The students at AF Adderley were so happy to have us there,” said Jones. “It was a really wonderful experience. Being able to give our students this opportunity was life changing for them.”

Professor of Education Lynn Hartle led the Foundations of Civic and Community Engagement class in Cuba, giving her nine students an experience drastically different than most study-abroad programs.

“The trip was a trifold experience — cultural, educational and service-oriented,” explained Hartle. “It was important for us to build connections and learn what the needs are from the Cuban peoples’ perspective. We also learned from various experts what the new and changing issues for the Cuban people are, such as race, class, religion and gender orientation.”

The group worked closely with the Marti Center, visiting the Museum of the Revolution, the University of Havana, Centro Martin Luther King and local restaurants and clubs, giving them a well-rounded perspective of Cuban culture.

“It was amazing to see how things are so different only 90 miles away from Florida. They have such a void of the basic things that we have and take for granted,” said Penn State Brandywine student Wenlock Kayne Nau. “This trip has made me more goal-oriented. I came back to Brandywine more focused on what matters. It really put a lot into perspective.” 

Brandywine recently released its tentative Global Programs study-abroad lineup for 2016-17.

In November 2016 the campus will travel to Barcelona, Spain, followed by a journey to Cuba and the Provence region of France in March 2017. Details will be announced shortly regarding the upcoming trip logistics and course offerings. All travel takes place during breaks in the University's academic calendar. Approval is pending on the upcoming trips.

Aiming to bring international, academic and engaging experiences within the financial reach of as many Penn State students as possible, the program's travel arrangements are designed to be affordable. Scholarship opportunities are also available, including the Brandywine Global Programs Award.

For more information about Global Programs, contact Paul Greene at [email protected] or 610-892-1474.