For most college students, a summer semester can seem like an impediment to an otherwise relaxing, stress-free period. But for students in the Sophomore Experience Abroad program, spending the summer in school is anything but boring — especially when it’s in Eastern Europe.
On June 29, nine sophomores entered Orlando International Airport and said goodbye to friends and family as they began the first leg of their 16-day journey. During the course of the trip, students will visit museums, schools, operas, churches and other historical landmarks in cities such as Berlin; Dresden, Germany; Munich; and Prague. Along the way, they’ll learn important skills in communication, working within a group and stretching their comfort zone.
“I’ve lived in the same place my entire life,” said Renee Giron, a first-time student in the program who’s majoring in accounting. “I always knew there was a world out there to explore. … I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet people who I wouldn’t have met any other way.”
Although on the outside, the three-credit-hour class may look like a vacation, the participants will be expected to complete a number of assignments and projects during their trip. One of their first assignments will be to produce a guided tour of a location in one of their foreign destinations
“To do [this project], they have to call upon and use research, writing and public speaking skills that they will need to develop for any major,” Christopher Cook, the developer and adviser of the program, said in an email. “By consequence they learn quite a bit about the history behind their ‘tour’ while at the same time are asked to reflect on how this history has shaped the world they live in, politically, socially, economically, scientifically, etc. It also follows that they sharpen their leadership, adaptability and maturity.”
The students will also maintain a daily blog of their activities, which will be posted online on the program’s website, sophomoreexperienceabroad.com. The group will also have a chance to interact with German students in a classroom, in which they’ll give a presentation on the American education system.
Cook said that the program is open to sophomores of all majors in good academic standing, who need between 30 credit hours to 60 credit hours completed by the summer they go abroad. The program also requires that applicants have never traveled outside of the United States before, a stipulation based on Cook’s belief that a person’s first trip overseas is a formative and defining experience.
“Doing it as an experience together, it’d be difficult if people had already been [overseas],” psychology major Jenny Wells said. “It’s to get you out of your comfort zone. You wouldn’t get as much out of the program if you had been [overseas already].”
Cook began developing the program in late 2010 within the Student Development and Enrollment Services office and, before long, he began coordinating with the College of Sciences and the Sophomore Second Year Center. Last year, Cook and seven students embarked on the program’s first trip to Germany and Austria. Cook tailors the program’s itinerary every year and made several changes to this year’s schedule, including adding several days in the Czech Republic.
“The schedule is determined and built each year based on assessment of the previous year’s program,” Cook said. “For example, last year’s students were not impressed with the museums we took them to so this year we’ve eliminated those museums and added more interactions with German locals, something the students asked for.”
Although lodgings and activities are paid for, students have to handle most other expenses on their own. The tuition for the three-credit-hour course, which also covers breakfast every day plus five meals, costs more than $2,000, Giron said. That’s not including airplane tickets and other meals, which can bump the price to between $4,000 and $5,000. But Giron believes it will be worth it once she boards the plane.
“We haven’t started the trip yet, and we’re already learning stuff in our preparatory classes,” she said. “You just have to make it a priority. A lot of people regret not going and wish they did it.”
For Wells, traveling has always been a passion, and she hopes to visit more European countries such as Ireland, Scotland or Greece in the future.
“I like the fact that it’s not ‘we’re just traveling.’ We’re not sitting in a classroom," Wells said. "It’s structured. It’s designed to better us, help us figure out who we are and what we gotta do to work together.”
If you have an idea for a story or are interested in writing for the Central Florida Future, contact the News Editors, Sarahand Vanessa , at firstname.lastname@example.org.