Study Abroad Opportunities Resume for York College Students
After a two-year hiatus, York College of Pennsylvania students have gotten back to trotting the globe through international travel and study abroad experiences. From petting goats in Morocco to hiking the Samaria Gorge in Greece, the College’s short-term study abroad program has given students the opportunity to learn and grow beyond the campus.
David Fyfe, Ph.D., has been leading international student trips since 2008 and traveled with students this past semester to both of those Mediterranean countries.
“Traveling abroad gives students a connection to a place that makes them more curious,” Dr. Fyfe says. “It makes them want to learn more about the people and places and can be transformational to students.”
Goats in trees
During the recent trip to Morocco, Dr. Fyfe took a multidisciplinary group of students. His aim was to have each student connect with their own discipline through the trip. Prior to departure, each student had to write a research paper that connected their major to their destination and present it to the entire group.
“They take ownership of becoming an expert in their field,” he says. “This also gives all the other students another lens through which to view their experiences, an interdisciplinary element that I couldn't offer in a lecture.”
Visiting the goats in the trees of Morocco brought their research to life. Before leaving on the trip, the students had read about how the goats, by eating the seeds in the trees, play an integral part in argan oil processing. Just a few days before visiting the site, though, the students read an article that exposed how putting goats in trees had become its own tourist industry and often was no longer related to its original purpose.
“If I hadn't had that background,” Dr. Fyfe says, “it would have been a picture for social media and nothing deeper. Having that discussion was really helpful.”
Throughout a decade and a half of leading international trips, Dr. Fyfe has especially appreciated seeing students have “Aha!” moments when they connect what they’ve learned in the classroom with real life. “It fits the York College focus of experiential learning and high-impact practices,” he says.
Students involved in the music program, along with music alumni, faculty, and family members have also had opportunities to explore and perform abroad. Their first trip in 2018 took 33 people to Limerick Ireland, where they performed at a choral festival at the University of Limerick.
For Dr. Grace Muzzo, Associate Professor of Music at York College, the highlight of the trip wasn’t the performance itself but a dinner at an Irish pub that followed. As a traditional Irish band played, the Irish attendees began singing along. Soon the American students joined in, trading songs back and forth throughout the night.
“It was just people doing music together. It was in the moment and such an appropriate response,” Dr. Muzzo says. “These songs are part of Ireland, and the American songs are part of us.”
After several years of delay due to the pandemic, Dr. Muzzo is looking forward to another musical trip to Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary May 16-23, 2023.
Karin Swartz, Assistant Dean of the Center for Community Engagement, traveled to Greece this spring with a group of 15 students, many of them Graham Collaborative Innovation Fellows and Engaged Scholars.
Their goal was to teach Design Thinking to students and faculty at a partner university in Crete. “Students had the opportunity to identify personal learning outcomes,” Swartz says.
The group was once again multidisciplinary, and each pursued unique opportunities that fit their own discipline. Some Nursing and Pre-Med students visited a local hospital to see their new COVID-19 ward. Intelligence Analysis majors met with linguistics professionals, while students interested in law connected with those involved in the refugee crisis.
Each opportunity expanded the students’ perspectives in its own unique way, Swartz says. “It gave them an opportunity to get abroad and see the world outside of York, Pennsylvania, which we think is really important.”
Seeing life differently
Besides the educational opportunities, students quickly connected with the Greek students, who became ad-hoc tour guides, showing the York College students around the city, taking them to events, and joining in on sightseeing tours.
“Study abroad physically disrupts the space students learn in and forces them to think different and see life differently,” Swartz says.
She hopes there will be many more study abroad opportunities, both short- and long-term, in the future. “If students can find a way to make study abroad a possibility for them, they should work as hard as possible to make it happen,” Swartz says. “The students I was able to take to Greece knew they were really lucky, but now that they have seen what it’s like, they’re looking for other opportunities and are going to make it a priority.”