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After COVID-19 Canceled Trips, Professor Plans Return to Taking Students Abroad

David Fyfe and students on a study abroad trip.
David Fyfe with students on a previous study abroad trip

Professor David Fyfe has been on 20 different trips with York College of Pennsylvania students. In June 2022, he’ll finally get to take students to Morocco on a trip originally planned two years prior. 

David Fyfe has been itching to hit the road. The Associate Professor of Geography at York College of Pennsylvania has never been still for long—until COVID-19 forced him to stay put.

While he can rattle off about 15 different countries he’s visited with York College students, including Peru, Egypt, Vietnam, Ghana, Greece, and Turkey, he’s most looking forward to the next destination: Morocco.

“You can’t possibly learn everything about a country in 14 days,” he says. “What I hope students come back with is more questions than answers. Travel often forces us to reflect on our own culture and how we got to our sets of beliefs, traditions, and values.”

Fyfe’s trip to Morocco was initially supposed to take place during the summer of 2020. That trip was canceled, and its follow-up, set for 2021, also got pushed back. But the journey is finally in sight, Fyfe says, and he’ll be taking students in his Cultures and Environments Field Study course to the northern African country in June 2022.

A long road ahead

Fyfe’s summer class is open to any York College student as a general education course. While he hopes students who have never been out of the country before take the opportunity to sign up for the course, the curriculum also attracts students who have traveled and are hooked.

The course has three primary focuses: pre-departure, travel, and post travel. In pre-departure, students are given assignments that help them become familiar with their destination. Fyfe assigns students a research paper where they have to connect their major to the country they’ll be visiting.

Fyfe also prompts students to prepare for a learning experience as opposed to a tourist trip. While the students do get in some sightseeing, Fyfe asks them to think about what they will learn, as opposed to what they will see or do.

Upon return, students also must present a photo essay, where they show five photographs highlighting something they learned.

“When you learn about another culture, you often learn about yourself,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to uncover something you’ve never reflected on before.”

Where everyone learns

Many of these trips abroad are focused on the student experience, but Fyfe admits they also help him reach his goal of visiting every country on the planet. And he’s not the only non-student who sees the opportunity to learn on one of these trips.

Many other faculty and staff members, including Dr. Pamela Gunter-Smith, York College’s President, have gone on trips with Fyfe. This helps the trips to also become a networking opportunity for students. Many of them connect with professionals they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to meet.

“I’ve seen students become so curious about their emotional and physical connections to a place,” Fyfe says. “That plays into other classes or roles or even experiences in life. It makes them lifelong learners.”