by Julia Ernst
Faculty and staff members of the Rider community with a desire to travel around the world — and bring students along for the experience — met Monday in the Bart Luedeke Fireside Lounge to discuss how to make it happen.
In a meeting led by Dr. Linda Materna, Spanish professor and director of Rider’s Center for International Education, development of short-term travel projects was discussed, as well as benefits for both students and faculty and what makes a trip successful.
“Everything that the Center for International Education is now doing has, as its goal, the internationalization of Rider, as laid out in the soon-to-be implemented five-year internationalization plan,” Materna said. “That means that we have to work in conjunction with students, faculty and administration to educate everyone about the centrality and, in fact, the necessity today of global literacy for all of our students.”
Materna described the “development and delivery process” involved in building a short-term travel project, which included course development and approval, promotion and recruitment, and the application and acceptance process.
“The field that’s growing the fastest is the faculty-led programs,” she said. “We at Rider are embracing this for our students. What you can do for the institution is fabulous.”
Several faculty and staff members attended the meeting to share their experiences from study abroad trips that they have already participated in.
“We have about 76 students go with us every January,” said Dr. Jerry Rife, a professor of music who leads the Arts Abroad trip every winter with Dr. Patrick Chmel, a theater professor.
Students who participate in Arts Abroad travel to London and another city.
“It is the Arts Abroad, so we’re looking for museums, art museums and the theater — things that are really geared towards students,” Rife said.
Dr. Susan Denbo, a business professor who specializes in employment law and health care law, spoke about her experiences leading students on the Nature’s Business course.
“Only students who are doing it for credit go,” said Denbo, emphasizing the differences in programs that exist among the various colleges on the Westminster and Lawrenceville campuses. “The students have a lot of academic work. We keep our group small — there are typically 20 students.”
Dr. Barry Janes, a professor in the department of communication and journalism, attended the meeting because he is interested in leading a trip one day.
“Although a bit intimidated by the responsibility of leading a group of students into an unfamiliar landscape, I am very much interested in teaching a travel course in the future,” he said. “I learned a great deal at the meeting. It was well organized and informative, providing good connections to resources available for faculty interested in leading a trip like this.”
Rider students who have already taken part in a study abroad trip were very positive about their experiences.
“I went purely for the learning experience,” said senior Lisa McDonough, who traveled to Austria in fall 2007. “I was able to share an apartment with people from all over Europe — Portugal, Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany … I was able to test myself every day with simple things like going to the food store and talking to different people.”
Jackie Day, a senior who also went to Austria in fall 2007, described a similar experience.
“I had the opportunity to travel throughout Western and Eastern Europe,” said Day. “I was able to see the London Bridge, the Spanish steps and so much more. I look back on the pictures [I took] and am amazed at everything I’ve seen.”
For students who are considering participating in a short-term travel project, or want to do a larger project, like studying abroad for a semester, Materna emphasized that there are a number of options and that fear should not hold anyone back.
“Study abroad — be it study, service-learning or an internship — is one of the most important investments in [students’] personal and professional futures,” Materna said. “As for health, safety [and] security, we ensure that these are not problems, in our orientations and through our providers abroad … Homesickness and loneliness will inevitably happen for a while, but talk to anyone who has returned from abroad and they will tell you that soon these feelings go away and that they’d now rather still be abroad than here.”
Day and McDonough shared Materna’s opinion about study abroad participants.
“I would tell [people] to go,” Day said. “While it is hard, it shapes you as a person on so many different levels. It’s like getting into a cold pool — just because it is uncomfortable at first doesn’t mean you don’t want to swim. You never know what you may get to do. I saw [Pope Benedict XVII] in person — who would have dreamed that?”
McDonough said she felt a lot of anxiety at first, but that feeling quickly changed.
“Quite honestly, I was ready to turn around and fly home [the second day of my trip],” she said. “It is difficult and you really need to be smart about the things you do and how you do them, [but] it is completely worth every penny that I spent. I have friends now throughout Europe and the United States that I met through this experience that I will and do constantly keep in contact with. The people you will meet alone make this a worthwhile journey.”