Slippery Rock University offers a variety of trips abroad during the course of the year, and during common hour on Tuesday, a panel was held in Watson’s Great Room for students to discuss their time overseas.
One of three trips discussed at the panel, was a winter Care Break trip to Bolivia, where a group of 14 students and communication professor, Dr. Pease-Hernandez, as the faculty advisor, traveled abroad to volunteer their time in a community in need of help. Pease-Hernandez and three of the 14 students, Lucas Boyd, Mercy Kroh, Anna Buffalini and Anna-Marie Warringington, shared their experiences constructing a school in Bolivia, where they built a security wall, laid concrete for a congregation area, and tiled floors of the school’s hallways.
“It was an alternative trip,” Boyd said. “It wasn’t your normal winter or Spring Break. We were able to immerse ourselves in the culture there, working with the people in the village. I think we were at the school for 3 days total, from sun up to sun down, with a few breaks in between.”
When the students weren’t busy working on the school, they had the chance to explore Bolivia and experience cultural aspects.
“In the hostel we were staying at, there were big groups that would practice one of the traditional dances at night, and we were actually able to see a bunch of professional dancers outside in a park, so we got to see them dance and we learned that same dance, which was a lot harder for us, but the instructor was a sweetheart,” Boyd said.
From learning traditional dances to having cocoa leaves read, the students were immersed in the way of life for Bolivians.
“We met with the community and learned their local dances, we sat down and had their breakfast, lunch and dinner with them and we did a lot of sightseeing,” Boyd said. “We saw a great deal of appreciation from the people over there. They really valued everything we were doing for them. We also took a lot away from it as well. We definitely grew as people, and as a group, we went in not knowing every single one of us, but after the trip, we developed some friendships.”
Care Breaks are in abundance at Slippery Rock University, so students have many opportunities while on campus to travel, not only abroad, but domestically, and lend a helping hand.
“We definitely had a lot of transferable skills that came over like leadership, breaking a language barrier, and just doing work that you really wouldn’t do in here in the United States,” Boyd said. “No one really thinks, ‘oh, this Winter Break, I’m going to go build a wall,’ but that’s what we got to do. It was a fun time.”
SRU students and faculty are not the only ones affected by volunteering and accomplishing a necessary change, because with the work put in to make a positive change in communities in such a short amount of time while on a Care Break, the community members are affected, too.
“Some of the community members that we worked with, they just loved and appreciated us so much, so Dr. Pease-Hernandez thought it would be a great idea to leave them with a little bit of us, so we got them Slippery Rock University shirts and they just loved it,” Boyd said.
Relationships were gained while abroad with the community members in the Bolivian village.
“I felt towards the end of the trip that we developed sincere, great relationships with them,” Buffalini said. “The farewell dinner was a very touching experience. A lot of them cried and it was a really emotional goodbye, and we had only spent a few days with them. I definitely recommend going on a Care Break if you haven’t yet, because it does challenge you a lot as a person and open your eyes to see how things are different. I just think it’s really great to travel and see how people do different things. It really makes you appreciative when you come back home.”
During Spring Break, a trip to Italy was offered by leads Corrine Gibson and Lorraine Craven, and 25 students took the opportunity to travel to Rome, Venice and Florence. All SRU students were welcome to apply for this trip.
“One of our goals is to make sure that we have a diverse group of students that go on the trip and that will assist in the conversations that we’re having while we’re over wherever we’re going,” Craven said. “Different from other trips, is that we welcome anyone who is interested in our focus, human rights and diversity, so it doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or a senior, it doesn’t matter what your major is, it is basically completing the application and we try to find that right balance to make sure we have a diverse group of students coming from different backgrounds, different majors, different religious affiliations, and whatnots to be able to have these conversations.”
For the fourth year, this trip has been held, with a focus of education, religion, LGBT rights and culture.
“Planned in the trip is free time, but for the free time for our students, it allows them to be culturally immersed in the experience (and ask) questions, especially when we go to another country that speaks another language,” Craven said. “We kind of force our students to leave us, as the leads, so they can gain that experience.”
The Italy trip spanned from Rome to Florence to Venice, where the students got to experience monuments such as the Colosseum and Roman churches. Tyree Mathis, an SRU Graduate Student, was one of three speakers at the panel who spoke about his time in Italy.
“Rome is one of the greatest cities in world history, and when you get there you actually get to see how historical it really is from all the ancient ruins and everything that is there is preserved from centuries,” Mathis said.
Integrated marketing major Lauren Hernandez was unable to experience Rome, but was able to explore Florence and Venice while abroad.
“Florence and Venice were amazing, just the architecture and history and the cultural districts in each place really took you back and you could just appreciate it for what it was,” Hernandez said, “I’m very into style and it was just so different than us, everyone was very fashion forward and it was really different than here. The art, the museums that we went to, that’s really where you get the bottom line of what Italy has to offer, from the ancient to the modern art, it was really amazing and probably my favorite part of the whole trip.”
The students who traveled to Italy where able to visit a local university in Rome, called Sapienza University. Sapienza University has a population of over 100,000 students.
“We talked to one of the students there about some of the greatest issues they have there on their campus and it’s not too different from what we have, but their issues are a little bit different in that they have a lot of political issues, LGBT issues, similar to us as well, but it’s interesting how connected they are to the states,” Mathis said.
With a focus for human rights and diversity, the SRU students and leaders met with students at Sapienza University who are fighting for the same cause.
“The difference between the states and their university was that the Deans would not support these student organizations that were in for revolution, so the space we had to meet with them in had no lights, barely had chairs for us to all sit down, because they were the ostracized group on campus, in regards to them fighting against the different discrimination on campus,” Gibson said. “That was definitely something I think our students got to say, that at least we’re able to have freedom of speech and fight for things that we feel are important to us.”
Whether it be a Care Break, which offers a chance to volunteer, or a Spring/Winter Break, like the Italy trip, the panelists urged the audience to take every opportunity and travel.
“Travel as much as you possibly can; if this is your first trip, take the next trip, and the next trip, and take advantage of that. It will be the cheapest time you get to travel,” Craven said. “Our excursions are organized in a manner that really allow you to immerse yourself into the culture.”
Two student panelists, Ariana Daukss and Devin Kielur, spoke about their time in the Czech Republic. The trip was for the Exercise and Rehabilitative Sciences department, where 41 students had the chance to experience the differences in rehabilitative services in Prague and the United States.
“It wasn’t a destination on my bucket list.,” Kielur said. “Last year I had the chance to cross one of those off and go to Ireland and when I was deciding to go on this trip, I was like, ‘Do I really want to go to Prague? What’s in Prague? What do I do in Prague,’” Kielur said. “In Ireland, you see the scenery and enjoy the culture, and you feel comfortable because they speak your own language and going here I knew it was going to be difficult, because I knew they weren’t going to be able to communicate as well as they did in Ireland, so I was kind of hesitant, but it is something I am greatly appreciative of to have had this opportunity to go to and experience, because I know it’s something I would have not done by myself without the university.”
For the students who traveled to Prague, opportunities to be immersed in the sports culture where available. The trip started with a hockey game at the O2 Arena and later allowed for students to go to a soccer game.
“Being in Athletic Training, I am surrounded by sports all the time, so it was a really cool thing to be in because it was right to sports, which I enjoy, so I was comfortable right away,” Kielur said. “It was cool to see how their culture experiences sports. It was nice to unwind after a long day of traveling.”
Because of the large amount of students who went on this trip, they were split into two different groups and given a walking tour of Czech Republic, where they saw churches and synagogues, for which only about 30 percent of Czech Republic’s community uses to practice, due to not being a high practicing cultural society.
“My tour guide was phenomenal,” Daukss said, “The amount of information she could spit out on command was crazy. It was also just cool because we saw all these different types of architecture that we don’t normally see in the U.S.”
Prague was affected by World War II, so while in the Czech Republic, the SRU students and faculty were able to take a tour of a concentration camp called Terezin.
“For me this was the most humbling experience that I’ve ever gone through,” Kielur said. “In school, we learn about these concentration camps, and you can hear all of the bad things that happened, but until you experience being at a location like this, and standing in a room where hundreds of people were tortured is really humbling.”
Exploration of a spa town in the Czech Republic called Karlovy Vary commenced, where the Exercise and Rehabilitative Sciences department students were able to see firsthand patient treatments.
“the Czech Republic focus on more than your physical well-being, they also take care of your mind, body and soul, and that’s what these spa towns are for,” Daukss said. “They go there for 6-8 weeks and it’s something a doctor actually prescribes to you, which is not like here where a doctor prescribes a week of physical therapy and then you’re done.”
As downtime, the students were able to tour the Pilsner Urquell brewery, and see the process of making and bottling beer.
“They have their brewery there and we have our brewery here, and we were able to go there and experience what their food and culture is like and what their beer tastes like, and their beer tasted way different than it does here,” Kielur said.
The focus for the group was rehabilitation services, and to gain that educational experience, the students visited physical therapy clinics. The technologies used in Prague were more advanced, and the methods of helping patients were not like the U.S.
“These patients were there and were suffering from extreme life-altering conditions like not being able to walk or not having control of themselves, and the goal was to get them to be able to go back home and try to live a somewhat normal life,” Kielur said. “When they do the rehabilitation there, they expect you to show results in so much or they will send you somewhere else to find out what is wrong.”
Opportunities to travel are available many times out of the year at SRU, and not only were students who attended the panel were greatly encouraged to continue to travel or being traveling and gaining once in a lifetime experiences, but faculty were, too.