Small campus, big world

Weeklong study abroad trips at Penn State Beaver broaden perspectives while minimizing time and cost
Sophia Loza

Beaver sophomore Sophia Loza, third from the left, traveled to Thailand as part of an online class.

Credit: Penn State

MONACA, Pa. — When Julie Worst was in kindergarten, terrorists struck the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field outside of Somerset, Pennsylvania.

Worst was miles away and safe in Butler County, but the aftershocks still rattled her rural homestead. Her parents, in an effort to shield their youngest daughter from harm, kept her close and cocooned. Travel was confined to mission trips and farm shows. Her world view was shaped by their world view.

As she got older, Worst slowly broke free of her shell. She decided to live on campus at Penn State Beaver, roomed with an international student, traveled (alone) to the Midwest for an Agriculture Future of America Leaders conference, and then the kicker — the ag science major signed up for a spring semester sustainability class with a study abroad opportunity.

“I need to get a passport,” she announced to her parents one day in the fall. “I need to go to Canada for this class.”

Her parents were skeptical.

“How much is it?” her father asked.

“Maybe $300,” she said, pleased that there would be no complaints about cost.

They relented.

And so, over spring break, Worst will make her first jaunt across the border with Angela Fishman, a math instructor; Michelle Kurtyka, the assistant to the director of academic affairs and a kinesiology instructor; Sherry Kratsas, an engineering and computer science instructor; and 13 of her fellow classmates.

The group will loop through Niagara Falls, Quebec City and Montreal, going dog sledding, touring a city powered by garbage, sampling maple syrup at a sugar shack and sleeping in hostels, among many other activities.

“We’re giving students who have never gotten out of the area some exposure to (other parts of) the world,” Fishman said.

About three quarters of Penn State Beaver students are from the area and commute to campus. Weeklong study abroad trips like this one are a way to encourage travel, challenge world views and broaden perspectives while minimizing time and cost. The trips are led by faculty members and substantially funded by the offices of academic and student affairs. The Canada trip (which originated in Fishman’s sustainability class and Senior Sociology Instructor JoAnn Chirico’s international studies class) ended up costing just $100 per student, plus food.

“This is how a lot of kids first see (other parts of) the world,” Fishman said.

And even those who have traveled before often have defining experiences given the context provided by their professors and classes.

World travelers

Beaver sophomore Sophia Loza is what you would call a global citizen. She was born in China and raised in the U.S. Eight of her 13 siblings were adopted from three countries — China, Cambodia and Russia. And she has visited, among other places, South Korea and the Galapagos Islands. So when she saw an advertisement for a trip to Thailand, she immediately knew she would go.

“I love to travel, specifically to Asia,” Loza said. “It’s a completely different perspective. I love their culture. I love their music.”

One of the benefits of belonging to a large, university system is that students have the opportunity to join trips offered by other Penn State campuses. The Thailand trip was part of an online international marketing class offered by Penn State New Kensington and, while in the country, Loza and fellow students visited law firms, hospitals and eco-friendly resorts to learn about the culture and develop a marketing plan for Apple. In Thailand, where the average citizen lives on $10 a day, carrying an iPhone is both expensive and an indication of status.

Loza was fascinated by the knowledge she gained and the people she met along the way.

“I think it’s important to travel for studies,” Loza said. “It focuses you, guides you. You’re not a tourist.”

Information sciences and technology graduate Candace Orellana had a similar experience when she traveled to Ireland with Beaver Communications Professor Juliette Storr and her cultural communications class last year. Having studied foreign languages for five years and traveled outside of the country eight times, Orellana doubted a trip to Ireland would be a perspective-altering event. But nights spent at restaurants, talking with locals about family, culture and politics, quickly showed her otherwise.

“I thought, ‘Ireland won’t be that different. They speak English,’” Orellana remembered with a sheepish chuckle. “It really broadened what I thought of the world. It’s so different to learn about culture on the ground, not the classroom.”

Loza agrees.

“Interacting with people with different perspectives is so insightful,” she said. “It will change you as a person. You’ll see that the world really is intertwined.”

Even for a person who grew up in an international family.

Learn more about study abroad opportunities.