“We saw beauty everywhere,” said Stephanie Olford, sophomore psychology major. “There was art, there were buildings and cathedrals.”
Olford was one of 17 Union University students who traveled to Italy as part of the study abroad program offered by the department of English and department of art. Led by Gavin Richardson, professor of English, and Steve Halla, assistant professor of art, students had the opportunity to receive up to six hours of college credit.
“I had been a little nervous to travel,” Olford said. “But as soon as I got there and saw how beautiful everything was, my fears were gone and I just wanted to soak up as much of it as I could”
The group left for Italy on Jan. 15 and returned on Jan. 24. While there, they stayed in Rome, Venice and Florence and had day trips to Pompeii, Pisa, Naples and Ravenna.
“Florence was my favorite,” Olford said. “It just was so full of culture and history, but it had the charm of a smaller town, too. Everywhere we went we just learned so much, and it was really interesting because we had researched the history and the art, so when we actually saw it, it meant so much more to us.”
The effects of the trip are two-fold, Richardson said.
“I think there are both external and internal changes for students who have gone on this study abroad trip,” Richardson said. “The internal change of perspective is the realization that they can go to a foreign country and be okay. … So, I think there is a kind of maturation and development internally and a self-confidence that can grow when a student, who may have some trepidation about being abroad, goes and finds that, ‘Hey, I can do this.'”
Richardson said he hopes that the evolved self-confidence encourages students to go abroad again.
The second way the study abroad experience may change a student’s perspective is “external,” he said, which is “up to each individual student.”
Benjamin Duffey, a class of 2010 graduate, said the trip has had many long-term effects on his life.
“To say the experience was unforgettable would be an understatement,” he said. “As someone who loves history and the arts, this trip enriched my life in many ways. I gained a deeper appreciation for the global human experience and the expression of humanity’s God-endowed artistic ability.”
Duffey, who is now a high school English teacher, said he often incorporates things he learned in Italy into his classes.
“Before my seniors read selections from The Canterbury Tales, they learn about the importance of the cathedral to the life of the Medieval Christian; a virtual tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, created from pictures I took when we visited the Vatican, shows them how the magnificence of the architecture was designed to honor the magnificence of God,” Duffey said. “Moreover, my incredible Italy experience allows me to testify to my students about the value of a diverse college experience that includes encounters with multiple cultures.”
Richardson, who will be the primary leader for the 2016 trip, and Haelim Allen, assistant professor of art and the secondary leader, will meet soon to discuss their vision for the experience.