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Honors College Expands Study Abroad Programs

Honors study abroad students in the Exploring Madrid Past and Present class summer 2022 pose at a castle Photo by Julian Zabalbeascoa
Honors students in the summer session of Exploring Madrid Past and Present visited the Alcazar de Segovia, a medieval castle.

06/24/2022
By Katharine Webster

After two years of canceled or limited study abroad, the Honors College added two new international experiences this year to meet student demand.

One was Shakespeare’s London, taught by English Assoc. Teaching Prof. Kevin Petersen. He and Honors College Assistant Director Erin Maitland took 17 students to London and Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace and home to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, for two weeks in early summer.

Madison Feudo, a rising junior majoring in peace and conflict studies, says the play they saw in Stratford, “Henry VI,” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” which they saw at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, were the highlights of the experience.

“I cried at the end of ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ it was so good!” she says. “Sometimes, you can see a Shakespeare play and you don’t understand a word of it ... but the actors did a fantastic job of bridging the gap between Shakespeare’s time and now.” 

Monument and cathedral entrance at the Valley of the Fallen in Spain Photo by Nick Trunfio
The Valley of the Fallen, a monument to the dead of the Spanish Civil War near Madrid.
The other new class was Exploring Madrid Past and Present, taught by Honors Visiting Prof. Julian Zabalbeascoa, who offered two sections during the spring semester that enrolled 33 students. The hybrid class included four three-hour seminars on campus, focused primarily on the Spanish Civil War, and then nine days in Madrid over spring break or in early summer.

The new classes are in addition to two honors study abroad experiences that have run for several years: three weeks in San Sebastian, Spain, during the summer, studying Basque history and culture and taking Spanish language classes (three sections each summer), and a study abroad program in Cuba over the winter intersession. Both are taught by Zabalbeascoa.

Honors College Dean Jenifer Whitten-Woodring says she is looking for more faculty interested in partnering on new courses with the Honors College and Fern MacKinnon, director of international experiences and study abroad. She hopes to add one per year for the next few years. 

“Honors study abroad programs are always in high demand – we always fill them, and in the past, we’ve sometimes had to turn students away because there weren’t enough course openings,” she says. “Study abroad is such a wonderful opportunity for our students. Many have never had a chance to leave the United States, and we want to be as inclusive as we can.”

Honors student Baz Warren, center of back row, and friends outside Shakespeare's Globe theater in London Photo by Courtesy
Honors English major Baz Warren, center back row, and friends outside Shakespeare's Globe theater in London.
The Shakespeare’s London program was English major Baz Warren’s first time traveling outside the U.S.  She applied for and won a World Ready Scholarship that helped pay for the three-credit course.

Warren, a commuter student who just finished her first year at UML, didn’t know anyone else who had signed up, so she was both excited and nervous before traveling – and a little overwhelmed during the first few days in London, a “go, go, go” city.

But she quickly made friends with the other students, figured out the map of the London Underground rapid transit system and acted as navigator whenever a small group went off on their own to visit a museum, park or historic site. 

She says she gained confidence in her ability to travel independently while also making good friends, a realization that struck her as she and a group of students walked to the Underground after “Much Ado About Nothing.”

“It was nice to have a group of people to share the experience with,” she says. “I think we’ll be friends into the fall, and hopefully beyond.” 

Students in honors study abroad courses must write papers before or after the international experience, as well as one or more blog posts during travel. Among other assignments, those in the Madrid class had to research and write about Ernest Hemingway’s relationship with Madrid before the travel portion of the course. 

Honors math major Stephanie Guglielmo wanders a pedestrian street in Madrid near the Puerto del Sol Photo by Courtesy
Honors math major Stephanie Guglielmo wanders a pedestrian shopping street near the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.
Then, while in Madrid, they had the entire trip to complete a scavenger hunt that required them to visit a site connected with Hemingway; eat tapas at three different places; sample the local sweets; go to a museum not on the formal itinerary; and more. Afterward, they had to write about what they learned.

Those assignments made the study abroad experience both broader and more meaningful, says Mina Lam, a rising senior business major and the campus’s incoming student trustee.

“Because of that list, we got to experience a lot more,” she says. “And it was really nice to see the places we’d written about. When you see everything with your own eyes, it’s very different.”

Nick Trunfio, a business major with a minor in history, says he was fascinated by the historical information provided by their formal guides – and was shocked at the near-absence of monuments in Madrid commemorating the Spanish Civil War.

That made an excursion to the Valley of the Fallen, established by the late dictator Francisco Franco to memorialize the Nationalist dead, but where Republicans also lie buried in mass graves, especially poignant, he says.

UML Honors study abroad students visit the Roman aqueduct in Segovia, Spain, as part of their Madrid trip Photo by Maddie Gear
Students in the Madrid summer class took a day trip to Segovia, where they toured a Roman aqueduct, a palace and a castle.
“There could be 30,000 or more people buried where you’re standing,” Trunfio says. “It’s a very eerie atmosphere.”

For business major Maddie Gear, already an experienced traveler, the highlight of the Madrid experience was a day trip to Segovia, a city with a Roman aqueduct, a historic cathedral and the castle that Walt Disney used as a model for the one in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” 

She said the 10 days abroad felt like 20 days because the students crammed so much in, including an excursion to a flamenco class organized by math major Stephanie Guglielmo.

“My main takeaway from this trip stems from something Prof. Zabalbeascoa said: ‘The more you put into studying abroad, the more open you are, the more adventurous you are and the more you listen, the more you’ll take away from it,’” Gear says.

“At first I thought it was kind of cheesy, but during that week, I began to experience what he meant,” she says.

“And I’ve definitely taken that home with me, because why would I only be open-minded while traveling when I could get more out of life every day?”