Summer study abroad courses offer memorable experiences

Featured Image: Junior Emma Lankford and senior Phoebe Cox on the Ireland study abroad trip. Emma Lankford | Courtesy

From Ireland to Japan, students studied all over the world during the summer.

Summer is a time for resetting. Some people work, some people go on vacation and some people enjoy their break comfortably at home. A handful of students from Virginia Wesleyan University spent a portion of their summers taking study abroad courses, getting the opportunity to travel with their professors and peers to different places across the world.

Short term study abroad courses can last anywhere from a week to two weeks. The HON 200/HUM 201: From Hampton Roads to Tokyo, led by Dr. Travis Malone and Dr. Susan Larkin, was two weeks long and allowed for students to experience the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka in Japan.

Junior Kyleigh Castengera talked about what her experience was like during the course. The class’s schedule was chock-full of attending engaging events like a Sumo tournament and Geisha dinner, but Castengera’s favorite place they visited was the Sanjusangendo Temple in Kyoto.

“The reason I enjoyed this temple so much was the interesting history that came with it,” Castengera said. She described how it was full of thousands of handcrafted statues. 

“This was so interesting to me because I was able to look for all the minute differences between each of the figures,” Castengera said.

The Buddhist history and faith represented through the ancient artwork and craftsmanship of the temple was overwhelming.

“We were standing on the same floors that people stood on over 800 years ago,” Castengera said. “That temple was older than our whole country.”

Seniors Aaron Oman and Gavin Prouty at Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama in Tokyo. Aaron Oman | Courtesy

Junior Matthew Jung talked about how going to Disneyland in Tokyo was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip for him. The different attractions of the theme park (although fun and interesting) were not what stuck out to him the most, though. Jung was surprised by the attitudes of the workers in Japan as opposed to those in America.

He described how the employees seemed genuinely engaged in what they were doing and in interacting with their customers.

“Everywhere you went, just saying ‘thank you’ to somebody in Japan made their whole day. The little things like saying ‘hi’ to someone immediately made their day,” Jung said. 

Overall, there was a trend of students recognizing the difference in attitude that people had in Japan. Senior Aaron Oman talked about the amazing experience of getting to feed monkeys at a monkey park in Kyoto.

“It was super fun to interact with them and see how unfazed these animals are towards humans,” Oman said. But, like Jung, the demeanor of the Japanese people was what stuck out to him the most.

“Japanese people are thought of to be conservative in nature, but everyone was easy to talk to,” Oman said. “There were a few times when people would come up to us and strike up a conversation despite not knowing each other’s languages. It was awesome.”

The week-long HON 201: Lewis and Enchanted Ireland course, led by Dr. Terry Lindvall, Dr. Kellie Holzer and Dr. Ben Fraser, had a similar impact. Students traveled through both Ireland and Northern Ireland, seeing a variety of natural and historical sites.

“The spread of Christianity in Ireland was a popular theme on our trip,” junior Emma Lankford said. Lankford’s favorite place they visited was the Giant’s Causeway, an area on the edge of Northern Ireland’s coast consisting of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. Tourists are able to walk down from the surrounding cliffs on a path that leads to the column stepping stones.

“It was just so beautiful there. Pictures don’t do it justice. It was so hard to walk, though. I almost slipped at one point,” Lankford said.

Alumni Connor Merk also enjoyed the natural beauty aspect of the trip. A location that stuck out to him in particular was when the group hiked up a mountain in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland.

“This location was the inspiration of [C.S. Lewis’] ‘Narnia’ and was a stunning view of both land and water,” Merk said.

Similar to the Japan trip, students on the Ireland trip took notice of how kind and welcoming the Irish people were to visitors. Sophomore Sarah Richards touched on this, citing it as a reason for why the smaller towns like Carlingford were her favorite part.

“The most memorable part was just meeting the locals there,” Richards said.

Sophomore Sarah Richards on the HON 201: Lewis and Enchanted Ireland study abroad trip. Sarah Richards | Courtesy

Overall, the study abroad trips to both Japan and Ireland from this past summer had a large impact on the students who took them.

Richards explained how they are helpful for people who are just getting into traveling or maybe have never traveled before.

“They get you to step outside of your comfort zone a little bit without fully committing to spending months abroad in a country you’ve never been to,” Richards said.

Jung agreed with this, explaining that the short term courses can sometimes even inspire you to take that jump and commit to an entire semester abroad. He expressed his desire to return to Japan one day.

“After going on this trip, it completely changed my worldview,” Jung said.

Merk further asserted the value of study away courses.

“They provide magnificent experiences for students to immerse themselves in a different culture. I hope VWU continues to offer these programs, especially to keep options available and flexible to student needs and schedules,” Merk said.

If you’re interested in taking a study abroad course in the future, talk to your professors and check out The Lighthouse to find one you’re interested in.


By Phoebe Cox