Over Spring Break, a small group of UofSC Capstone students visited Costa Rica on a Global Classroom trip called “Pura Vida: Sustainability of Earth and Self.” Led by Lead Assistant Principal for the Capstone Scholars Program, Jessie McNevin, the trip focused on sustainability, wellness, ecotourism, and experiences surrounding the Pura Vida way of life found in Costa Rica.
“I think Costa Rica just shines in sustainability and wellness, also conservation”, said McNevin. “A lot of the activities that we did were examples of ecotourism, where they put a spotlight on the natural resources relating to tourism and protecting natural areas and wildlife.”
The last time McNevin had traveled was just before the pandemic hit in March of 2020. Coincidentally, she was in Costa Rica, leading this same Spring Break Global Classroom. On the 2020 trip, McNevin and the group at the time had the opportunity to meet and form a bond with a local family, but had unfortunately lost touch after returning to the U.S. However, on this trip, she surprisingly ran into the family while at a bracelet-making excursion at a local market the group had planned. It was a full-circle moment for McNevin, almost finishing those memories that had been interrupted back in 2020, and bringing her back full circle two years later.
Spring Break Global Classroom trips are an amazing way to fit study abroad into anybody’s busy class schedule.
“I think that there's never going to be an ideal time to travel. There will always be reasons to not make the jump, but the opportunities and experiences you will gain will 99% of the time outweigh any reason holding you back. I think the benefits of a short-term program is that you are not away for a full semester. You can try it out. With our Capstone Global Classrooms, you are going with a group. You can rely on each other and you have an itinerary that allows you to grow in confidence but not alone. I’d call it the ‘training wheels’ version of study abroad.”
The trip was only two short weeks, but the experiences will definitely last a lifetime! While in Costa Rica, the group had the opportunity to do activities and excursions like ziplining, hiking, white water rafting, surfing lessons, and so much more.
This was McNevin’s third time leading a trip in Costa Rica, and she said that it never gets old.
She related her experiences to watching your favorite movie, like memories that you could relive over and over again and always find something new. Costa Rica is that “favorite movie” country for her, and she is always looking forward to revisiting.
“The goal is being open to new experiences, but also being a guide to people that are experiencing it for the first time”, McNevin said.
Pura Vida: Sustainability of Earth and Self was the theme that guided this trip. Mindfulness is important especially for a mid-semester Spring Break trip.
“Too often we travel to escape. Something about this spring break trip is that you're leaving during a stressful time period. The beauty is that you are going to a country with a different mindset when it comes to stress and mindfulness, it's really cool to immerse yourself in a culture like that.”
There are countless benefits when it comes to study abroad experiences, but pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is one of the greatest ways to grow. Learning from McNevin’s advice and experiences with study abroad should encourage any student to pursue a Global Classroom trip like a Spring Break or Maymester. It’s truly part of one’s college experience that can never be forgotten.
“You can't help but take some of that mindset back with you, it's not only an escape but a really cool immersive experience that will stay with you forever.”
Currently studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, UofSC Juniors Anne-Claire Quindoza and Elizabeth Gatzulis are studying International Business and Finance at The Prague University of Economics & Business.
Anne-Claire and Elizabeth have had a whirlwind few months. Throughout their busy schedules of classes and traveling, they’ve both invested time into volunteering with local Prague NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) in providing aid to Ukraine.
Through monetary donations, physical donations like non-perishable goods, and hands-on work, Anne-Claire, Elizabeth, and other UofSC students currently abroad in Prague have been able to make a direct impact on the situation in Ukraine.
But Anne-Claire and Elizabeth decided to bring the need back to UofSC. In partnership with their sorority, Delta Delta Delta, and in the spirit of philanthropy, UofSC students were encouraged to donate. Anne-Claire and Elizabeth raised a few hundred dollars for Ukraine through this virtual fundraising.
Anne-Claire also had another exciting opportunity to volunteer. A school had been turned into a temporary refugee site, and was housing children as well as accepting donations. Anne-Claire actually had a hands-on impact by handweaving camouflage netting that would be physically used in Ukraine to cover things like Ukrainian soldiers’ trucks and belongings. She described it as surreal, saying “something that I’m touching will be touching a soldier.”
For our UofSC students in Prague, getting this hands-on volunteer experience in the situation with Ukraine has been life-changing, and is just an amazing addition to their already eventful study abroad experiences. Anne-Claire and Elizabeth just had too many good things to say about CIS Abroad in Prague.
Something special about the CIS Program in Prague is its site director, Leah. Anne-Claire and Elizabeth describe it as having someone there for them, to show them around the city, even go on excursions with and do fun things like cooking classes. Nicknamed “Prague Mom”, Anne-Claire and Elizabeth describe Leah as an unforgettable part of their experience. The site director Leah was who originally sparked the students' interest and involvement with volunteering for Ukraine. Anne-Claire said, “I think having someone who’s super local to show us around is a highlight that we are very lucky to have.”
For Elizabeth, her highlight moment is as simple as the view. She describes taking the train to class every morning and having that surreal pinch-me moment every single day.
“It’s a realization moment, that I live in this beautiful city, and it amazes me every single time.”
Anne-Claire recommended to future students to make their study abroad decisions based on your network. “My advice would be to pick your top few cities, and then use your network at UofSC to talk to other students who have studied there! I had heard so much through the grapevine about Prague, and that really helped me make my decision.”
Sharla Williams is a Senior Psychology major with minors in Counseling and Anthropology. She spent this past semester, Fall of 2021, studying abroad in San Sebastian, Spain at the University of the Basque Country. While in Spain, Sharla took a rigorous schedule of five classes, including Spanish language classes, a Psychology class centered around conflict and post conflict societies, and a reflections class about diversity across cross cultural settings.
The anticipation of studying abroad and pushing herself outside her comfort zone was long-awaited for Sharla. She’s wanted to study abroad ever since freshman year, but the pandemic pushed this back until the Fall of her senior year.
She said, “I knew going in I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from achieving any dream I wanted to fulfill.”
A surprising opportunity for Sharla in Spain was becoming an English teacher to three little boys. This was definitely unexpected with little prior babysitting experience, but Sharla found this to be the absolute highlight of her three short months abroad.
“They taught me especially that we should celebrate ourselves for every little thing that we do.”
The youngest boy, who was nine, had a very difficult time learning English, which made it even more of a celebration every time he learned one little word.
“It made me reflect on my own learning and my own experiences, and now I know that I don't need to compete with anyone, I just need to be happy for the chance and be grateful that I was able to try and make any progress. Any progress should be celebrated.”
When Sharla left for Spain, she had a few personal goals in mind.
First, she wanted to participate in cultural practices to the best of her ability. A big difference for Sharla was mealtimes. In Spain, it’s tradition to take a “siesta” or a short nap in the early afternoon, following work or school. She had to learn quickly to eat a big lunch, then settle down for siesta time because the majority of stores are closed. This small practice was a way for Sharla to experience and immerse herself in a different culture and their traditions.
Second, was to strengthen her conversational Spanish. Sharla was surprised by the number of people willing to help her out in her everyday life. Store owners, waiters, her host family etc were always listening and helping as she improved her Spanish skills one day at a time.
After her study abroad experience, Sharla feels more confident in herself, and more confident in her future career choice in Ethnography, studying the customs of individual people and their cultures. This once in a lifetime opportunity was everything she had waited for and more.
Thomas Lentine spent his winter break a little differently than the ordinary UofSC Student. While his peers were at home, Thomas was on an action-packed trip abroad in Peru!
Thomas is a junior psychology and womens and gender studies double major from Sparta, New Jersey. His Peru Winter Abroad program was a UofSC Global Classroom opportunity, where students could explore Peru, take part in cultural excursions, and immerse themselves in history all while taking UofSC course credits.
The timeframe of a winter break program fit perfectly with his college schedule. One of the biggest perks of trips like a winter break, spring break, or maymester trip is how easy and flexible it is to tailor to your individual college experience.
Thomas says about pursuing a study abroad opportunity, “Just do it, honestly. It can be overwhelming and scary, but there's not many opportunities, especially with college only being four years long.”
Thomas describes one of his favorite sights of the trip as this man-made floating island. Located at Lake Titicaca, which is known as the highest navigable body of water in the world, the island was made of a straw-like material. Every 14 days the islanders had to completely replace the island’s foundation! He described it as humbling to see how people lived on this island, and the group supported them by buying their products and businesses on the island.
Thomas says, “It was super busy. It was only two weeks long, but we stayed in about six different hotels and were traveling every single day.”
Another experience Thomas enjoyed was a “home stay” where they actually stayed at locals' home. In the morning, they climbed a mountain just to see the sunrise. It really put into perspective for Thomas, the reality of mountain climbing and the incredible sights that come with it. He laughed about how the homeowner climbed up the mountain behind them, chasing them just to check to see if they were okay. During the short winter break, the group definitely packed in lots of sights, experiences, and learning.
Thomas’s winter break was the experience of a lifetime. “I definitely wanted to be present with everything I was doing. It’s easy to get lost in all the travel and get distracted. I’m grateful I got to experience all that I did.” If you're interested in pursuing a study abroad experience like this, it’s not too late for a Maymester! Check out our website LINK to find a program for you.