Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Study trips take students worldwide

Laura Banos met several Costa Rican residents, including this toucan, during her winter break trip.

For the 54 Lehigh students attending one of Lehigh’s faculty-led abroad trips, winter break did not signify a break in their education, just a change in location. Of the two traditional study abroad trips, one went to Costa Rica to study sustainable development and the other to Spain for culture and history.

Meanwhile, the Global Citizenship program sent students to Ghana and Peru.

More than 30 percent of every graduating class will have travelled to other countries through the study abroad office, estimates Neil McGurty, director of the study abroad office. Other students gain international experience through clubs and other organizations, such as the Martindale Scholars Program and Engineers without Borders.

“Lehigh is doing quite well compared to similar institutions in size and academic orientation,” McGurty says.

Of those who engage in official study abroad trips, over half do so through traditional faculty-led programs. Enrollment in this winter’s trips to Spain and Costa Rica was higher than expected, McGurty says. He believes students select these trips for the course credits, the comfort of traveling with Lehigh faculty and students, and their timing. Students with more regimented course schedules—such as finance major or engineers—may not be able to travel for a semester, but these intercession trips offer them the opportunity to experience other cultures.

This summer, Lehigh faculty will be leading four- to six-week programs in the Czech Republic, Belgium, Ireland, Peru, China, Turkey and Italy. Registration for these trips is still open.

Costa Rica

“I always wanted to study abroad,” said Laura Banos ’10. “But I did not want to give up a semester.”

Instead, Banos, a sociology and anthropology major, traveled to Costa Rica with Rick Weisman, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Don Morris, associate professor of earth and environmental engineering. Steve Cutcliffe, professor of history and director of the science, technology and society program, helped prepare the students for the trip.

“We’re on a field trip, an 18-day, very intense field trip,” Weisman says. The students met several times before leaving and kept a journal while abroad. They are now completing a project on one of the topics discussed, such as sustainably harvesting coffee.

In Costa Rica, the students harvested coffee beans by hand.

In Costa Rica, the students spent one morning hand-picking coffee beans and then watched as they were processed. That afternoon, they drank coffee with the farmer and his wife, and they listened to a lecture on fair trade coffee in the evening.

Andrew Maier ’11 had been to Costa Rica before, but the civil engineering and architecture major returned to the Central American county after hearing Weisman describe the trip.

“On vacation, you enjoy the beach and the pool, but this was entirely different. It was just as much fun, if not more so,” Maier says.

Banos agrees. “I loved it,” she said. She was struck by the cheerfulness and generosity of a people in a developing country. “They were happy for what they did have.”

The students were in a rural part of Costa Rica when the nation was rocked by an earthquake. No one in the group was harmed. “It was far away, only slightly felt, and the route we had back to the city was not affected; neither was the airport,” Weisman said. “Other than being in a country that just had a natural disaster, we were not affected.”

McGurty adds, “Communication protocol was followed, and we were able to inform the parents about it immediately.”


“Costa Rica had their earthquake, and we had our snowstorm,” says Linda Lefkowitz, associate professor of modern languages and literature. She has helped students explore Spanish culture for approximately 10 years. This year, Madrid had its largest snowfall in 40 years. “The city was paralyzed by about two inches of snow and the airport was closed for a few hours,” Lefkowitz says.

The students spent several days in Spain’s current capital, Madrid, before traveling to its former one, Toledo. They also spent time in Italica, which was built by the Romans, and Seville. During the trip, students kept a detailed journal, attended 12 hours of class and are now preparing a paper.

“The students were very accepting in regards to the rituals, the different foods and different schedule,” Lefkowitz says. They cheerfully participated in the eating of the grapes, a Spanish New Year’s Eve tradition. The students were given 12 grapes to swallow at each stroke of midnight, and those who succeeded would have good luck for the next year.

“No one really knew when the clock was chiming or when to begin, and it didn’t matter,” she recalls.


Global Citizenship students practice a traditional Ghanaian dance.

In their first year, students in the Global Citizenship program attend a faculty-led trip over winter break. This year, the GC students visited Ghana in a trip led by Tina Richardson, associate professor of counseling psychology, and Gisella Gisolo, the GC director. Robert Atkinson, a teaching assistant in English, also traveled with the group.

Before the 20 students left, Tina Richardson taught a preparatory course in which she required the students to read about Ghanaian culture, economics, politics and history, among other topics.

They lived these lessons in West Africa. They learned African dances, ate Ghanaian foods and visited a castle, infamous for its role in the transatlantic slave trade. The group toured two non-profit medical clinics, one of which in a remote village. Gisolo says that the GC students were so deeply moved by the children in the village that they pooled their money and made a donation to the clinic.

The group also shopped at the Kumasi marketplace, one of the largest markets in Africa. As they surveyed the stands, the people surveyed them. Children followed the students, repeating “obruni,” their term for white people.

Gisolo describes the trip as “profound."

“The students started to see themselves through the eyes of the Ghanaians," she says. "It was like looking at yourself in a mirror.” At the end of the two-week trip, “the students became more capable of analyzing themselves within a different cultural element, and they were more capable of critical thinking.”


While the first-year GC students visited Ghana, some GC seniors were conducting a pilot service project in Peru. Before they graduate, GC students complete a capstone project that “concludes the GC Program experience with an element of service and self-reflection,” Gisolo says.

Last spring, Corey Luthringer ’09, one of the GC students, saw it as an opportunity to increase the program’s service component. She and Molly Cramsey decided to explore the possibility of introducing a new trip to the GC program—a service project for seniors.

“We were going to test the waters and figure out if such a project was possible,” says Luthringer, chemical engineering major.

The students began planning the trip last semester with assistance from individuals and organization throughout the university. Daphne Hobson, director of the office of international programs in the College of Education, advised the students’ planning process. They also received help from the Global Village, a cross-cultural leadership training program run by Lehigh’s Iacocca Institute.

Luthringer and Cramsey traveled to Peru with several other GC seniors, Ryan Ruggiero, Colin Foley and Maura Douglas, and with Karen Hendershot, a doctoral candidate in educational leadership.

In Pachacutec, Peru, the team participated in a few service projects, such as helping local orphanages, but their primary aim was to seek partners for future trips.

“Two weeks was enough time for us to find the contacts we needed and get things moving.” In the future, Luthringer says, “I see this turning into a semester-long project.”

She and Cramsey are now completing a report on the pilot with recommendations for future service projects.

For those attending, the Peru trip was a culmination of the three-and-half years they spent learning about other cultures and about each other. Four years ago, the GC seniors traveled to Shanghai or Prague as near strangers for their first-year winter break trip. On this journey, the members worked together as good friends.

"Each member of the team had their own specific expertise to contribute, and we could not have asked for better group to lead this pilot project," Cramsey says.

Story by Becky Straw

Posted on Thursday, January 29, 2009

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