By Crystale Lopez

Ashley Rivas experiences history in real life at the group's visit to Stonehenge.

The University of the Incarnate Word encourages students to gain global awareness by participating in the study abroad program as part of their UIW educational experience. The opportunities available can range from long weekend outings to short-term trips lasting seven to 10 days or full semesters abroad. Faculty members are also actively involved in this endeavor by leading student trips.

Dr. Michael Guiry, associate professor in the H-E-B School of Business and Administration, explained that faculty members interested in leading trips receive the support of the university. UIW’s International Affairs is also receptive to faculty-led trips and provides support by encouraging students to travel. Ultimately, however, it is up to the faculty member to set up the course.

“A special topics class was set up in the management discipline for me and Dr. Guiry to travel to London with a group of students during spring break,” said. Dr. Angelina Kiser, associate professor and management and international business coordinator in the H-E-B School of Business and Administration. “Part of the goal for the School of Business, and the university in general, is global and social awareness, so we try to take as many students as possible.”

UIW students wait for their double-decker bus to arrive, pictured (L-R) Ester Cisneros, Idalia Garza, Vicki Browder, Ashley Rivas, Kathleen Rodriguez, Teresa Tristan-Chavez, and Valeria Arias.

Kiser said another goal of hers was to take students who had not traveled abroad before.

“We traveled with a group of 13 undergraduate and two graduate students for nine days and there were quite a few that had not traveled outside of Texas before, or even out of San Antonio for that matter,” she said.

Guiry said London is the perfect place for someone to go, especially if they have never traveled outside the United States before, because the primary language there is English, the culture is similar and it is easy to get around the city.

“It was such a neat experience to see those students who came on this trip and it was their first time outside of the U.S.,” Guiry said. “They had their brand new passports that had never been used and their eyes just got so big and lit up when they would experience things in London. It is opening a door to another part of life for them.”

On her first trip out of the country, UIW student Ashley Rivas did not know exactly what to expect.

UIW student Kathleen Rodriguez takes the opportunity to visit Big Ben while in London.

“I had never done a study abroad or been out of the country before,” she said. The trip to London was long but it was worth it. It’s exciting to know there is a whole world outside of Texas and that you are in a different country and there is going to be so much to learn and experience.”

During their time in London, the students and professors had the opportunity to create their own itinerary and participate in various activities. They met with businesses in London to talk about their business practices; visited the U.S. Embassy; traveled to Bath, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site; visited Stonehenge; toured Windsor Castle and Arsenal Stadium; attended a soccer game and the theatre.

“Visiting the businesses in London was an eye-opening experience,” Kiser said. “Students have the understanding of how U.S. businesses work, but we wanted to give them a perspective of how it worked somewhere else and that was London.”

The first company the group visited was Beazley, a high-end insurance and underwriting company. The students had the opportunity to tour the business, listen to all the employee benefits and ask questions of their own.

“I had told the students they needed to ask a lot of questions and that they needed to be prepared for the trip, so they researched the companies we planned to tour before we left for London,” Kiser said. “They were very well prepared and asked some really intelligent questions.”

UIW students cross Abbey Road in London recreating the legendary Beatles photo, pictured (L-R) Valeria Arias, Teresa Tristan-Chavez, Ester Cisneros, and Ashley Rivas.

“I learned a lot of valuable skills from some of the managers there,” Rivas said. “I can take those skills and apply them when I do become manager or director of a company.”

The professors also made sure the student travelers understood how to get around London, making it a point to only use the public transportation system.

“We did coordinate some things through CEPA (Cultural and Educational Programs Abroad), but I did not want them to take us everywhere,” Kiser said. “Each time we had plans to go somewhere I would ask the students ‘okay how are we getting to this destination’ and they would set up the route on the trains. There were a couple of miscues, but we were never late to any place and got around just fine.”

With only about a week in London, the group did their best to fit in as much as possible and immerse themselves into the culture. The students also had free time to explore on their own. One day trip included half of the group attending a soccer game while the other part of the group traveled to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath.

The traveling group at Maxwell's Bar and Grill in London.

“A lot of the students had selected the trip to Stonehenge as one they really wanted to do,” Kiser said. “Just to be there and know the history was quite a cultural experience.”

Both professors were equally in awe of Stonehenge with the students.

“Going to Stonehenge helped the students absorb British history,” Guiry said. “I had never been to Stonehenge before either and just seeing a photo you do not realize just how large the rocks really are and their significance. Standing there makes you think ‘how did these rocks get there?’”

Guiry explained that learning takes place in many different ways and locations.

“Part of learning and education takes place in the classroom and part of it comes from reading a book,” Guiry said. “Traveling abroad is opening a door to a whole other type of learning where you are actually living what you have learned in the classroom or read in a book.”

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The overall consensus of the new and seasoned travelers was that they had a positive and enlightening experience. Some students new to traveling outside the country began the trip clinging to the professors, but by the end they were not only ready to venture out in London on their own, but they were also ready to take on more travel.

Pictured (L-R) Laura Ovenden, head of training and development at Beasley's Underwriting Agency, and Dr. Angelina Kiser, associate professor and management and international business coordinator in the H-E-B School of Business and Administration.

“To get the first-time travelers out there is amazing because you can see the transformation from the time we arrive to the time we leave,” Kiser said. “A lot of them were ready to travel again and talked about visiting a non-English speaking country. I think when you make that first experience really positive then they feel more comfortable and don’t feel lost – it builds their confidence to keep growing and to take on other travels.”

Rivas said she was one of the students who felt more confident now that she has been abroad.

“There is so much to learn out there and so much to experience,” she said. “I believe it was the best decision I’ve made thus far, and would definitely do it again. I had so much fun.”

As traveling abroad experiences become more widely promoted on campus, the number of faculty traveling with students has increased, and students from a wider variety of disciplines have participated in the program.

Pictured (L-R) UIW students Kathleen Rodriguez and Ashley Rivas at the London School of Business and Finance.

“Regardless of what discipline you are in, I think traveling abroad makes you more marketable,” Kiser said. “If you can speak to the fact that ‘I did a study abroad’ it differentiates you from students who have not been out of Texas or San Antonio. It makes you a better, well-rounded individual.”

Faculty members also see the benefits of sharing their travels with their students. Guiry said when faculty have the opportunity to travel abroad, whether it is with students or on their own to teach or attend a conference, they absorb a lot of information that they share with their students.

“All these trips benefit us because we can bring our experiences back to the classroom,” Guiry said. “If we are going to encourage our students to travel abroad and to become more globally and socially aware then we, as faculty, need to do the same.”