IMG_5243By Debra Del Toro

Last fall, a pioneering group of college students set out for a new adventure in Heidelberg, Germany, as the inaugural class of the UIW European Study Center (ESC). The students discovered a bustling city where 40 percent of the near 150,000 residents are students and education is one of the top industries.

The ESC which was started through a partnership between the University of the Incarnate Word, CEPA (Cultural and Educational Programs Abroad) Europe and SRH University Heidelberg, offers students the opportunity to take courses from UIW professors while abroad. Located in Germany’s second sunniest city, in one of the most picturesque neighborhoods, the center is housed in historic Villa Krehl built in the early 1900s.

The city of Heidelberg is rich in history and tradition. It is the largest German city to have escaped bombing during World War II. As a result, much of the original architecture and landmarks exist to this day, offering students a rich cultural experience.

“I always wanted to study abroad. My heritage is German so I thought it would be neat,” said junior Garrett Townzen.

While the majority of the students in the program have been from UIW, the center is open to any college student looking for a study abroad experience. In the fall, the group was comprised of eight students from UIW, three from The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), one from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and one student from Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM). In the spring, the second group to participate consisted of six UIW students and three from TCNJ.

Ultimately, the program facilitators would like to see the center reach its full capacity of 200 students.

“This is a really unique chance for students to step out of their comfort zones and learn more than they can from books alone,” said Marissa Bennett, European Study Center recruiter. “We hope that as students return to their respective campuses and talk about their experiences, that other students will be encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity to see Europe while earning college credits.”

(Pictured L to R) Brody Rodriguez, David Craig and Evan Morris share a laugh in the ESC computer lab.

(Pictured L to R) Brody Rodriguez, David Craig and Evan Morris share a laugh in the ESC computer lab.

Regardless of where they originated, the ESC students found a common experience and enjoyed learning together and from each other. While some were nervous about a language barrier before their trip, their anxieties were short lived.

“As soon as we got here, we realized it wouldn’t be a problem,” said junior Evan Morris. “There were a lot more English speakers than I expected.”

In fact, 10 percent of the population in Heidelberg is American. The U.S. Army has had a presence in Heidelberg for decades, bringing countless Americans to the city. Though the Army base began relocating to Wiesbaden in 2012, their presence has influenced the local population.

With its central location, the ESC is the perfect choice for individuals wanting to study and explore Europe. In a short four to five hour trip, students can visit Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Zurich or Munich. Prague, Milan, London and Vienna are only six to eight hours away from the city.

“What’s cool about it, is it’s centrally located,” said Morris.

“It’s so easy to travel from country to country. With long week- ends, there are a lot of excursion opportunities,” added Townzen.

A variety of excursions are included each semester with additional field trips available as well.

While being away from home can be tough, the students shared holiday traditions to avoid homesickness. The fall students hosted a Halloween party and shared a traditional Thanksgiving dinner complete with a football game on the lawn. They also enjoyed local traditions and boasted waiting hours to be the very first group served at the 2012 Oktoberfest festival in Munich.

The entry to the European Study Center at Villa Krehl.

The entry to the European Study Center at Villa Krehl.

Many students would like to study abroad but worry it isn’t possible with their busy schedules.

“It’s only four months,” said Morris. “In the scheme of things it’s not long at all. And it gives your parents an excuse to visit.”

Junior Brody Rodriguez is a perfect example of a busy student who didn’t let the chance to study abroad slip by him. A member of UIW’s tennis team, he fit his study abroad semester between tennis seasons. But with the spring season starting soon after his return, he sought opportunities to stay on top of his game.

“I had to find courts to practice,” said Rodriguez.

As part of the partnership, ESC students are also able to use the workout facilities at SRH for a small fee.

The students acknowledged that movies and television shows like “Taken” and “Locked up Abroad” feed a fear that studying abroad is dangerous but they dismiss the idea.

“I think it’s safer than the U.S.,” said Rodriguez.

“You’re in really good hands,” said Townzen.

“Because you’re traveling in groups, you’re never alone,” added Morris.

This fall will mark the second year for the ESC. Any university level student may apply for the program and scholarships are available. In an overwhelming show of commitment to supporting UIW students wishing to obtain a life-changing study abroad experience, the university has established the new Global Experience Travel Award or ‘G.E.T. Award’. This award offers UIW students the opportunity to receive up to $2500 towards a full semester or $1500 towards a summer session. Internship opportunities are also available for students to gain invaluable resume-building work experience in Germany.

“This is the biggest adventure you can go on,” said Morris.

“It was the greatest semester of our lives,” added Rodriguez.

For more information, visit:

ESC students enjoy a cool afternoon in the garden.

ESC students enjoy a cool afternoon in the garden.

See page 2 for additional photos.