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Spring break brings international travel experiences for students

April 21, 2015
KOKOMO, Ind. – Jeff Johnson expected to enroll in law school after graduating from Indiana University Kokomo in May.

His plans changed when he took his first-ever overseas trip, traveling to China with his intercultural communications class. He fell in love with the country, and now plans to live and work there. He is currently interviewing for jobs to teach English as a second language in China.

“I never thought I’d end up wanting to work and live in China, but traveling there really changed my perspective. I have such a newfound appreciation for their culture,” he said. “This experience has already changed my life. If it weren’t for having to finish my classes to graduate, I’d probably still be traveling throughout China, meeting new people, and experiencing the culture.”

He recently secured a position with the International English Language Testing System where he will tutor Chinese people via Skype for their English proficiency exam. He is excited to live close to Hong Kong and the ocean.

Johnson, from Kokomo and majoring in general studies and minoring in philosophy and political science, was one of eight students who traveled to China to study culture and communication, during the spring semester.

Donna McLean, associate professor of communication arts, regularly teaches intercultural communication, but this year, she decided to explore the theories and concepts through the lens of Chinese culture and communication. She led students through six cities in 14 days. They climbed the Great Wall of China and visited the Forbidden City in Beijing, toured Ming temples in Shaxi, and enjoyed the laid-back culture and beautiful mountains in Kunming.

“China is an important country geopolitically and has the largest economic market in the world, and from a cross cultural perspective, I was very intrigued,” McLean said. “It’s fascinating, constantly evolving, and difficult to see and understand that without immersing yourself into the culture.”

Megan Zimmerman, a junior from Kokomo, studies business marketing and management at IU Kokomo, hopes to work in international marketing. This trip really helped her understand what it would be like to work and live in another culture.

“We talk about China a lot in some of my classes, and this was an incredible opportunity to put those classroom conversations and topics into perspective and see China firsthand,” she said.

In addition to the China trip, seven students participated in the annual Guatemala travel opportunity.

For students like Carolina Anaya-Pico, traveling to Guatemala was another country and experience for the books. She is from Cartagena, Colombia, South America and has traveled to Panama, South Korea, and now Guatemala and Honduras. In May, she will travel to England with the Innovation Symposium.

“You don’t come home from traveling and forget about what you experienced; it stays with you forever. I love to travel and want to make it a priority in my life,” said Pico, a sophomore studying communication arts and sociology.

Christine Taff said she loves being able to share this trip with her students because they are able to truly experience the Guatemalan culture. They eat and travel with locals.

“Trips like this broadens horizons for students; they see their world here in a different light,” she said. “It shows students that there are real things happening outside of our borders. Guatemala is our neighbor, and we should know them.”

McLean and Taff agree that studying abroad is essential to student learning.

“We need more globalization components to our classroom work, and students expect it to be available for them. I think we are getting to a point where they will begin demanding these opportunities,” McLean said.

In Guatemala, students visited University Rafael Landiva to attend a nursing class and learn about the education and healthcare systems, toured Mayan ruins in Honduras, visited museums, and climbed the volcano Pacya.

Taff, lecturer in Spanish, co-teaches the Hispanic culture and healthcare course with Tammy Ledbetter, visiting lecturer in nursing.

A main component of each trip was service learning and fundraising.

The Guatemala group traveled to the rural, small town of San Agustín Acasaguastlá to meet Sister Edna, who runs a recuperation center that house 12 malnourished children. Students fundraised to provide the center with a new refrigerator, new furniture, and a new DVD player, and they volunteered by working with the children and painting the center’s entryway.

Pico was very grateful to participate in service in Guatemala.

“Every time I travel or perform humanitarian work, I’m always inspired to continue it in some way,” she said.

Johnson, Pico, and Zimmerman encourage fellow students to travel and follow their passions. “It’s an opportunity to learn about yourself and gain the confidence to travel individually later,” they said. “Traveling simply changes you, and you won’t regret it.”

For more information on traveling to Guatemala or China, contact Christine Taff at cmtaff@iuk.edu or Donna McLean at domclean@iuk.edu. To view all international opportunities available to IU Kokomo students, visit www.iuk.edu/international-opportunities.

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 04/21/2015