Academic Read #8: Travel Thursdays

 From our Statement of Affirmation: “…through its educational work, [Gonzaga University] demonstrates an appreciation for international and global interconnectedness, and the value associated with relating each student’s educational experience to the contemporary issues of a global reality.”

Before there was “Throwback Thursday,” we had “Travel Thursday”. After lunch, I, along with my fellow Gonzaga-in-Florence classmates, would pack our backpacks and take off — Cinque Terre one weekend, the Amalfi Coast and Capri the next, Croatia and Bosnia for Thanksgiving, Turkey and Greece for Christmas tour, Venice for Carnevale.

For us, Thursdays meant new adventures were on the horizon. Each weekend brought new opportunities to take roads less traveled in Italy or once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences such as spending 24 hours on a bus to Krakow, Poland or taking the overnight train to wake up on my 21st birthday in Paris.

Now that I am ten years removed from my time at Gonzaga, I’ve reflected on what experience transformed me into the person I am today. While I can point to inspiring professors, service learning projects or political activism, the Gonzaga experience that truly ignited my spirit was my year abroad in the Gonzaga-in-Florence program.

My experience abroad was more than a series of “selfies” in front of famous buildings (although I do have a picture of me holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa). I embraced the year as an opportunity to interact with locals, learn about the Italian culture and Europeans’ perspectives on Americans.

The 2002-2003 school year was a challenging time to be abroad. Europe had recently integrated the euro and adjusting to their coordinated economies. America was still reeling from the attacks of September 11th and heading into war with Iraq. The world was changing – becoming smaller and more instantaneously connected through Internet and cell phone technology. As a political science major, I found the conversations about world affairs I’d overhear at cafés or on the train fascinating and at times chimed in. I gained an invaluable outsider’s perspective on American politics that enriched my studies in the classroom.

As our world becomes even more connected through social media and 24-hour news coverage, it won’t be uncommon to be asked in your future career to work in a foreign country or communicate with an international office at your company. Gonzaga makes a commitment to be true to its mission statement fostering students’ growth in intercultural competence and global engagement. It’s why GU sets a high standard by sending 48.3% of its undergraduates abroad to numerous countries on six continents.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity. Make your plan.

I know what you must be thinking, this alum is telling me to start thinking about studying abroad while its summer and the only thing on my biggest concern is making sure I have the right sheets to fit my dorm’s bed!

I get it. I’ve been there.

You’re figuring out how you are getting yourself and a mini version of Bed Bath and Beyond that your loved ones have supplied for you to Spokane. (Oh, don’t forget a few power strips!). You’re probably thinking, let me get through Orientation and my first year year and then we’ll see about living in another country.

Again, I get it. I’ve been there but I want to encourage you to envision where you could spend sophomore or junior year and how you can live out Gonzaga’s mission of being a man or woman for others who possesses intercultural competence and is globally engaged.

My Gonzaga experience would not have been complete without my Florence year so I am taking this opportunity to encourage you to study abroad. On a personal front, I can tell you it was one of the greatest experiences of my life and probably will be yours too. On a practical front, we live in a global economy therefore having experience living abroad and connecting with other cultures is a way to make you a competitive candidate in your future career.

As you were told in high school, that it’s never too early to think about college. You’ve made it! You’re a Zag! So here I am, Gonzaga alum, telling you it’s never too early to think about studying abroad. In the midst of all the activities, during the first few weeks on campus there will be a study abroad fair. I encourage you to go. You’ll learn about the programs GU offers and how to plan your academic experience to ensure you’ll be able to go abroad, fulfill your core and major requirements, and still graduate in four years.

When you meet with your academic advisor, chat with him or her that you are thinking of going abroad. Gonzaga is truly a supportive community and many people will help you make your plan to study abroad a reality!

I encourage you to begin thinking about how studying abroad will ignite your spirit because it was the experience at Gonzaga that ignited mine. I use the skills I gained to this day – how to pack efficiently, how to read a train schedule, how to book a flight, how to order a cappuccino properly. I vividly recall striking up a conversation on a train ride back from Sicily with two men who after spending the weekend with their families were heading to work in the northern part of the country. I remember visiting a synagogue in Krakow, Poland and meeting a man who was one of the 1200 Jews saved by Oskar Schindler during the Holocaust. I cherish the opportunity to learn about Michelangelo’s philosophy of creating the David and being able to visit the Accademia Gallery to see the work up close. I deepened my faith by visiting the Vatican and seeing Pope John Paul II canonize saints in St. Peter’s Square.

Studying and traveling were very important aspects of my time abroad but I am forever impacted by my personal self-growth and my keen awareness of my place in the world. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to try new things, to challenge myself physically and mentally, to embrace new experiences.

Did I mention that you could eat gelato everyday? Ignite your spirit. Study abroad!

 Danielle Cendejas graduated from Gonzaga in 2004, and is now a project manager for The Strategy Group based out of Pasadena, CA. She was a political science major while at GU, and has worked on a several high-profile political campaigns. And she’s a Zag through-and-through; she is the L.A. Chapter President and is actively involved with the Hire-A-Zag initiative.

IGNITE Question: Gonzaga has over 30 study abroad programs, including two campuses (in Florence and in Paris!) that offer summer, semester, and year- long opportunities. Where will you go? What do you hope studying abroad will do for your Gonzaga Experience?

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