W’International travelers come home with new insights

by Luanne Williams

Weeks after returning from W’International, Wingate’s signature low-cost travel study program, students are still reflecting on how the experience both challenged and changed them. The students spend 10 days abroad over the winter break, after taking a semester-long seminar.

“This trip was amazing,” Courtney Blackstock wrote in her travel journal. “I experienced a lot of firsts: first flight, train ride, public bus ride, metro, climbing large heights, Korean food, pizza-making, etc. And I enjoyed every minute.” 

She traveled with math professor Kaitlyn Perry. In her course, Pisa & Pizza: Discovering Mathematics in Italy, Perry helped students explore the work of Galileo, Fibonacci and da Vinci, to better appreciate architectural treasures such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Duomo di Firenze.

Two girls stand in front of a historic structure during a W'International study abroad experience in Italy.

“The Duomo stairs were so much steeper than I thought they would be, but the view was amazing. The sight was so incredible and worth the hard and steep climb,” Jodi Helms said. “This might be the only opportunity I get to go to Italy in my lifetime, and the group we went with was amazing. It was a trip of a lifetime.”

Education professor Melanie Keel’s students did plenty of climbing as well during the culmination of her course, More than Macchu Picchu: Exploring Peruvian Customs, Cultures, & Communities. As they examined architecture and the impact that Peru’s past has on its present, they also considered family structure and community engagement.

For student Sydney Jarrell, the homestay with a Peruvian family was informative and rewarding. She said touring holy sites kindled talk about faith within her travel group.

“Gazing on the main church in the plaza is truly breathtaking. Because of its location, you can tell that citizens of Cusco value their religion,” Jarrell said. “Visiting the Temple of the Sun sparked interesting topics of debate regarding Catholicism and Christianity in general. My friends and I talked about the significance of a rosary, if baby baptisms are necessary, why Mary is important to the church, and much more. I feel that if we had not gone to visit this temple, we probably would not have gotten the chance to hear about each other’s views on religion.”

In her course, Costa Rica: The Crossroads of Ecotourism, Conservation and Culture, biology professor Melissa Fox had students hiking through rainforest reserves, encountering exotic plants and animals, and touring a coffee plantation. The adventures helped many of them unplug and embrace the country’s emphasis on the simple life – “pura vida.”

A college student taste a guava juice during a W'International adventure in Costa Rica.

“I totally disconnected from social media and anything that wasn’t Costa Rica related,” Ellie Gottschalk reported. “All I wanted was to be a part of each and every activity and take full advantage of the opportunities I had while being here.”

Fellow traveler Tristen Davis said, “This trip has given me so much to be thankful for! I have a greater appreciation for the world around me, and everything that goes into conserving natural lands. It has also given me a travel itch.”

Shelby Thimos also found much to be thankful for in her W’International experience in Costa Rico.

“I fell in love with the country and all of the activities,” Thimos said. “I am grateful that Wingate offers this program, and I would recommend it to every student.”

These groups as well as students in Brooke Mitchell’s United Kingdom course -- We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year -- traveled from just after Christmas to the second week of January. Later this spring, students currently attending their weekly W’International classes will pack their bags for the United Kingdom, Argentina, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Hong Kong.

Learn more about all of Wingate’s international study opportunities on the University’s website. Wingate ranks No. 11 for study abroad among doctoral institutions in the United States and third among those in North Carolina.

A group of students holds a Wingate flag during a W'International trip to Italy.

January 29, 2020