Gannon students study abroad

Travel is expensive. The airfare, lodging, meals, transportation, tours…the list goes on and on.

It’s also time consuming. It takes time to plan everything out, down to the last taxi ride back to the airport, and most importantly time needs to be set aside for the actual trip. Students are told over and over how great travel experience looks on a resume, but few college students have enough of these two main ingredients.

That’s where Gannon University’s partnership with Education First Tours comes in. Students seeking to broaden their global experience have the opportunity to go on short-term trips, usually lasting for about 10 days, which are led by expert tour guides.

The group rates include airfare, lodging, transportation, guided sightseeing and all breakfasts and dinners. For the most recent trip to Europe’s Mediterranean coast in May 2011 and the upcoming trip to London, Paris, Florence and Rome in May 2012, the cost ranges from $2,800 to $3,000. Travelers can expect charges for lunches, souvenirs and any additional tours they elect to go on once they reach their destination.

Douglas King, associate professor of English, is Gannon’s tour leader for EF, which was founded in 1965 as a way of bringing Swedish high school students to England to learn the language. EF now has offices in more than 50 countries that facilitate educational tours, high school exchange programs, language schools and even a one-year MBA program.

King works directly with an EF consultant, who plans the trips for Gannon groups, and the EF tour guide, an expert who travels with the group for the whole trip.

King said he became interested in the concept of bringing a company like EF to Gannon’s campus after an experience in France with a different group.

“I first did a tour maybe five, six years ago with another company to Paris and Nice,” he said. “It was wonderful.”

He said he then began asking himself how he could bring an opportunity like this to Gannon students, and came across EF.  He said he found them to be more economical than many other companies, while still providing quality tours that are well structured and have a solid support system.

He also said that he finds EF to be helpful in facilitating the trips. Some professors choose to organize trips on their own, which requires an extensive amount of time planning not only the tours, but all of the little things that are equally important, such as restaurants, hotels, transportation and other forms of sightseeing.

EF takes care of all of this, King said, and if anything goes awry, the company provides a tour guide as a solid support system. The guide stays with the group for the duration of the trip and is responsible for planning the day-to-day schedule.

When planning a trip, King works directly with EF tour consultant Kelly Detweiler. Detweiler originally planned to work for General Motors after college, but changed her mind after her own travel experiences. Detweiler said after taking her first trips abroad, she fell in love with Paris.

“I could sit in front of that twinkling tower all night if I had the chance,” she said.

Detweiler began working for EF in August 2010. She said they have quite a few divisions within the company, but she started out working exclusively with the college tours division.

“As a Pennsylvania native, it seemed fitting that I would take care of all the universities in my home state,” she said. “Since my very first day here, I’ve worked with Gannon.”

King and Detweiler agree that EF provides valuable experiences to anyone traveling with them. They focus on short-term trips, usually lasting about 10 days, which have academic components but also provide the opportunity to soak up another culture.

Travelers who went on the Mediterranean trip with King were able to see history up close when they walked the cobblestone streets of a real medieval village in France called St. Paul de Vence, which still had its original battlements intact. Other learning experiences included seeing the house of artist Henri Matisse in Nice, France, and the Salvador Dali museum in Figueras, about a half hour outside of Barcelona, Spain.

“I have firsthand experience with our tours and I have never been disappointed,” Detweiler said. “You will travel with a tour director (guide) that takes care of your group 24/7.”

Detweiler said that not only are the tour guides diligent about safety, they are some of the smartest people she has ever met and are experts on the culture and history of their respective regions.

“Every time I travel, I think I couldn’t have gotten a better tour director,” she said. “Then I go on another and continue to be impressed.”

Detweiler said the most rewarding part about working with EF is her experience with the professors.

“The ones that usually travel with us are passionate about getting their students abroad,” she said. “They go the extra mile to teach them all they can before they get out into the professional world.”

So far, King has taken two groups of travelers on EF tours. The first was in May 2010 to Greece and the second was in May 2011 to the Mediterranean coast, including locations in Italy, France and Spain.

“I honestly couldn’t pick which one I liked better – they were both superb,” he said. “In Greece we were saturated in one country versus having a quick taste of each on the Mediterranean tour.”

The tours are not simply offered to Gannon students, though. The previous two tours included a blend of students, parents, grandparents, siblings and faculty members.

Professor of psychology Barbara Townsend was one of the faculty members who went on the Mediterranean trip. Townsend said she believes this is the best time for students to take advantage of travel opportunities.

“It’s so much harder when you’re out in the working world,” she said. “This is the time to get the taste for travel on your palate.”

Townsend said she liked the fact that EF provided structure, as she didn’t do anything to prepare for the trip besides pack. However, she said she also liked that she was given a lot of autonomy and the choice to venture out and explore on her own.

The next EF tour being offered at Gannon will be in February 2012 to Costa Rica. Although King said he is unable to attend, he still thinks it will be an incredible trip. The group will instead be led by Martha Kosir, an assistant professor of foreign languages.

The next tour King will be leading is in May 2012 to London, Paris, Florence and Rome, which he said he is really looking forward to. He said since he has been to France so many times, it has become one of his favorite places to travel.

“France has always been my destination of choice,” he said. “I’ve been to Paris three or four times, but it’s always nice to branch out and see other places.”

One of these other places is London, and King said that being a Shakespearean, he is very excited to visit this historic city, as he has yet to do so in his traveling experience.

He said that prospective travelers still have plenty of time to sign up for both trips, but did emphasize the fact that things are easier for those who sign up sooner.

“The earlier you sign up, the easier it is to stretch out payments and start planning,” he said.

Senior legal studies and business administration major Kaitlin Musloe was one of the travelers on the Mediterranean trip and has already signed up for the trip to London, Paris, Florence and Rome.

“I never thought I would be interested in going on this trip, but after my first trip, I knew I had to go back to see those amazing cities,” she said. “I feel like it’s worth every penny.”

Musloe said she had countless memorable experiences on her first trip, but one that really stuck with her was walking down the path La Via del Amore in a coastal town in Cinque Terre, Italy.

“It was a winding path around the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean,” she said. “That was when it really hit me that I was experiencing something life changing.”

Musloe said the reason she believes the trip was life changing was because of the up-close look at other cultures.

“It was something that opened my eyes,” she said. “I was able to see living conditions in other countries and see the things that are important to people in other cultures. Everyone says how diverse the world is but it’s something you can’t fully understand until you experience it.”

She said she enjoyed the first trip so much she has been trying to convince her mom to come on the second one with her because she expects it to be even better.

Students who sign up for the upcoming trip to Europe will have the opportunity to see European culture at its best in some of the most historic and popular destinations in the world. King said that although the trips fit a lot of activity into a short-term tour and students can sometimes feel overwhelmed, they always come away with memories that will last a lifetime.

“I think they realize, ‘Hey, I’m in Paris. What do I have to complain about?’” he said.

CHRISTINE PEFFER

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