The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


Students reflect on overseas experience

While most of us spent our summer vacations enjoying the time away from classes or working summer jobs to bulk up our wallets, several Gannon University students sacrificed valuable relaxation and family time to go overseas and immerse themselves in another culture.

Brittnie Knight, Conor Grey and Lexie Mastro each embarked on a unique trip that had different combinations of service, education and good old fashioned tourism.

Knight, a senior theater/communication arts major, traveled across the pond to London, where she spent nine weeks with the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) and Richmond University.

Delving even further into her passion for theater, Knight said she took classes about of Shakespeare and his world, script and short story writing, though script writing stuck out as her favorite.

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“It was the perfect outlet for the life-changing experience I had.”

Knight said one of her favorite aspects of the British culture was that the interest in going to theater productions was much more common. Her favorite moment, though, came when she set foot in the Globe Theater. She said that in that moment, tears sprang to her eyes.

“I’m a huge Shakespeare nerd,” she said. “It was as magical as you can imagine.”

Knight said she fully intends to go back in the spring if possible, and intends to build her life in the U.K. in either London or Scotland, with theater as her primary focus.

“[The trip] taught me how to be more self-reliant and independent,” she said. “I’m ready to go back tomorrow, if I could.”

Grey, a junior pre-medical biology major in the LECOM 4+4 program, also engaged in a study abroad program in Italy through a program called Italiaidea.

He spent 10 days in Paris and six weeks in Italy, and said that his Italiaidea classes were enjoyable. Though only four weeks of the trip were dedicated to study abroad, during which time he stayed with a host family in Rome, he said classes gave him the opportunity to meet individuals from all over the world.

“My host family did an amazing job of showing me the culture of Roman lifestyle,” he said.

Like Knight, Grey said that his trip had a “magical” quality about it. He said that he had been eager to make the journey to his family’s homeland ever since his mother told him about his grandparents who had lived there. Because of this, he spent two weeks in addition to his four-week program with his mother and brother, who flew in from the States to join him in the central Italian city, L’Aquila.

Grey said that despite the overall life-changing experience, the trip was not without its bumps in the road, especially in the early planning phases in the months before takeoff.

Amid all the planning and filling out of paperwork, Grey said his two years of instruction in the Italian language were very helpful.

Grey said he was able to help translate for his mother and brother, as well as communicate with the family members he met who spoke no English.

The most important thing Grey said he learned was to appreciate the little things and every moment of life.

Mastro, a junior physician assistant major, had a much different experience, as she traveled to Namibia, an African nation that is riddled with poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Her internship lasted for several weeks, and was through Hope Initiatives SA – Namibia and the Center for Global Education at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. Gannon’s International Student Office was a major help in coordinating the opportunity, of which service was a major component.

She said it was a two-day long adventure just to get to her destination, and upon her arrival, she began to acclimate herself to the tin homes, as well as the lack of electricity and running water.

“There is so much poverty,” she said. “It was heartbreaking and such a culture shock.”

Mastro said her primary focus while in Namibia was to teach English to children. Her weekly routine consisted of class with 3- and 4-year-olds on and 6- and 7-year-olds. All of the supplies that she used she provided herself. She showed them how to write their names and read stories to them.

“They didn’t have class rosters, so when you would write down their name to teach them how to spell it, we would Americanize it and spell it how everything sounded,” she said.

Another lesson Mastro taught included having the children trace their hands and count their fingers on the pictures they drew. This was one of many lessons she did with the children to teach them how to count.

Besides the more practical lessons about spelling and counting, Mastro also incorporated lessons dealing with other issues of importance. For one such lesson, she asked the students to draw their home and who lived there. She said that this was to see the students’ perspectives on the idea of a home and family.

The language barrier, she said, was one of her most challenging obstacles. She had an assistant teacher to help her, but it was still often hard to communicate.

“Soon I was able to say things like, ‘Good morning,’ and ‘How are you?’” she said. “They spoke with a lot of slang so it was hard to pick up.”

Like Knight and Grey, Mastro said her trip had a major impact on her life.

“It gave me an appreciation of life and the quality of life,” she said. “I will no longer take my health, family or friends for granted.”

Another challenge she faced was witnessing the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS. She said 19 out of her 23 students had either HIV or AIDS. Many were also orphans because their parents were victims of the disease.

Aside from her experiences in the classroom, Mastro said she was also able to go into the town and see the rest of the community. There was virtually no middle class – people were either impoverished or rich. The employment rate is a staggering 55 percent.

“I wanted a raw experience and that is exactly what I got,” she said.

When she arrived back into the States, she sent a box filled with clothes, toys and school supplies to the village she stayed in. Readers interested in making a similar contribution should email theiss003 for more information.



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