By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
Imagining is only the first step, but it’s worth a try. Picture a huge tour bus navigating narrow streets with excited students on board, singing, dancing, taking turns on the microphone and capturing memories with their cellphone cameras. But now imagine this is a group of Grand Canyon University students, meeting for the first time and coming together to explore about a dozen cities in 12 days overseas.
This spring, Breanna Naegeli, GCU Honors College and Study Abroad program manager, witnessed it first-hand when she chaperoned 17 Honors students to England, Ireland and Scotland. It filled the students with travel wanderlust, and Naegeli is proud of it.
“Having the opportunity to explore outside of what you know is hugely underrated,” she said. “But our students are very curious individuals who like to look globally to take their world view to another level.”
At the beginning of the school year, the students signed up, researched potential destinations and voted on the top three countries they wanted to see. Come April, it was time to unplug from a busy semester and board a plane to England, where they would plop into a European coach and immerse themselves in new adventures. The students’ experiences were nothing short of eye-opening.
Answering England’s cold call
Sophomore Kara Lavery and junior Brendan Dyer, both Phoenix natives, quickly were caught off guard by England’s cold weather.
Lavery kept her luggage fairly light, packing a dozen short-sleeved shirts and zero long-sleeved shirts. Meanwhile, Dyer thought he could complete the trip in sandals.
“I live in these sandals nine months out of the year,” he said.
But when they were standing in snow flurries and hailstorms, the students realized some changes were necessary. For Dyer, that meant throwing on a pair of hybrid sandals — with socks. Lavery found herself purchasing warm clothes.
“It was so cold you could see your breath,” she said.
In for a big surprise
When she entered college, Lavery said her parents hoped she would take the chance explore the world. So when Lavery jokingly mentioned the trip led by the Honors College, they were fully on board and even signed her up themselves.
Once in England, Lavery found herself baffled with the feeling of being an outsider, especially when the cashiers would point out her American accent.
“I would say, ‘I have the accent? No, no — you have the accent,’” she recalled.
But the next thing she knew, Lavery had become engrossed in the royal history of England, exploring the Blarney Castle and Gardens and Scotland’s many other shades of green. That changed everything.
“There was too much beauty for words,” she said. “You needed lots of memory on your camera phones if you were going to try to capture everything.”
In York, she had the biggest laugh after going on a Ghost Walk tour. The tour guide told the story of a ghost with a full gentleman’s outfit and a cane who leaned up against the wall to spook the ladies who came through. Coincidentally, when he finished telling the story, an actual older gentleman walked down with a top hat and a cane.
“It was so funny to see everyone’s reactions,” she said, still laughing.
Steven Quintana initially planned to visit Spain and Italy this summer. That changed when the trip was canceled, and he decided to use his savings for England, Ireland and Scotland, scheduled for departure the day of his 21st birthday — a decision he doesn’t regret.
“It was so worth it, and I’m definitely planning on doing it next year,” he said.
Quintana was most surprised by how tasty the food was overseas.
“I definitely didn’t starve,” he said.
Above all, Quintana devoured Scotland’s popular Haggis dish — a type of pudding containing sheep’s pluck, onion, oatmeal and spices — and took every moment he could to take a picture of his meals before he ate.
“One thing I really liked about the culture was that they eat really small portions,” he said. “However they always do a starter, a main course and a dessert, and you’re full by the third portion.”
While his peers pulled out their cameras and smartphones at each stop, Dyer had different plans — to avoid looking like a tourist and to avoid pickpockets.
“I had heard all these terrible things from family and friends about getting pickpocketed, so I had my hands in my pockets and used a money belt,” he said.
But halfway into the trip, Dyer found that he actually felt safe and no longer saw the point of “playing it cool.” Instead, he threw his arms around his peers and shook the hands of locals.
“It didn’t feel right to me because I’ve always been a people person — that’s the reason I went on this trip,” he said.
The locals were open to conversation, and Dyer loved every minute of it — except when it came to soccer and when he had to prepare to answer any question about American politics.
“They like to talk and just share life with you,” he said. “But definitely don’t share soccer talks in open pubs (especially in Liverpool, where the city is divided by blue and red fans), and be prepared to be asked if you’re voting for Hilary or for Trump.”
One big, happy family
As the students spent time on the streets with locals, bonded on the tour bus, wandered off in groups and tried to adapt to new cultures, they found themselves also growing closer to each other.
“We had one goal in mind at the end of this trip — to be one big family. That happened,” Quintana said. “I went from knowing only one person to feeling like I knew everyone individually at the end of the 12 days spent together.”
Since returning in May, the students have created their own social media groups, and others are already planning their next trip and get-together.
“I’m sure I’ll be able to pinpoint each person when I go back to school in the fall,” Lavery said. “We pretty much plan on having dinner once a month.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.