Honors College students travel the world

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

Summer is a prime time for students to get out of their element and explore the different sights and cultures the world has to offer, and Grand Canyon University’s Honors College offers an array of different trips to its students. This summer the Honors College hosted four short-term global studies programs and sent 79 students to 13 countries.

From a mission and a vision trip to international excursions, there was an Honors trip to suit every student's wants and needs:

Cambodia and Thailand Vision Trip

A group of Honors students traveled to Thailand and Cambodia to have their eyes opened to the global issue of sex trafficking.

One of the Honors College's more eye-opening, serious trips this summer was when a group of students got to travel to cities in Cambodia and Thailand and witness the real-world issue of children in sex trafficking.

Students were able to see the issue first-hand by walking through red-light districts with the information to understand what was taking place around them. It was hard to see it in person, Program Manager Anna Cofrancesco said, but it also could benefit students.

Students got to spend time with several girls saved by Destiny Rescue.

“It did expose our team to one of the darkest realities in our world,” Cofrancesco said. “For people who really open their mind like, ‘OK, I’m going to take everything as it is and if it’s going to bother me, it’s going to bother me. I’m going to learn something from it, I’m going to stretch my mind, I’m going to stretch my cognition,’ then I think those people become very resilient and well-rounded individuals.”

Seeing the red-light districts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is something Honors student Christina Boyle described as "heartbreaking."

“That was really tough to drive through there and see these things that we’re learning about in action, and that was hard to not get frustrated with the problem and that there’s not a quick fix,” she said.

Students were also able to visit Destiny Rescue projects, where they had the opportunity to bond with rescued girls and see the work Destiny Rescue does to help the victims.

Honors student Sage Cougar felt as if the group’s time with survivors was a great way to lift everyone’s spirits.

Students were submerged into the cultures in Thailand and Cambodia.

“We went on outings with the girls, we went to lunch with them, we’d go to like a lake to swim or we’d go to touristy stuff like visiting an elephant sanctuary,” Cougar recalled. “It kind of took our minds off the issue but showed us that there was still hope and beauty in the world and it wasn’t all bad.

“I think it was an important experience for me and the other team members to have just so that we can inform other people about it and educate people about the issue.”

Other memorable experiences included painting a school, planted shrubbery, and allowing the girls in the Destiny Rescue project, who were learning salon skills, to do their hair and nails.

The perfect synopsis of the trip, Cofrancesco said, came from Program Manager Luke Amargo even though he didn't go on this year’s trip: “Luke actually said one thing and it really stuck with me forever. He basically said, ‘You pay money for this trip to get your hearts broken so that you can become a better agent for change.’”

Dominican Republic Mission Trip

Although it was formatted like a traditional mission trip, the students got to take the Dominican Republic visit into their own hands.

Students returned to the Dominican Republic this year to partake in another mission trip.

Amargo let two Honors students, hand selected by Students International, have the experience of leading a mission trip.

Amargo chose Sarah Ochenkoski and Maria Gonzalez, who had been on his mission trip two years ago because "I trust these guys. They’re incredible and they’ve been stellar.”

They led their group into multiple tasks involving engaging with the local families they were serving and working with preschoolers to help them learn their numbers. The group also worked at dentistry and health care sites.

Several students worked with children to help them learns skills such as counting.

“It honestly went better than expected,” Ochenkoski said. “I know when Luke pulled out we were a little nervous because we were like ‘Oh my gosh.’ Me and Andrea were like, ‘We have to do this on our own now. This is big.' But we were really charged up.

“We were really excited to be representing the GCU Honors College and just GCU in general.”

Amargo said he “loves” the trips to the Dominican Republic with Students International because it offers students the opportunity to learn and practice important skills outside of the classroom, such as speaking Spanish. They also are opportunities to gain life skills in specific fields. 

“This mission trip was primarily vocationally centered, so every student got to experience something different depending on what site they went to,” Ochenkoski said.

But what Ochenkoski appreciated the most was how much time the group was able to spend with their Dominican-based site leaders and their families. When the students had dinner and played games with their site leader’s mother-in-law, Ochenkoski said, it was "one of the best nights we had there.”

Students got to spend quality time with local families while on their trip.

“We didn’t exactly understand each other" because of the language barrier, she said, "but we all knew the game really well, so we got to have fun and actually interacted.”

For Sage Cougar, who went on both the mission trip and the vision trip through the Honors College, her favorite memory was serving at a special education site.

“There was this one girl there that every time someone would show up, she would run up to them and hug and kiss them,” she said. “Every time I would show up there it was the cutest thing. She had so much love in her and it was really nice to experience that and see God’s love through somebody else’s eyes.”

According to Amargo, the student feedback has been “incredible.” He and other Honors College administrators are looking forward to introducing students to more new cultures, starting with next summer’s trip to Nicaragua.

Western Europe International Excursion

Students got to travel several different countries within Western Europe.

In early May, a group of Honors students visited England, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and Italy for two weeks and got fully immersed into those cultures. 

David Dean, an International Excursion veteran who teaches history in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said it was the type of trip that is a perfect opportunity for young people to see a new country in a fun, educational and safe environment.

“As a history professor, I know a lot about these cultures, and it’s really to be just kind of be an extra bit of support,” he said. “Having an experienced traveler with them just really kind of helps them get from place to place.”

The food was just one way students were exposed to each country's culture.

Among the sights the students got to see were the Eiffel Tower, the Dachau concentration camp and the Swiss Alps.

“We got to go on a trip of a lifetime,” Brittany Summers said. “We got to see a lot of Europe’s top highlights.”

Summers said her favorite country that they visited was Austria, where the group were able to ride bikes and go paragliding.

“I really loved learning about the history of places like Switzerland and England and how the culture has led to the environment that that country is now, especially being a guest where we were,” senior Morgan Lentz said. “We tried to be conscientious of language differences and differences in how they do things day to day.”

Lentz found that traveling with GCU students she didn't know, in addition to those who were her friends before the trip, helped her grow in ways that her previous travels hadn’t.

Students were able to go paragliding in Austria.

Program Manager Aysha Bell said the trip was more than just a fun getaway for students. It also gave them knowledge of a variety of subjects.

“Woven throughout the entire trip, we were learning history and learning more about all of the sights we were seeing,” Bell said. “These students were getting educated extensively on every site that we visited."

And that is what Dean will remember as the most memorable part of the trip for him.

“It’s really enriching experiences for them, and then for me it’s just exciting to watch them discover, watch them be in amazement at the history and the culture and the places,” he said. “I’m just glad to be able to be a part of that 'aha' moment.”

Italy, Croatia and Greece International Excursion

Students Visited Italy, Croatia and Greece.

Program Manager Dennis Williams and a group didn’t waste a moment while exploring the beauty and history that Italy, Croatia and Greece offer.

Students sampled authentic Italian cuisine, visited historic buildings, relaxed on the beaches of Croatia and Greece and learn about the history of Athens while exploring the ancient city.

It wasn't Kaylor Jones' first trip out of the country, but she said trips arranged by the Honors College are her favorite way to travel.

Students Visited several beaches throughout their trip.

“I love being surrounded by lots of people my own age, some of whom I haven’t met yet. But by the end of the two weeks, I know that I’ll know them in a very unique way,” she said. “Being completely out of our normal situation with a group of people you already have lots in common with, being in the Honors College is a great way to get to know someone at their best.”

Another aspect of the trip that Jones won’t soon forget was the different kinds of food.

“It was like the food in each place kept getting better -- impossibly good,” she said.

Victoria Bull went into the trip especially excited to get to see Italy and Greece, but by the end of the trip she was surprised by how much she enjoyed her time in Croatia.

Students got to explore several historical and beautiful spots in Greece.

“Croatia kind of took me by surprise because no one really would have expected it to be that pretty,” Bull said. “Croatia kind of just blew us out of the water.”

Bull, who had been on last year’s trip with the Honors College, enjoyed the laid-back experience she was able to have in the tropical environments. Williams, meanwhile, believes students will be most impacted by seeing places they'd only heard about. 

“You can see that these students start to think on a global perspective," he said. "They start to think about the world as a whole and start to think about ways that, whatever it is that they do, how they can have an impact in their local community in whatever way, in our nation but even globally. You start to hear students talk that way now, so I think that’s the coolest impact we can see.”

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


Related content:

GCU Today: Dominican Republic trip enlightens Honors students

GCU Today: Accent is on discovery in Honors College trip


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