Students delve into culture, cuisine and world history with study abroad

Junior business management major Adia Hopkins studied in Florence, Italy, for the 2024 spring semester.

Florentine Neighborhood Walks, Art and Community, Food, Drinks, City.

Sounds like a perfect vacation.

But instead, these are academic courses offered to students through Grand Canyon University's study abroad, which gives students opportunities to go beyond the traditional four-years-on-one-campus educational experience. With study abroad, one of four branches in GCU's Global Studies program, students travel internationally for a semester or summer break and take classes that count toward their degree program.

For four months, Adia Hopkins immersed herself in Italian culture, cuisine and history while working toward her degree.

“In our mission statement, we emphasize how important global awareness is to us,” said Jessica Landes, coordinator of the Global Studies program, which also includes international internships, global education trips and faculty-led programs, in which GCU faculty lead a cohort of students to study internationally. “We focus a lot on our community around GCU – students are going to have that much more sympathy and understanding for the community around here if they go abroad and experience something outside of the United States.”

Study abroad debuted in 2013, when the GCU Honors Institute transitioned into a college.

At the time, the University Studies Abroad Consortium was the only program partnered with GCU to provide international student experiences. Students back then sought out Global Initiatives and searched for study abroad opportunities they could sign up for instead of the program advertising specific opportunities, shared Landes.

The program was relatively small, with only a few students showing interest yearly. But it has incrementally grown since.

The consortium since has been joined by several other partners in support of GCU’s global initiatives, such as Semester at Sea, Students International, CIS Abroad, Living and Learning International, and Bond University in Australia.

Adia Hopkins explored Italy while studying abroad.

Adia Hopkins, a junior business management major, took advantage of the growing partnership between CIS Abroad and GCU to travel to Florence, Italy, for her 2024 spring semester and complete four courses that counted toward her major.

“I have grown up traveling a little bit, so I knew I wanted to go study abroad coming into college,” Hopkins said. “But when I met a study abroad student worker on an outdoor recreational trip who told me all about her time studying in Florence specifically, she immediately influenced me and got me connected.”

For four months, Hopkins immersed herself in the Italian culture, cuisine and history, all while working toward her degree.

She was especially fond of her class schedule, which consisted of traditional, in-person courses mixed with unique, nontraditional walking courses. On a weekly basis, Hopkins would meet her class at various locations, where her professor would walk around the city, stop at different landmarks and talk about its historical significance.

“I have been to Florence before, and I thought I experienced it all. However, being there for more than just three days, I really got to know the city – the ins and outs, the culture and history,” Hopkins said.

Junior finance major Evan Hutson studied abroad in Ireland for the 2024 spring semester.

“There are aspects of it that are scary and nerve-racking, but some of the best times come from once you push past that. Having the experience is something that really does last a long time.”

In the 2023-2024 academic year, Global Studies received over 300 applicants, including junior finance major Evan Hutson.

“I grew up having to move a lot, but going across the globe and living on my own in a way, figuring out transportation, language barriers and currency, helped me see the world with a new pair of glasses.”

Evan Hutson explored Europe in his free time while studying abroad.

Hutson spent four months studying at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Through his weekly classes and alongside other international students, Hutson delved into European culture and community and saw what life is like on a different continent.  

“Taking an economics class was especially fun to do because I got to learn about different economies in the world outside of the United States,” he said. “It was the best four months of my life. I was able to travel to 14 other countries and experience a lot of the world I know I wouldn’t have if study abroad was not an opportunity.”

GCU students can travel to 60 international locations through the study abroad program. Some of these include Italy, Spain, England, Australia, Japan, South Korea, India and New Zealand.

“We want to continue to raise awareness and get more students involved. Developing your cultural and global awareness, effective communication and critical thinking all play huge roles while you are abroad and are benefits you can gain,” Landes said.

“You gain a lot of independence and are not going to go abroad in any capacity and not feel that you have changed in some way.”

GCU staff writer Izabela Fogarasi can be reached at [email protected].

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