the University’s online student body. For others,
it’s the sense of community GCU promotes
in its online courses through daily classroom
discussion-style communications and weekly
calls from academic counselors to check on
coursework progress. The University also
differentiates its online offerings from other
schools in that it employs more than 200 full-
time, online faculty members.
Like many GCU online students, Raymond
and Kristi felt connected to a university they
knew primarily through a keyboard and
computer screen.
Raymond is an alumnus who graduated with
a bachelor’s in psychology in 2013. He has visited
GCU’s main campus a handful of times to see his
brother Dominic, who also graduated in 2013,
and to walk for graduation. While he is familiar
with many of GCU’s facilities, his connection to
the University was primarily through contacts he
made in his online courses.
Kristi lives in Phoenix but has never visited
campus. She is pursuing a master’s in special
education, GCU’s second-largest online degree
“When I heard you were from GCU, I lighted
up,” Kristi, 29, said of our chance meeting. “I
didn’t know you at all and I’ve never even been
to GCU’s campus, but it was comforting to know
you were from the same university as us. It was
almost like you were family.”
Raymond and I talked briefly about our
travels while in the Galway hostel. His trip
went much deeper than a summer vacation in
Europe. He left everything behind to travel
the continent for five months — a trip five
years in the making. I had to find out more.
After finishing an associate’s degree
from Yavapai College in Prescott in 2009,
Raymond, 25, went to work at Unisource
Energy Services, an electric and utility
company, where he served as conservation
and renewable energy programs coordinator.
He met Kristi three years before their trip
at a community service event sponsored by
The two friends bonded over their mutual
interests in community service and travel.
Raymond had never left the country and
wanted to visit Europe. He asked Kristi,
who has studied abroad in Italy and spent
multiple monthlong trips in various European
countries, to travel with him. She didn’t want
to miss the chance to experience his first
overseas travel and agreed to go.
Raymond decided the best way to see
Europe was to travel across the continent for
five months. He saved more than $10,000,
quit his job and mapped out his start and end
destinations. He planned to arrive in Ireland
in June and travel across northern and eastern
Europe, visiting approximately 20 countries.
After Europe, he would stay more than a
month in Turkey, then return home.
Kristi, a special education teacher at an
elementary school who was on summer
vacation, could afford to miss only two weeks
of her online class, which she put on hold for
the trip. She saved nearly $2,000 and flew to
Ireland with Raymond to travel for 15 days
across Europe. After nearly a week in Ireland,
they spent the next week in Germany,
Belgium and the Netherlands, after which she
flew home.
Raymond was in Czech Republic when
we last spoke. He said his trip offered an
opportunity to reflect on his blessings, such as
strong relationships with family and friends.
“Everything about this trip has been life-
changing,” Raymond said from a noisy hostel
“Meeting you at the hostel and this trip in
general has shown me that relationships are
worth investing in the most. I plan to bring
that back and share it with everyone.”
GCU online student
Kristi Grasser
poses for a photo in
downtown Dublin. She
said encountering GCU
students in Ireland was
like meeting family.
photo by raymond
GCU alumnus Raymond
Tapia (above) stops for
a photo in the Tatra
Mountains between
Slovakia and Poland. He
quit his job in Kingman,
Ariz., to travel across
Europe for five months.
photo courtesy of
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