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Students find new confidence, cultures, in London study abroad trip

UTRGV students rest for a moment in front of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, during their summer study abroad trip to London. The students are, from left to right, Alejandro Castellanos, Jose Saldivar, Darryn Vasquez, Jasmine Rodriguez, Lesley Gomez, Victor Acosta, Josie Fuentes, Diana Hernandez, Maria Ortiz and Isaac Salazar. The group is among the 16 students attending one, or both, courses travelling together: creative writing taught by Marianita Escamilla, lecturer in the Department of Writing and Language Studies, and an introductory communication course taught by Dr. Christina Spinetta, assistant professor in the Department of Communication. (Courtesy Photo)

UTRGV students rest for a moment in front of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, during their summer study abroad trip to London. The students are, from left to right, Alejandro Castellanos, Jose Saldivar, Darryn Vasquez, Jasmine Rodriguez, Lesley Gomez, Victor Acosta, Josie Fuentes, Diana Hernandez, Maria Ortiz and Isaac Salazar. The group is among the 16 students attending one, or both, courses travelling together: creative writing taught by Marianita Escamilla, lecturer in the Department of Writing and Language Studies, and an introductory communication course taught by Dr. Christina Spinetta, assistant professor in the Department of Communication. (Courtesy Photo)

By Gail Fagan

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – JULY 13, 2017 – Prior to taking off for her first study abroad trip, UTRGV freshman Lesley Gomez feared she would get lost in her destination city of London, England.

However, on one of her final days there, the English major from Nevada was able to readily give a passerby directions to Primark, a popular chain of stores in the United Kingdom.

“Looking back, I realize that I have not only learned the material from class, but I have also gained general knowledge, London history, and have become much more culturally aware than before,” Gomez wrote in a course-required travel blog. “Everything I experienced during this trip made me more confident and self-reliant.”

Gomez was one of 16 UTRGV students who was in London from May 19 to May 30 for an Introduction to Creative Writing course (ENGL 3351) taught by Marianita Escamilla, lecturer in the Department of Writing and Language Studies, and/or an Introduction to Communication course (COMM 1311) taught by Dr. Christina Spinetta, assistant professor in theDepartment of Communication.

Gomez and four other UTRGV students took both courses while in London.

Escamilla’s students were required to create a writing portfolio to include poetry, creative non-fiction and fiction. Student blogs included photos of their adventures, and the course was capped with a PowerPoint sightseeing presentation to their peers. 

Spinetta also had required readings and class discussion participation, as well as a persuasive presentation regarding one of the sites they visited.

Traveling to sites together, the group’s itinerary included visits to Stonehenge, the Tower of LondonWindsor Castle and the City of Bath, among other iconic locations.

“We went on a tour of the Globe Theatre and saw a production of William Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night,” Escamilla said. “The students did a blog about it, but for their core reading assignments, I had them read living South Texas writers so they could compare them to the classical writers associated with the United Kingdom.

“Academically, I want them to know that there is a world bigger than our classroom. They are going to be dealing with different cultures, different perspectives, different attitudes. If we stay insular, when they meet someone or something challenging, they need to know how to deal with that,” she said.

In their free time, the students learned to navigate the London Underground or The Tube, London’s public rapid transit system, using their London Pass. Some tried the country’s famed fish and chips, and several gained the habit of enjoying afternoon tea, Escamilla said.

‘LONDON FROM ALL DIFFERENT SIDES’

Vanessa Ruiz, a junior criminal justice major from Weslaco, took both classes. She especially enjoyed her ride on the London Eye, the city’s famed, nearly 450-foot-high Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames, which flows through London.

“I was able to view London from all different sides,” said Ruiz, who was on her first study abroad trip. “London looked amazing from up there.”

Ruiz said she appreciated that racism was limited in London, and was pleased with the growth she saw in herself.

“The experience helped me get out of my comfort zone, to take risks and explore,” she said.

ENHANCING PERSONAL SKILLS

It was the second study abroad trip to London for UTRGV junior Omar Nedzelsky, a biological sciences pre-med major from La Grulla. Last year, he took Intro to British Literature with Escamilla; this trip, he was in her ENGL 3351 class. 

A former student in UTRGV’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) – which supports first-year college students who have a migrant/seasonal farmworker background – Nedzelsky helped recruit and prepare six CAMP students to study abroad with Escamilla this year.  

“I saw myself in this new set of students in the program, which then drove me to motivate them to pursue study abroad,” said Nedzelsky, who became the unofficial “official” Study Abroad Ambassador for London, for the Office of International Programs and Partnerships, where he is a student worker.

His favorite place to visit was Tower Bridge, which includes a glass floor, exhibitions and panoramic views above the River Thames. He was also impressed with The Shard, Western Europe’s tallest, architecturally notable building.

“You can even see Windsor Castle from that height,” he said.

Nedzelsky said the study abroad experiences have enhanced the personal skills he sees vital to being a better candidate for medical school and, ultimately, a successful doctor. 

“Both trips to London have allowed me to understand who I am, made me more confident in choices I need to make and realize where I stand in life,” he said.

THE LONDON TRAVELERS

Other students who participated in UTRGV’s London study abroad trip with Escamilla and Spinetta were:

  • ENGL 3351: Alejandro Castellanos, kinesiology; Jessica Estrada, biological sciences; Kenia Gonzalez, exercise science; Diana Hernandez, psychology; Luis Lopez, biological sciences; Maria Ortiz, nursing; and Jose Saldivar, computer science.
  • COMM 1311: Victor Acosta, civil engineering; Isaac Salazar, mathematics; and Darryn Vasquez, biology/chemistry.
  • ENGL 3351 and COMM 1311: Julissa Avalos, criminal justice; Josie Fuentes, political science/international business; and Jasmine Rodriguez, political science. 

For more information about study abroad, contact International Programs and Partnerships in the Office of Global Engagement at (956) 665-3572 or ipp@utrgv.edu.

MEDIA CONTACTS

Gail.Fagan@UTRGV.edu
Senior Writer / 956-665-7995 

Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications 956-665-2742