Feb 5, 2008

Travel abroad and explore Ireland with Liberty

by Aubrey Blankenship
Last summer Liberty University student Kristen Gonzalez rode the Tube in England, stood in Shakespeare’s London home and took in the breathtaking landscapes of Ireland and Wales. She toured with professors and classmates, receiving academic credit for traveling abroad. “I love Europe, and the experience as a whole was so valuable,” Gonzalez said. “Many students live in a sort of American bubble and have never experienced another culture.” College travel abroad programs are steadily increasing in the U.S. as students reach for opportunities to form an international perspective. Several Liberty departments offer rich academic experiences outside of the classroom in the form of yearly trips abroad. Led by professors of history, English and modern languages, and business, and open to students of any major, Liberty’s trips have included tours of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Great Britain, as well as Spain, Berlin, Prague, Paris and Brussels. Upcoming this year are trips such as Spring Break in London (already full) and the Irish Heritage Tour on May 19 through 29 (the sign-up deadline is Feb. 9). While some trips may center on language, history or business, the 2008 Irish Heritage Tour, hosted by the English Department, will explore firsthand the literature, culture and history of Ireland. “The focus of the Irish Heritage Tour is on literature, but you can’t study literature without knowing the history,” said Dr. Brenda Ayres, English professor and tour host. Ayres has led a trip to the United Kingdom (UK) every year for the past five years and is eager to experience Ireland with a new group of students this May. To enhance the learning experience and to give students academic credit, she offers a three-week, Web-based summer class — ENGL 497: Irish Literature. “If a student studies ahead of time, the trip will mean much more to him,” Ayres said. “My students study the writings of the most important Irish writers from the beginning of Irish history as well as the connection between Christianity and Ireland.” Although they are not on a mission trip, the professors and students who travel abroad do not leave their Christianity behind. “Every time we have gone abroad, we have witnessed to lots of people,” Ayres said. “It really is a mission field. The church is dying in the UK. Even as Christianity was handed to us, we must now hand it back.” Trying to provide such experiences to as many students as possible, the professors work to keep the cost of trips low. Covering everything but souvenirs and lunches, the Irish Heritage Tour costs students $2400, and monthly payment plans are available as well as student loans through Liberty’s Financial Aid office. “This trip was just so affordable and easy to apply for since it was through the school,” said Sarah Coffey, a student who will be traveling to Ireland this summer. “I expect to be educated on Irish history and culture, have lots of fun and see a gorgeous place I have dreamed of seeing for years!” Like the English department, the history department is continuing to offer yearly, affordable trips abroad. Dr. Timothy Saxon and Mrs. Gail Saxon lead students with a love of history through significant areas of Europe. “Our focus, of course, is history,” Gail said. “On our London tour we will see lots of main sites, including the Tower of London, Westminster Abby, Thames River and the British Museum. We have fun, learn and always make new friends.” Those who travel abroad do take away more than just an educational experience. “I enjoyed sightseeing, but my favorite aspect was getting to know the students on trip,” Kristina Schimmels, a participant in the 2007 Irish tour, said. “I left Ireland having new friends. That is the most valuable thing.” The year 2009 will bring more tours, including a possible trip to China headed by the history department and a tour of London and Canterbury, Paris, Berlin, Prague, Budapest and Vienna by the School of Business. Liberty’s travel abroad programs continue to grow and offer incredible international experiences to students. “I believe everyone needs to have a passport and travel abroad at least once in their lives,” Schimmels said. “And there is nothing better than seeing a great London musical or actually being in Ireland. It is amazingly beautiful.” If interested in traveling abroad this year, please contact Dr. Brenda Ayres at bayres@liberty.edu for more information on the Irish Heritage Tour. Contact Aubrey Blankenship at anblankenship@liberty.edu.
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