Faculty Members Share Wanderlust with Students

October 4, 2022

Short-Term Study Trips Abroad Often Are a ‘Signature’ College Experience

Wilmington College faculty members Jim FitzSimmons and Angela Mitchell fondly recall family vacations when their parents packed the kids in the car and took off across the country. Seeds for their love of travel — wanderlust — planted all those years ago continue to bear fruit as the duo has led more than a dozen Wilmington College Spring Break trips to Europe.

PICTURED: Dr. Jim FitzSimmons and Dr. Angela Mitchell stand near a poster of photos from previous student trips to Europe.

After a pandemic-imposed hiatus of WC study trips since 2020, they are ready to take flight again this coming May when they lead a tour of Ireland.

For Mitchell, a professor of business administration, her childhood memories center upon regular family trips to visit grandparents in Clearwater, FL. “We weren’t ‘beachy’ people, so we enjoyed visiting historic and other interesting attractions,” she said.

FitzSimmons, professor of mathematics, recalls month-long summer trips across the United States and Canada since his educator-parents had summers off from teaching. “I learned a lot on these trips. Even traveling across the center of the country with boring cornfields, it gave me a sense that people and places were not all like Ohio,” he said.

Mitchell said being a student at WC in the 1990s opened new worlds as she traveled on faculty-led trips to chemistry conferences in Chicago and New Orleans. Her first flight was to Sweden on business for Procter & Gamble.

“Those were unique experiences for a girl from Hillsboro,” she said. “I totally get where many of our students are.”

Indeed, many WC students have not flown let alone have been out of the country. It’s from that background that WC’s study abroad trips can offer a signature educational hands-on learning experience. “College in general tries to broaden perspectives, but international travel is a really unique way of learning by doing,” FitzSimmons said. “For many students, Cincinnati is a big city, but they’ve found it’s not on the international level of, say, London, Paris or Rome.”

Cities like London feature many sub-cultures within the traditional English culture — indeed, Indian food is a top choice for the British.

“It’s a great experience learning to navigate a big city in places that speak languages other than English — and to operate there without a cell phone,” Mitchell said, noting that trips are also a lesson in getting along with others for a week. “Personal space doesn’t exist!”

FitzSimmons added that Americans often see themselves as being in the center of the world, something those on study trips quickly realize isn’t necessarily true for much of the rest of the world. Indeed, soccer is football in Europe and tipping at restaurants involves handing a gratuity directly to the server instead of leaving it on the table or adding it to a credit card purchase. Simply ordering water in Paris can result in a 9-euro bottle of sparkling water when free tap water was the American’s intent.

WC’s European trips feature a classroom component both before and after the excursions in which students can earn academic credits that fulfill global/international course requirements.

“These trips are designed to develop the confidence to make students realize, ‘I can figure this out,'” Mitchell said. FitzSimmons added, “We shepherd them through a broadening of perspectives. I love it when students say their travel experience was among their best Wilmington College experiences. We’ve seen that travel can be a transforming personal experience.

“This is what we want to do as a College!”

WC uses the company, EF (Education First) College Study Tours, for its excursions abroad. They feature a tour director who is with the group from arrival in-country through departure while also providing activity-specific tour guides.

“We’ve found that EF gives students the tools to navigate this new experience,” Mitchell said, noting their tours also encourage family members and interested persons from the community to travel with the student groups.

Mitchell said, hands-down, traveling to Greece has been her favorite while FitzSimmons waffled a bit by answering his favorites are Italy and Greece for the history they offer but Ireland wins for its “fantastic” people. They’ve also led tours to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Ireland isn’t the only destination for Wilmington College this academic year. Other trip leaders are looking to get back on the road again. Marta Wilkinson, professor of English, is leading a Spring Break trip to France and Campus Minister Nancy McCormick is heading a service trip to Belize. Kendra Cipollini, professor of biology/environmental science, is heading to Costa Rica in late December with biology students while also leading a Spring Break trip to Germany/Switzerland and Chip Murdock, director of the offices of Diversity + Inclusion and Service and Civic Engagement, is leading a Washington, D.C. Diversity Museums and Memorials trip after the semester concludes in December and a Spring Break Civil Rights Tour to Atlanta and eastern Alabama in March. Also, Michael Snarr, professor of political science, will take students to Washington, D.C., in March for one of WC’s signature hands-on learning experiences, the Spring Lobby Trip. A similar excursion  geared for agriculture students was held earlier this fall.