Study abroad programs make a stellar return to “campus”



AU student standing in front of the Lennon Wall during Semester in Spain in 2014.

Sean Repuyan, Features Editor

Studying abroad is a different adventure compared to the typical or traditional college experience. The study abroad program has deep roots embedded in Ashland University, connecting students with 139 countries across the globe to choose from. 

The past two years have put this long-standing legacy on a hold due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Now with vaccination numbers rising and the international travel restrictions lifting, the program is anticipated to be in full motion. 

Rebecca Parillo has been the director of the study abroad program for 21 years, spending most of her career at AU. 

“Because of Covid,” Parillo said. “Most programs have had to resort to domestic trips, and those that do travel abroad, we require that students participating are vaccinated. However, there are all sorts of options, from summer programs to student teaching abroad.”  

The Honors Interdisciplinary Seminar, for instance, will focus on studying the history, culture and economics of Arizona, Utah and Nevada in a southwest tour. 

In May 2022, Honors students will visit locations such as the Grand Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, the Hoover Dam and various national parks. 

In years past, Honors students have toured the Grecian Odyssey, Ireland and Italy in 2019, 2017 and 2015 respectively. 

Similarly, the Study Abroad Program offers cultural immersions that count for Critical Cultural Inquiry (CCI) credit. 

“[Because] the study abroad program is housed in academics, ‘study’ is a keyword,” Parillo emphasized. “Students take unique classes to be involved, customized to the specific locations. But that’s not to say that students won’t learn other things.” 

However, not every program is anticipated to stay anchored to the U.S. 

AU in Germany has been offered annually since 2005. Although COVID-19 broke the chain in 2020, the unique program pairing humanities and aesthetics is gearing up for a new start in May 2022. 

“AU in Germany is meant for students who don’t have much experience traveling abroad, or even at all,” David Aune, associate professor of religion noted. “It’s a very safe sort of entry level experience, providing an opportunity for exploration.”

Aune has been a director for two years, but has spent five years participating in the Germany program.

The core dichotomy between humanities and aesthetics is featured with the two optional courses required to be a part of the program.

“The courses are designed to be taught in Germany,” he continued. “Connecting students with their academic interests, linking humanities and important historical moments with seeing the actual places where events took place.”

Aune pulls heavily from AU’s Accent on the Individual initiative which drives students to pursue their own interests and develop themselves throughout the trip, allowing them to hone in on specific aspects and understand the true value of freedom. 

Being a well-established program, AU in Germany has been considered by many of its participating students to be an interesting journey with connecting coursework. 

“It’s not all work,” Aune concluded. “It is fun. Preparation ahead of time can help with actually experiencing Germany and its culture and all it has to offer.”

Primarily in study abroad courses, aesthetics is at the forefront; however much like AU in Germany, aesthetics is complemented by another important topic of discussion for students. 

The ‘new and improved’ Study in Tuscany program will feature Art & Politics, meeting credit requirements for aesthetics or social sciences. 

Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Daniel McDonald summed up the program in three words, “It is awesome.”

According to McDonald, the program idea was presented about three years ago. 

“It all sounded too good to be true,” he recalled. “Students will stay at a monastery in Tuscany and the stay is all donated; the food, comfort, even the Internet. We had everything planned, booked the flights and then Covid hit and everything was cancelled.” 

However, McDonald is hopeful things will work out for this upcoming spring. 

While students stay at the monastery, their studies will consist of research, combining art and politics and the influences the two have on each other. Students will take their corresponding courses throughout the semester and then “finish” the course in Italy.

“The program is made up of two groups,” McDonald continued. “To participate, students can take either Fundamentals of Studio Art in any concentration or Early Modern Political Thought. Artistic study will take place each day in the morning, then in the afternoons, groups would split up and work on individual projects between art and politics and then combine once more in the evenings. The trip functions as ‘part of the class’.”

In Tuscany, students would be immersed in Italian culture, studying Italian language, cooking, visiting vineyards and olive groves. A majority of the time will be spent at the monastery with day trips featuring Rome, Florence and Siena. 

McDonald says part of the adventure of studying abroad “is the unknown, that’s the beauty of it.” 

However, in its current form, the Tuscany program does not have enough cultural interaction to count for CCI. 

“In order to count for CCI, [study abroad] has to go beyond tourism experience,” Parillo stated. “It needs meaningful contact with locals, a tight look into everyday community life. I want the Tuscany program to have that meaningful interaction.”

Both Parillo and McDonald have detailed their plans to expand the program and mold it into a full culturally immersive program. 

“But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any interaction, it just isn’t organized as part of it,” McDonald added. “However, Tuscany is not Rome.”

Parillo, Aune and McDonald emphasize the importance of these rare, but essential opportunities for students to get out of their own comfort zone and their own culture, much like a ‘fish out of water.’ 

“Travel is a fundamental element of education,” McDonald concluded. “[It] forces you to see how you fit in the world and examine what it means to be alive somewhere else and compare that to your normal sphere. Anyone that can take advantage of this will only benefit.”

AU student standing in front of the Lennon Wall during Semester in Spain in 2014. (SUBMITTED BY: REBECCA PARILLO)