Students immerse themselves in culture and history
Seven days. Seven ports. And a lot of history, foreign cultures and sites to absorb in between. These were the main takeaways that Chaminade students, Remo Merlo, Hannah Dyer, Nicole Vontsolos and Kevin Dean, gleaned from their short-term study abroad program this past spring.
Organized by Kelly Treece, Ph.D., Director and Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Lynn Haff, Director of Grants Development, the scholar-at-sea-like program offered students a glimpse into European, Islamic, Muslim, Jewish, Middle Eastern and Western Asian cultures. The seven-day itinerary aboard the Norwegian Jade embarked from Athens, Greece, and circled the Aegean, Marmara and Mediterranean seas, with Ports of Call in Kusadasi, Turkey; Patmos, Greece; Jerusalem (Ashdod) and Tel-Aviv (Haifa), Israel; and Limassol, Cyprus.
“We received a $13,000 Sidney Stern Memorial Trust grant, and we were all set to go in 2020 to Italy, Switzerland and Germany,” Treece says. “And then COVID happened.”
As travel restrictions began to relax in 2022, Treece charted a new course. This time would be different—in location and mode of travel. Also, rather than take a large cohort of students, who would have to pay their own way, Treece would use grant money to cover 90 percent of the program’s cost for four students: two females and two males.
“Coming out of COVID, we knew the students couldn’t afford to pay because they were still recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic,” Treece asserts. “We had limited funds, but we knew we could support four students.”
To qualify, each student was required to hold a current passport, to be in good academic standing and to write an essay explaining why he or she wanted to participate in this short-term study abroad, and how it would propel their future. The answers varied among the freshman, sophomore and two senior students. What was consistent, however, is that they all believed in the educational benefits of visiting different countries and gaining the exposure to foreign cultures.
“When Dr. Treece called and asked if I was still interested in going to Europe, I screamed, ‘Are you kidding me?’” recalls, Hannah Dyer, who was initially denied because she was a sophomore and preference was given to seniors. “It was my first time outside of the Americas so I was excited to see Europe and, technically, Western Asia because of Turkey.”
In preparation for the voyage, each student was assigned a country and tasked to create a travel brochure of sorts, providing details about the respective nation’s history, culture, socio-economic policies, political stability and religion.
“I learned more in the two weeks visiting each country than I would have learned in researching each one,” says freshman Remo Merlo. “They (Europeans) have such a different way of living, and we noticed this right away when we arrived in Athens.”
Treece acknowledged her overall goal was cultural immersion for the students, allowing them to explore and develop their sense of curiosity and problem-solving skills. “I’ve chaperoned previous trips to London, England, when I was at another university, but those groups were much larger,” says the one-time police sergeant. “We brought together four complete strangers, and they formed a really tight-knit bond, each relying on the other for safety and awareness.”
And at no time was this more evident when they were in Israel. As peaceful protests choked the streets in Tel Aviv, Treece and Haff were stuck on a bus for several hours after returning from an excursion to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Dyer and Vontsolos, who were on the same daytrip, had boarded an earlier bus, and only later learned of their chaperones’ predicament once they returned to the ship.
“We were all texting them to see if they were OK,” Merlo says. “Dr. Treece reassured us they were fine, and everything was peaceful, which was another difference between what we saw in Tel Aviv and what we’ve seen in the U.S.”
Merlo and Dyer have already said they would definitely participate in a similar program should the opportunity again arise. “After college, I plan to move to Europe or Canada,” Merlo says. “And this trip even motivates me more to finish college early, and explore the next chapter of my life.”
Dyer returned to Hawaii on a traveling high, eager to take to the skies once again and return to Israel. “I wish I could have done more,” she says. “Visiting the different religious sights and learning about all the history was an immersive experience.
“There were no emails and texts to respond to nor phones to answer,” Dyer adds. “We just all hung out and talked about what we were seeing and what we were experiencing. It was great just to hang out and unplug.”