A summer excursion allowed six Trine University students to get a firsthand view of life and education in Europe.
Alison Todd, assistant professor in the Franks School of Education, led the weeklong trip to Finland and Sweden in May as a follow-up to a similar experience she conducted in 2019 to Italy.
Prof. Todd said after the 2019 trip she immediately started planning another experience to Finland and Sweden, but the COVID pandemic in 2020 put those plans on hold.
“At the beginning of the ’22-’23 academic year, I didn't anticipate actually getting to Finland and Sweden this spring,” she said. “However, in January, I had a few very motivated students who inquired about going abroad this year.”
“I didn't think we would be able to put a trip together on such short notice, but within the span of about 10 days I made a phone call to see what was possible and had an informational meeting to gauge interest. A week later we had enough students commit to the trip to get the green light to travel in May.”
Alyssa Cornell, an elementary education/special education major from Kalamazoo, Michigan, said she decided to go on the trip because it was “a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“Being given the chance to go to Europe, explore their culture and learn about the best education systems in the world felt like an experience I could not pass up,” she said.
Prof. Todd worked with Education First (EF), a company that specializes in educational trips abroad for all areas of study.
“Our trip was specifically planned with education majors in mind,” she said. “EF specializes in this type of experience and always asks for feedback and suggestions from their travelers, so each experience has been streamlined and modified to be informative, enjoyable and effortless from the travelers' side.”
The group left from Chicago on May 16 and flew into Amsterdam. Instead of spending their seven-hour layover in the airport, they decided to head into the city.
“We found lockers for our luggage and navigated Amsterdam public transit,” Prof. Todd said. “We didn't have any specific plans or reservations, so we spent the majority of the time wandering around Amsterdam. We ended up having a fantastic breakfast with a view of a beautiful canal, seeing the outside of the Anne Frank House and making a quick stop for a photo op at the bench from the movie ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’ ”
Alyssa, who had previously traveled to Canada and the Dominican Republic, said Amsterdam was very busy.
“We stepped out of the airport and immediately saw the hustle on the streets,” she said. “Walking around was a great experience. Just watch for the bikes; they do not stop for you.”
The group arrived in Helsinki in the evening on May 17, and immediately headed to dinner with their tour guide and another college group.
“After dinner, we finally arrived at the hotel after having been traveling for 30-plus hours,” Prof. Todd said.
Alyssa said a quick tour was enough for her to know she was going to love the Finnish city.
“The city felt calm and comforting when we stepped off the bus,” she said.
Besides the tour, the group participated in a professional development workshop with a local teacher and visited a local elementary school.
“I immediately noticed that the students were not wearing shoes, something that is very unheard of in the States,” Alyssa said.
Alyssa said she also noticed student work displayed around the school gym and a sense of partnership between students and teachers.
“I was highly impressed when talking with the students about their school life and learning how much they enjoy school,” she said. “Their academics were one of the most important things to them, as the majority of students are learning all subjects as well as two or three languages, while attending school less hours than here in the US.”
“The teachers expressed the mentality of knowing that students can do more than we think. Many teachers had kindergarten-age students working on projects that we do here in three or four grades above.”
The group also visited a public sauna.
“Once I saw all our students literally jump in with both feet with a shockingly cold plunge into the lake, I knew they were all in for the experience,” Prof. Todd said.
On May 20, the group boarded an overnight ferry to Stockholm, arriving the next morning.
“The cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm was memorable in itself, because we were surrounded by those of all different cultures, learned some new songs at karaoke, and got to have an amazing night on the cruise ship,” Alyssa said.
They began with a guided tour of the Old Town part of the city and the Vasa Museum. The next morning, they toured more of Stockholm and ended the day with a visit to an area high school.
“I was impressed with the layout and pace of their schooling and think that they have it figured out for their students to become successful,” Alyssa said. “Students are taking classes in their interest rather than being forced, and this is a huge reason I believe they love going to school.”
“I was paired with two female students who quickly became friends. I got to ask them so many questions, learn about so many experiences they have had, and get to know them as people. I enjoyed this experience to be able to learn so many new ideas and gain some friends from it.”
Back in the US
The group left from Stockholm to arrive back in Chicago the afternoon of May 23.
Alyssa said the trip gave her valuable insight into the field she will be entering soon.
“I learned that students are capable of anything, and that as a teacher my job is to foster the students to achieve their highest potential,” she said. “Wherever I end up, the school and students should feel like home.”
Prof. Todd praised the students for being flexible, eager to learn and willing to take risks on the trip.
“The thing I really wanted for our students was to see and experience other cultures, and recognize that there are more similarities between people than they might think,” she said. “It sounds a little cliche, but I really hope this experience encourages them to continue to travel and take risks and get outside their comfort zone.”
The Franks School of Education is planning another trip to Italy in May 2024, open to all majors. Faculty or students who are interested should contact Prof. Todd at email@example.com.
Press Release provided by Trine University
LINK TO ORIGINAL TRINE ARTICLE
A Trine University group poses with their tour guide, Svjetlana, left, outside the Helsinki Airport. Back, starting second from left, are Alex Nichols, a math education major from Cameron Park, California; Alyssa Cornell, an elementary education/special education major from Kalamazoo, Michigan; Alison Todd, assistant professor in the Franks School of Education; Jordan Clemens-Savage, an elementary education/special education major from Coldwater, Michigan; and Emily Wampler, an elementary education major from Alva, Florida. In front are Olivia Drerup, an elementary education/special education major from Kendallville, Indiana; and Sophie Hollinger, an exercise science/sport and recreation major from Goshen, Indiana.