Clarksville, TN – In January 2020, Dr. Ozzie Di Paolo Harrison, Austin Peay State University (APSU) professor of Spanish, had a busy summer of travel planned. He was set to take a group of students to Argentina for a study abroad trip he’d led for years, and later he intended to teach for the Máximo Nivel Institute in Costa Rica.
It was a great time to be involved in international education, with Austin Peay State University offering dozens of opportunities for students to travel and learn in different cultures around the globe. In 2018, more than 175 Austin Peay State University students took advantage of these opportunities.
Then the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic hit. On March 6th, Austin Peay State University issued a moratorium on international travel. Austin Peay State University’s Study Abroad programs came to an abrupt halt, ending Di Paolo Harrison’s summer plans, and six months later, the future of these trips remains uncertain.
“It was a real disappointment that this pandemic erased the possibility to take my students to Argentina,” Di Paolo Harrison said. “You can imagine how sad it was to see all of that collapse in no time. Along with Professors Jenna Campbell Field and Brandon Di Paolo Harrison, we are working on the budget for the upcoming year. Hopefully, we will be able to take our students to South America next summer.”
The group is hosting Zoom meetings to promote study abroad programs in accounting, English and Spanish, and they already have students who have rolled their applications from summer 2020 to summer 2021. But Di Paolo Harrison is also hoping to revive interest in study abroad – and remind the community of its value – with the release of the second issue of Austin Peay State University’s study abroad journal – “Explore Your World.”
“I enjoy being part of this magazine because it clearly documents the experiences of the study abroad participants, and it allows them to express themselves creatively about their encounters away from home,” he said.
Explore Your World
In 2017, Dr. Sergei Markov, Austin Peay State University professor of biology, asked Di Paolo Harrison and Dr. John Steinberg, APSU professor of history, to join him on a University Student Academic Success Initiative grant to develop an academic and literary journal.
The first issue, released in 2018, featured essays, poems, paintings and short fiction inspired by students’ experiences. The powerful creative work demonstrated the transformative power of these trips.
“I think that studying abroad, without a doubt, will open new horizons for students, burst the student self-confidence and create new life opportunities for them,” Markov said. “Some of my former study abroad students volunteered for the Peace Corps in Mali (West Africa), worked for the refugee agency in Egypt, studied medicine in Saint Martin Caribbean School of Medicine and learned veterinary medicine in Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in Saint Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean too.”
The three professors wanted the journal to focus on the student experience, so they appointed an editorial staff of study abroad participants to oversee all aspects of its creation. This issue’s student editorial team included Amy Hotchkin, Jamie Hotchkin, Kasey Burns and Samantha Melber.
“Studying Abroad in Argentina was a vital part of my college experience,” Amy Hotchkin said. “After my first trip, I changed my major to Spanish. It made such an impact that I went a second time! I have now graduated from Austin Peay and teach high school Spanish at Clarksville Academy. I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we must encourage students to participate in Study Abroad programs, as soon as it is safe to do so, to promote growth and greater cultural understanding.”
Kevin Bouma, an APSU student serving on the editorial board for the upcoming third issue, said traveling abroad helped him cope with his anxiety.
“Forcing myself outside my ‘comfort bubble’ has allowed me to become calmer and more open-minded,” he said. “On another note, traveling to another country is another type of education. Students spend years studying books, lectures and notes, but nothing compares to the opportunity to learn from others within their area of living. When I traveled to Belize, I not only learned about all the sea life, but I had the opportunity to literally jump in and experience it for myself.”
Markov originally planned to spend some of his upcoming winter break in Belize, leading the Austin Peay State University’s marine biology trip to that country, but the pandemic canceled that trip as well.
“I am just now realizing how much I am going to miss these study abroad trips with students,” he said. “There are really two opportunities for me to interact closely with my students: study abroad trips and research. Both of these activities are life-changing.”
Steinberg, director of Austin Peay State University’s Poland Study Abroad program, offered this thought: “Everyone should participate in Study Abroad! Going to any place in the world under the guidance and supervision of an APSU professor provides students with the opportunity to not only see, observe and experience other cultures and civilization, it also teaches them about diversity, ethnicity and tolerance. Such encounters will better prepare them to understand the world and make educated decisions about their future and their place in the 21st century world.”
Steinberg intends to take another group to Poland next summer if the pandemic will allow the restoration of international travel.