Students Map Out Backpacking Tour in Europe, joining a Record High Number of Human Sciences Students Studying Abroad

Eliza Krodel | Communications Intern

While most programs leave the planning of study abroad trips to the faculty organizers, “Backpacking across Europe with CHS” invites students into the planning process.

Months before 14 students will touch ground in Europe, the group has been meeting weekly this semester to plan every detail of their four-week adventure overseas.

Students will be immersed in the European tourism and hospitality industry through a concentrated study in Hospitality and Tourism. Kicking off in Paris, France and ending in Dublin, Ireland, the group will travel to 11 cities across eight different countries all while gaining five hours of class credit.

“The primary goal of the trip is to take people out of their comfort zone and drop them in an unfamiliar environment for a period of time,” said Dr. Martin O’Neill, head of Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management.

The backpacking trip was born out of an experience O’Neill had more than 23 years ago in Australia, one he described as aggressive and adventurous and one he wanted to replicate.

“Through exposing them to different currencies, languages, cultures, social norms, hidden cues, cuisines, they begin to see the story behind it all,” said O’Neill. “I want to take them to rub flesh against old churches and buildings that have been in existence for over 2,000 years.”

In spring 2023, the College of Human Sciences has more students studying abroad than any spring term in history.

“It is an exciting milestone for the college as we seek to internationalize our programs and expand the horizons of our students,” said Dr. Kate Thornton, director of Global Education in the College of Human Sciences. “Study abroad is a transformative experience, and the Office of Global Education aspires to help all of our students see and understand the global reach of the Human Sciences.”

Gathered around tables in the newly built Tony and Libba Rane Science Culinary Center, students work in pairs to design itineraries and handle logistics. Not only do students plan the trip activities, they also conduct research all semester long leading up to their travels. Part of their research includes preparing a Risk Assessment package that outlines the not-so-fun parts of traveling. Normally, the professors or chaperones handle these, so students gain insight into the nuts and bolts behind putting together an itinerary.

Culinary Science Program Director Dr. Mark Traynor, co-leader of the trip, asks the hard questions and makes students think about every possible detail down to the minute. To illustrate, partners carefully observe the weather to determine what to expect when traveling as well as strategize how to use their set budget in their assigned cities.

Dr. O’Neill explained the parameters of time, budget, space, and risk students face when they only have three days in each place.

“The biggest thing we have had to navigate while planning for our trip is working with the little amount of time we are spending in each city. We have a pretty manageable budget, but we have to make sure we don’t cram too much into the three days,” said junior Presley Gessinger. “While people want their free time to enjoy the city, we also want to make sure to plan fun things to do. The freedom we have had in planning this trip has been so fun, but it does come with its challenges!”

For two classes, the students spent time asking fellow students what they were interested in doing during their time in each city. This allowed the assigned travel planners to determine what would be in the fixed itinerary and what could be left up to one’s own choice to do during their free time.

When making decisions, students learn there is an intersection of trusting your gut, knowing what you want to do, and making the best step based on the information found through research online and face to face with others.

While most student groups stay at a collegiate dorm or apartment during their stay abroad in one place, these students will take a different approach by hopping from hostel to hostel across eleven different cities.

Junior Carson Brooks chose this trip for the diversity she will experience, both in terms of people and countries. “As a nutrition major, I am interested in studying European culture since they have longer lifespans than Americans,” said Brooks. “I am eager to understand what food groups Europeans emphasize, observe different lifestyles, and see how these contribute to overall health and wellness.”

As an event management major, Presley Gessinger approaches the planning process with a knowledge of skills most don’t have. “I have noticed my attention to small details and accounting for issues that could occur during the trip,” said Gessinger. “One thing we have learned often in our classes is coming up with backup plans and what to plan for emergency situations. Event planners have to be quick on their feet, and planning this trip has helped me better evaluate risks. I can’t wait to see it all come to life this summer!”

As their departure nears, the students eagerly anticipate executing their detailed plans. “Students will experience the eyes wide open syndrome, where they will constantly be absorbing, amused, and amazed by all they see,” said O’Neill. “They will interact with internationals, learn how to make decisions, and leave as best friends.”

Dr. O’Neill heads into the summer with the same amount of excitement he had 19 years ago when he took the first Auburn group. “Over all these years, I continue to lead students abroad because it makes a substantial difference in their life and that informs the way they think.”