YORK -- York College senior Kendall Fike had traveled internationally several times for mission trips and considered herself to be a fairly experienced globetrotter. However, she was caught off guard when things started going wrong this summer in Greece. A mistake in her flight information led to unexpected changes in the itinerary, which had a ripple effect on where and when she had lodgings arranged. When she arrived in Greece, her phone’s map app didn’t work. She got lost in a scary part of town. It was enough to make a person want to sit down and cry.
And then get up and embrace the adventure.
Fike and her traveling companion, YC senior Lydia Kirchoff, rose to the occasion, figured out how to navigate and communicate in a foreign place, and eventually had a great time in Andros and Santorini.
“The whole thing was a good reminder that I’m not in control of anything,” said Fike. It was hard, but she learned from it. “The experience actually gave me a lot of confidence,” she said. Fike is planning on a career in overseas missions, so the experience was invaluable. “Everything that went wrong...it was teaching me skills that I need for my ministry someday. I couldn’t have learned it in a classroom.”
Fike and 14 classmates spent six weeks this summer in Europe with the YC study abroad program. The first three weeks were spent in Vienna, followed by a group trip to Munich, Germany. The experience concluded with 10 days of free travel. Some students traveled together, others blazed a solo trail during the free travel time.
While in Vienna, the group stayed at a historic hotel now operated as an educational residence facility for study abroad students from several American schools in the heart of the city. YC students met each morning for four hours of classes with faculty members Dr. Sam Garner, vice president for spiritual development, and Lindsey Eckert, assistant professor of psychology. Garner and Eckert intertwined their subjects to create a class that touched on history, philosophy, religion and psychology. The subject led to rich and complex discussions that continued through the afternoons when students would go hiking, visit museums, and attend concerts or other cultural activities.
YC senior Davi Mendonca enjoyed traveling around Vienna on his own after the scheduled part of the day had ended. A writer and adventurer, Mendonca would ride public transportation to the end of the line, then navigate his way back to the hotel on foot without a map, stopping to notice things and jot down ideas and lines of poetry. During his free travel, the self-described introvert fell in love. Not with a person, but with a place. It was a small fishing village in Belgium where he spent several days sitting on a pier, watching seagulls swoop through gray skies and waves of the frigid North Sea roll in. It was the perfect place to sift through the ideas presented in Eckert and Garner’s class lectures in Vienna.
The main text the group studied was Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. The book chronicles the author’s experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, as well as his recommendations for healing after trauma. Mendonca had read the book years before, but he said it was a different experience to take a deep dive into the subject matter, led by expert faculty, in an entirely new setting. While in Vienna, the group also visited the Viktor Frankl Museum. The content was a lot to process emotionally. “It was life changing for sure,” said Mendonca. “I loved the class. I wanted to let it all sink in.”
Mendonca says the class helped him find a greater understanding of who he is as well as peace about his own experiences.
Natural and man-made wonders struck both Taylor O’Brien and Elizabeth Ryan during their study abroad experience. O’Brien, a junior business major at YC, loved traveling around Vienna on public transportation and seeing the art installations all over the city. “Everywhere I looked, there was something beautiful,” she said. During the four-hour drive from Vienna to Munich, O’Brien couldn’t sleep on the bus like many classmates did. “Seeing the beauty of God’s creation was amazing. I never wanted to close my eyes because there was just so much to see.”
Ryan, a junior chemistry major, was similarly struck with the beauty of Vienna, but she preferred to see it from a distance--hiking the trails overlooking the city was her favorite part. During the free travel period, Ryan visited Italy, including Naples, Pompeii, and Rome, as well as Vatican City. Ryan was especially struck with St. Peter’s Basilica. “It was the most beautiful church I’ve ever been in,” she said.
The final assignment of the class was a reflective essay about the experience. It was a lot to sum up, said Ryan, noting the culture shock and the personal and academic growth she experienced. However, the biggest take away for her was the spiritual dimension. “I’m able to practice my spirituality differently because of this trip,” she said. “I see God more in everyday things.”