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No Longer Worlds Apart
Emily Becker
NEW SURROUNDINGS: To prepare students for the many firsts they will experience during the program, including hiking active volcanoes at Irazú Volcano National Park, the group meets beforehand to discuss topics such as how Americans are perceived abroad.
TRIO study abroad program brings together KU and Costa Rican students.

Before touching down in Costa Rica last May with nine other Jayhawks, KU pre-nursing sophomore and first-generation college student Mariana Gomez had only flown in an airplane once. The idea of traveling internationally was scary for the Garden City, Kan., native. But through a nine-day study abroad program offered through KU’s TRIO SES and STEM office, Gomez had the opportunity to explore a new country and her own personal and cultural identities.

The idea for the Developing Global Perspective program came from an established Costa Rica study abroad trip focused on working internationally that Julie Hamel, Ph.D., assistant director for student programming for TRIO, helped lead while at the University Career Center. When she moved to the TRIO office, she wanted to create a study abroad program that would be able to fulfill the unique needs of the students whom the office works with regularly.

TRIO — named to reference the three federal programs established to increase economically disadvantaged students’ access to higher education — is focused on providing a welcoming, supportive and inspiring place for KU students who are first-generation, low-income or have a disability or condition for which they have accommodations. “Many of the students we work with don’t see study abroad as an option,” Hamel said.

Hamel anticipated needing to help students overcome financial barriers in order to make Developing Global Perspective a success and combined TRIO funding, scholarships from the Study Abroad & Global Engagement office and other funding sources to cover most of the program costs for participants. But, in talking with students, Hamel also realized that the logistics of traveling internationally for the first time were equally as daunting.

“Certainly, financial issues are a part of why students don’t think they can study abroad, but I think we’ve also seen now there are other, less tangible barriers and hurdles for many of our students,” Hamel said.

Knowing that the program was designed for students like her and a suggestion from her TRIO advisor led Gomez to apply. “My advisor said it was for participants who hadn’t really been abroad to get a feeling of, oh, there’s more to life than just the United States or Kansas,” she said.

BREAKING BOUNDARIES: The Developing Global Perspective trip is tailored to KU TRIO students with limited travel experience and includes a mix of educational and touristic programming, like a visit to a chocolate and coffee farm.

Before landing in Costa Rica, students who are selected for the program are required to attend six sessions led by Hamel on KU’s campus to get to know each other and lay the groundwork for their trip.

“What I’ve tried to do with the curriculum is to help them, number one, think about who they are and the influences in their life that are going to impact what they see and what they experience as they travel,” Hamel said.

As part of the curriculum, KU students are matched with peers from the University of Costa Rica — a highlight of the program for Hamel — and they meet online to compare cultural topics and issues relevant to their countries. The groups then spend a morning during the trip presenting their chosen topics in-person to the larger group.

“One of the objectives Julie and I had was to create some sort of class activity that would motivate them to critically think about their societies and analyze not only the other one, but their own,” said Andrea Sánchez Víquez, an English professor at the University of Costa Rica who has worked with Hamel on the program since 2021. “It’s a win-win situation. My students are getting the chance to speak English with a native speaker, and they’re also being exposed to their peers so they can see what people like them are doing in other geographies.”

This year will be the program’s third trip abroad — the 2020 and 2021 programs were virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to visiting with their Costa Rican peers, KU students also travel to several tourist sites in the country, including Irazú Volcano National Park, the Monteverde Cloud Forest and coffee and cacao farms.

“It was surreal; all the places we went to were extremely beautiful,” said Gomez, who also felt she walked away from the trip a more confident and independent traveler.

Hamel said this sentiment is one she’s heard from other participants, but it isn’t the only thing students have reported getting out of the program.

“We’ve had some students say this is the most amazing experience of their life, which is wonderful,” Hamel said. “Students also say, ‘I’ve met more people like me on this trip than I ever have before’ and ‘I had never seen my own identity as clearly as I do now.’ To hear students are seeing themselves differently, you don’t expect that.”

INTERNATIONAL CONNECTIONS: In addition to visiting popular tourist sites like the La Fortuna waterfall, KU students learn about Costa Rica by meeting and working with local university students.
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Issue 38
Spring 2024
In this Spring 2024 issue, we meet faculty and student researchers who are uncovering clues about how organisms change, learn about exciting brain health developments at the KU ADRC, experience a unique study abroad program and get to know inspiring KU students, faculty and alumni.
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