Faculty, Staff Member Travel to Spain

September 17, 2013

After studying abroad for the first time, Katherine Carnell, director of student involvement and leadership, and Dr. Len Cooper, professor of communication, returned to Mount Union with new perspectives on the study abroad experience for students.

Both Carnell and Cooper traveled to Spain this summer, but with very different roles.

Carnell took a step out of her administrative and doctoral student role and back into the shoes of an undergraduate student at the University of Alicante in Alicante, Spain. Cooper assumed his usual role of professor for a photojournalism class in Madrid.

Carnell is currently completing her dissertation, working toward a Doctor of Philosophy degree with a focus on internationalization of higher education at Kent State University. Through the University of Mount Union and University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), she found an opportunity that she couldn’t pass up. Carnell applied for the Faculty International Development Award (FIDA) and won the opportunity to study abroad.

“I lived the experience like an undergraduate student would,” said Carnell. She found herself sitting in an introductory Spanish course and a gender studies course with other undergraduate international students. She was immediately immersed into the culture as she rented a room from a woman who spoke very little English and navigating the bus system each day to and from school.

Carnell is focused on studying higher education so she can do her best to prepare students for the experiences and obstacles they will come across as they grow. With study abroad being one of those experiences, she now feels that she can educate students more effectively on the entire process – from saying goodbye to family at the airport to the adjustment of returning home after being away for an extended period of time.

“Just like everything else, it’s all about balance. You need to be thoughtful about time, money and also keeping a balance between living in the moment abroad and keeping in touch with family and friends at home,” said Carnell.

Despite being on the faculty side of study abroad, Cooper encountered many of the same issues that students may face while studying abroad.

The language barrier is often a major concern for students. Cooper had little background in Spanish prior to the trip. Despite some frustration communicating at first, he came home knowing a lot more Spanish than he did when he arrived only a month earlier.

“On my last day I was ordering food in a café, buying a book for my flight home and reading subway signs,” said Cooper.

Many students take advantage of “traveling while traveling” by visiting neighboring countries and cities during free time and on weekends. Cooper took two trips while in Spain. His first trip was to San Sebastian and his second trip was to Alicante where he met up with Carnell. Cooper felt that while taking advantage of traveling is important, it is also important to “explore home base.” He wanted to enjoy and explore Madrid more in depth. “The experience is about studying and living abroad. Students shouldn’t forget the living part. I found it was super important to slow down, breathe and be in the moment.”

Some of Cooper’s most treasured memories came from the moments when he made a conscious effort to just enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the area surrounding him.

Both Carnell and Cooper said the trip was a valuable, life-changing experience. They both returned with a better understanding of what the study abroad experience may be like for students from a personal growth and academic perspective, making them great resources for interested Mount Union students (or parents) to receive firsthand information.

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