Current Issue: Spring 2014

First Year Study Abroad: 500 Freshmen in 7 Years

Seven years ago 60 freshmen became the first batch of students to participate in Arcadia’s First Year Study Abroad Experience (FYSAE). The program has since expanded, and nearly 500 students have enjoyed this transformative experience.

By Michelle Tooker ’07

The original 60 London students pose at Palace Court with Bill Meiers in fall 2003.

In March 2010, Arcadia gave me the exciting opportunity to travel to the United Kingdom to document the First Year Study Abroad Experience (FYSAE). It made me reflect on the first time Arcadia sent me to the U.K. more than six years ago as part of the very first FYSAE group.

At 18, when I received the invitation to participate in what was then called the London Semester Experience, I knew I wanted to travel but I was hesitant. I had never been away from my family and friends for an extended duration, and I worried about the things I would miss both at home in New York and as freshman at Arcadia. But when my father reminded me how great the opportunity was, and how eager I was to travel, I realized I had to go.

First-Year Study Abroad Experience students Billy Peitz '13 and Allison Graber '13 share their thoughts about study abroad in London.

First Year Study Abroad Experience student JoAnn Riker '13 discusses her time abroad.

First-Year Study Abroad Experience student Jin Zhao '13 share his thoughts about study abroad in Stirling, Scotland.

As the end of the summer approached, a combination of excitement and anxiety kept me up at night. Not only was I nervous about flying over the Atlantic, but I also had some difficulties packing. I’ll never forget my mother’s dismay when I attempted to pack my printer/scanner. But before long, after a brief Orientation in Glenside, I was on a plane bound for London with 60 fellow students. We were all about to begin the most transformative experience of our lives.

“FYSAE was created to enable well-qualified students to start an Arcadia education with a global perspective, to provide students with a significant study abroad experience that introduces them to a new country and culture, to prepare students for future international experiences, and to influence other undergraduates on the Glenside campus to study abroad,” says Janice Finn, Associate Dean for International Affairs. “We have a dedicated infrastructure, both in the U.S. and overseas that prepares and supports the students. We have strong expectations that our students will succeed and return to Glenside in leadership positions.”

Nearly a decade later, FYSAE has expanded to include Stirling, Scotland, and it remains one of Arcadia’s hallmark programs.

I’m seven years and 33 countries removed from my semester in England, and I now work for Arcadia. I attribute my independence, my open mind and my traveling expertise to FYSAE. And while there are certain things I haven’t outgrown—I’m still somewhat fearful of planes and am still a bad packer—I know that FYSAE served as one of the most defining experiences of my life without which I wouldn’t be me.

When I arrived back in the U.K. in March, I was rather nostalgic. I was eager to tour my old residence hall, Thoresby House, and walk around Islington, my former neighborhood. The area had changed dramatically, but it still felt like a second home.

Michelle Tooker ’07 poses at Trafalgar Square, London, in 2003.

Fortunately, I didn’t have too much time to get sentimental as I met the first group of students a few hours after my plane landed.

On that first day, we took a whirlwind tour of London’s landmarks. I was impressed by the students’ maturity and confidence in showing me around. They also showed a great deal of patience as we trekked all over the city, stopping frequently to take photos and gather video interviews.

Throughout the week the students really opened up to me and made me feel comfortable. They asked about my life and shared stories about their own. They gave me tips on what to see and do during my free time, and they reminded me of some of the cultural nuances I had forgotten. They even welcomed me into their flats and made me dinner— which was more of a feast—as part of an organized cooking competition.

Allison Graber, Billy Peitz, Saira Rahman, Kathryn Cooper, JoAnne Riker and James Treible (all class of 2013) in front of Tower Bridge, London, in March 2010.

I also noticed how the majority of the students were really embracing their time overseas. They were staying focused, creating new goals and having fun. All of them also expressed interest in seeing the world.

This early thirst for exploration is what drives group after group of FYSAE students to head overseas and to fully embrace the city, country and continent in which they’re living. It’s certainly why I chose to participate.

“When I was invited to participate in FYSAE, I knew it would be a great opportunity to explore the world,” agrees Biology major Jin Zhao ’13, who studied in Stirling. “I’ve always wanted to try something new, and college is the best time to do so and to find out about yourself and who you are.”

“For the longest time I wanted to go to Europe or just go across the Atlantic somehow,” says Billy Peitz ’13, a History major who studied in London. “Arcadia was one of the only schools I found that lets you study abroad during your first year. That’s one of the main reasons I chose Arcadia—to study abroad in London during my first year of college.”

While living in London, Allison Graber ’13 and Billy Peitz ’13 learned about the world and themselves.

“I chose to do FYSAE because I was always really interested in Europe,” says Ashley Hable ’13 a Global Media major. “While living in London, I made sure to do a lot of traveling. I went to York, Brussels, Bruges, Paris, Prague, Barcelona and Germany.”

This type of travel is typical for FYSAE students and adds to the experience. I was fortunate enough to visit seven other European countries and regret not going to more.

The ability to spend weekends traveling throughout the U.K. and Europe adds to the cultural experience and discovery of independence. Each place you go to teaches you a little more about the world.

What FYSAE students soon realize as they are exploring new places such as these, is that they are discovering who they are. That’s why FYSAE is a truly transformative experience. It not only makes students global citizens, but also allows them to embark on a process of self-discovery.

“Students that do FYSAE find that the experience is one of the most dynamic, exciting experiences they have at university,” says Daniel Cassidy, Assistant Director of the London Study Centre. “It really allows for students to learn about university, to learn about life abroad, and to learn about life as a young adult in the world.”

“FYSAE prepared me for the real world because it made me more well-rounded.” — Alexandria Goodrich ’13

It doesn’t matter whether students are in London or Stirling, they are adapting to a new culture and developing life skills. They learn to navigate the public transportation system and figure out how to shop and cook for themselves. They learn how to budget money and how to keep on top of their schoolwork. These are qualities that can only be learned while living independently.

“FYSAE really expands your perception of who you are,” says Allison Graber ’13, a Psychology and Pre-Physical Therapy major who spent a semester in London. “Living on your own and away from what you’re used to makes you think a lot about who you are and who you want to become.”

“While living in London, I learned how to be more independent,” says International Studies major Kathryn Cooper ’13. “You become more grown up and learn how to take care of yourself.”

I remember developing this same sense of independence and adventure. Simple things like shopping at the grocery store or riding the Tube by myself were first-time choices that really impacted my sense of self and made me independent. One of my most memorable experiences from my time in London was while I was Christmas shopping in Piccadilly Circus. I remember thinking how no one in the world knew where I was at that moment. It was such a powerful and enlightening feeling.

These types of experiences are what propel students to become global thinkers. While you’re having fun exploring a new culture, you’re learning more about the world and recognizing the value of your newfound independence.

Big Ben. The Globe Theatre. Wallace Monument. Edinburgh Castle. The British Museum. These remarkable sites are just a few of the places FYSAE students have access to while they are living overseas.

Access to these cultural and historical places means students get to go beyond the classroom to gain a better understanding of what they are learning. A trip to the Imperial War Museum expands one’s perspective of World War II. While studying British art, students journey to Tate Britain and the National Gallery to see works from world-renowned artists. They get behind-the-scenes tours of the Scottish Parliament and enjoy Arcadia-organized trips to Stonehenge, Oxford, Canterbury and others. Things they’ve read about or seen in textbooks or heard about in lectures come to life.

“The academic component of FYSAE is fantastic,” says Cassidy. “All of the students, whether they’re in London or Stirling, learn about that environment, about that culture and about that setting. They’re able to apply that in their reading and writing, so it really affects everything the student does both inside and outside the classroom.”

“You can learn about politics from books as much as you want, but until you really go to a place, meet the people and hear what they think, you don’t fully understand it,” says Drew Hurchick ’13, a Political Science major. “While studying at Stirling University, I benefited most from seeing another political system at work. I talked to people about things like the Scottish National Party and the healthcare system. You need to talk to the people to understand their government. Being able to do that prepared me for my future career in government.”

“In my Literature of London course we went out into the city to see what we were reading firsthand,” says Hable. “We did a Blitz tour while we were reading poetry and stories about World War II. We walked the same route Mrs. Dalloway takes in Virginia Woolf ’s famous novel of the same name. It was great to see the literature we studied in class come to life while we were out in the city.”

“In my Environmental History class we spent a lot of time discussing the impacts people of the past have made on the environment,” says Zhao. “We took two trips—one into Edinburgh and one to a Cistercian chapel—to see these impacts firsthand, which really helped me understand the material I learned in my lecture and tutorial courses.”

But it’s not just the landmarks, museums and excursions that extend the classroom for FYSAE students. Immersion in a new culture, albeit an English-speaking one, gives students a new perspective on humanity and lays the foundation of their future academic success.

“FYSAE gives students the opportunity to experience the British educational system where they have to be independent learners, and their grades often depend solely on one final paper and one final exam,” says Bill Meiers, Associate Dean of the Honors Program and English Instructor. “Students have a consistent international/global focus as they take various other courses, either on the Glenside campus or elsewhere. And that focus extends to their thinking about graduate school and their careers. A significant number of these students are or become International Studies majors, and many of them are simply looking for ways to be the people and professionals they are becoming in an international setting.”

“I examine how people act and what they’re thinking, and going to London allowed me to expand on this and gain a different perspective of how other people think and act,” says James Treible ’13. “Living in London gave me a different way of seeing the world and how other people think, and that’s very crucial as a Psychology major.”

“Taking a class on Shakespeare was really neat because we were so close to his birthplace,” says Pre-Optometry major Melissa DiBello ’13. “I got to see how his literature influenced and still influences London.”

“You see all this stuff about London in books and you learn about it, but it’s so much different when you’re actually there, and it’s such a great experience,” says Peitz.

As FYSAE participants are integrating themselves into a new culture and learning about the world, they are having fun, too. They get to sample cuisine from all corners of the globe and walk the same streets as some of the most famous people in history. They live together in flats or residence halls, where they share recipes and make memories. They enjoy London’s cosmopolitan atmosphere or the majesty of Stirling’s landscape. They get to hike mountains, attend rugby games, and meet people from all over.

“I loved Scotland,” says Hurchick. “There’s a little period of adjustment, but once you get involved in student life on campus and meet other students you start to really belong. I joined the International Society and doing so helped me meet more students. We went to a céilidh, which is a traditional Scottish dance, got a tour of the city and campus when we first arrived, and had an international dinner where we all cooked something from our home country. The people here are very friendly and make you part of the community, which I really like that about Stirling University.”

The memories FYSAE students make and the things they learn are what lead many of them to study abroad again, just as I did. Once bitten by the travel bug, there’s no cure. But the fun of exploration is what also allows many of these students to excel in their majors and succeed in the world. The life skills they learn overseas make them resilient and employable.

“I went into my first year at Arcadia craving a challenge— an experience that would take me out of my comfort zone and allow me to learn about other cultures,” says Brittany Malinowski ’13, a Biology major who studied in Stirling. “FYSAE turned out to be the life-changing challenge I desired. I loved meeting a variety of people from Scotland, making everlasting friendships, exploring many different beautiful locations, and maturing, as I had to live on my own. But I wasn’t merely surviving on my own; I was thriving and learning to fall in love with the country and its people.”

“You return from FYSAE so much smarter, more independent and more appreciative of not only back home, but also more appreciative of the larger world,” says Saira Rahman ’13, an International Studies and Political Science major who studied in London.

Hearing all of these accounts while meeting with the spring 2010 FYSAE group made me realize once again how life-changing the program is and how many doors it opens. As the students shared their experiences with me, I got to see something in them that I didn’t get to see in myself—the spark of beginning to discover who you are.

Back to top