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Feature Stories

The Adventure of Studying Abroad

by Patty A. Leos

Summer 2004 offered another semester of exciting study abroad opportunities for students and faculty of the University of the Incarnate Word. This term's destinations include Belize, Brazil, London, Paris, Italy, Russia, Germany and Greece. Zachary Wortham, director of study abroad programs at UIW, arranges these journeys of discovery, in which students earn college credits and most importantly, gain valuable life experiences.

University students who are preparing to work in today’s world need the experience of meeting and understanding people of other cultures. The best way to do this is to immerse oneself in another language and culture. Recognizing the importance of a study abroad experience, UIW strongly encourages students to spend a minimum of one semester, a summer, or preferably one year studying abroad. This will provide the students with an in-depth experience of international understanding and cultural awareness, which is evermore important for today’s global citizenry.

“Our university must be a place where people learn to become world citizens,” says UIW President Dr. Louis J. Agnese Jr. “Individuals earn the title of world citizen by experiencing it firsthand, not just reading about it in books.” UIW students can indeed experience the world firsthand. Hundreds of programs are available to the students, and the costs of studying in another country are often comparable to the cost of studying at home.

The first destination for a student’s abroad journey is the Office of Study Abroad, where they are presented with a variety of opportunities. “I meet with each student individually to learn about their intentions and what they hope to gain from this experience,” Wortham says. “Students return from their experiences abroad with a broader outlook on life, a wider appreciation of other cultures and a greater understanding of the world. They return more independent, flexible and able to cope with difficult challenges.”

Study abroad offers a unique blend of academic rigor and adventure. For instance, on the 10-day trip to Rome in May, Dr. Annette Craven, associate professor of management, and Sr. Eilish Ryan, professor of religious studies, combined study with exploration of Rome and the Vatican. In addition to seeing the famous Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and the Vatican Museums, highlights of the trip included a papal audience, attendance at a canonization ceremony and a day trip to the medieval town of Assisi.

Craven’s students were master’s- and doctoral- level men and women who were studying the link between education and spirituality. Ryan’s students were undergraduates who hoped to learn more about church history while touring Rome, the heart of the Catholic Church. According to Craven, the trip emphasized the power of a practicum experience, which can only increase learning for graduate students.

Haana Yamise Richardson-Holloway, a graduate student, felt the trip deepen her faith. “I chose the study abroad to Rome for many reasons. The first being that I attended Incarnate Word as an undergraduate student, and the whole time that I was there I never really understood what the Catholic faith was all about, she says. “Now that I am on quest for a personal relationship with God, I felt that this class would give me insight on the Catholic faith beliefs as well as allow me to review my own personal relationship with God. This trip to Rome helped put the Catholic faith and traditions into perspective in a way that my years at Incarnate Word could have never done.

“I now have a firsthand experience of witnessing the power the Pope has on a crowd of 100,000-plus people: Catholic, non-Catholic, man, women, black or white, and how much love can flow out of one man,” she says.

This trip, and others, all enrich students' educations and, more importantly, their lives. To learn more about UIW's unique study-abroad experiences, please visit

Archaeology Explorations in Belize

Judging from the stories, you might think they’d just returned from a stint on a reality show. They trekked through jungles, were totally isolated from society, and were occasionally surprised by monkeys, jaguars and snakes. Instead, it was just another day of college for seven University of the Incarnate students and one professor.

Embarking on a five-week Belize trip, Dr. Hubert R. Robichaux geared up for his annual Punta de Cacao Archaeological Project. For the past three years, Robichaux, an anthropologist and lecturer in anthropology, has conducted research and continued the project’s mapping and excavation efforts at the town-sized ancient Mayan ruins in northwestern Belize.

Currently, the UIW crew has mapped a 3.33-square kilometer area of the jungle-covered ruins and discovered 522 building remains. Excavations suggest humans first entered the area around 800 B.C., and the ancient town began to take shape around the time of Christ, or slightly earlier.

Robichaux visited Belize 14 years ago and discovered the large ruins; he then began working with the government and was approved for the five-year project.

“The students get to learn about archaeology and experience the blend of culture that you just can’t teach in a classroom,” Rochichaux said. “This a personal fulfillment for me, career wise. Not everyone has the opportunity to direct their very own project.”

The Belize project has received funding by many sources, including UIW, the federal government, foundations, people in Belize, and many private individuals in San Antonio.

Cultural Internship in Brazil

UIW students traveled to Brazil as part of the Brazil Studies Program (BSP), now an interdisciplinary concentration, during the summer of 2004.

The students departed in late June for Brazil so that they could further acquire a solid understanding of Brazilian culture and increase their leadership skills as they establish connections with Brazilian businesses and people.

The program began in 1999 in an effort to give under-represented minority and economically disadvantaged students a chance to visit a different country at very little or no expense of their own. The BSP is still the only UIW internship program in which the students pay only their five-week per diem (just for lunch and dinner because lodging and breakfast are paid for), while all other expenses, including air fare and ground transportation, are covered by UIW.

Students participating attended courses for one month at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) in Belo Horizonte in Central Brazil and the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Florianopolis (UFSC) in Southern Brazil.

Students must be fluent in Portuguese to complete this international internship and can enroll on campus for internship credit while actually completing the work experience abroad.

Debora Romo, director of the Brazil Studies Program, is now leading this internship. “We prepare our students a whole year before they travel abroad,” Romo says. “They must follow certain academic requirements for two semesters before they can complete their internships in the summer.”

The students will be lodging with Brazilian families and will be interning with Brazilian business agencies and foundations in both the public and the private sectors.

The overall objective of the program is to develop relationships that will maintain cooperation and understanding between the United States and Brazil.

UIW has more than 80 sister school agreements in more than 30 countries. Students may be eligible to study at a sister school campus as an exchange student. Students also have the option to study at a non-sister school campus as a regular study abroad student. Sister school agreements are designed to ensure the transfer of student credits earned abroad back to the degree program at UIW.

Every study abroad placement will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable study experiences in college. It certainly won't be the easiest thing a student will ever do, but it will definitely be one of the most rewarding,” says Wortham.