Cardinals Take Flight: UIW Communication Arts Visits France

July 21, 2023

Group Shot

UIW Cardinals have traveled the globe this summer as part of the University’s various study abroad opportunities. One such opportunity took students and faculty from UIW’s Communication Arts program to Strasbourg, France. Dr. Trey Guinn, associate professor and program director of UIW Communication Arts and Dr. Raymond Blanton, associate professor of Communication Arts, led the students to Strasbourg on a dynamic study abroad program that complemented Guinn’s Spring 2023 course, Organizational Dynamics and Leadership. During their excursions students had the life-changing chance to visit museums, businesses, the European Parliament and more, all of which provided a culturally rich and immersive experience. We caught up with Dr. Guinn and Susanna Alford, UIW doctoral student, to learn more about this study abroad opportunity and the impact it had on our Cardinals. 

Dr. Trey Guinn

Q: How was this study abroad experience tied to what students learned in class in the Spring 2023 semester?  

A: Prior to travel, we read a series of books together. We would meet on campus and hold potluck dinners. And, during these times we were learning about the topic of our course “Organizational Dynamic and Leadership.” But we also challenged the students to consider our own group as a case-study in the very topic of course.  

Q: How were students selected to participate?  

A: We invited all UIW students to participate, and we were fortunate to have an incredibly diverse group of participants. Younger and older. Undergraduates, master’s students, and doctoral candidates. Student-athletes. Retired military. Calling home to check in with parents and parents calling home to check in on their families. The diversity in our group enriched everything we did and our ability to meaningfully process and reflect together as a group.   

Q: As a mentor to the students traveling, in what ways were you able to witness transformative moments and experiences for them on this trip?  

A: Serving as an educator is a joy and privilege. Each semester is its own journey—but nothing is quite like going on a literal journey across the globe with students. From the moment we board the plane, to the moment we return, each hour is packed with adventure. Hiking in Heidelberg, Swimming the Rhine in Switzerland, eating crepes at the Eiffel Tower, and so much more. On this trip, I dared students to intentionally seek out opportunities to engage their five senses. And at the end of each day, they journaled about their experiences. Making time for group reflection was an additional aspect of the trip. Some people say we learn by doing, but the older I get the more I realize that being in a constant of doing leaves little time for any real learning—the learning comes from taking time to process and reflect on experiences.  

Picture in front of flags

Q: Why are these kinds of travel/cultural experiences so important for college students?  

A: The University of the Incarnate Word aims to educate men and women who will become concerned and enlightened citizens. Travelling across the globe is not only about eating new foods, and seeing new sights. We are truly immersing ourselves into the culture, making time for cultural visits to learn our history, understand our present, and imagine an even brighter future.  My co-captain for this trip, Dr. Raymond Blanton, often quotes Mark Twain who wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” That was 1869. It is still true today. While organizing and leading these study tours can be quite an undertaking, I believe it is one of the greatest things we can do for our students.  

Susanna Alford

Q: As a two-time UIW alumna, doctoral student, and teaching assistant, what was it like to study abroad alongside both a group of students who are in the same position you once were as a UIW undergraduate, as well as some of your long-term mentors?  

A: It was truly amazing. In 2017, I was fortunate to have been a part of the Ireland Study Tour with Dr. Trey Guinn and Dean Sharon Welkey. I was 21 then. I am 27 now, with two degrees, and working on a third. Although it would be easy to assume that this study abroad tour would have been nostalgic, it was more than that! This experience was a reminder of how learning is not dependent on our environments, and learning does not end at a certain age. Learning is constant. And at 27, I had lost sight of this, until embarking on this experience. As adult learners, we are constantly presented with choice. As adult learners, it was our choice as students to do and be willing to experience learning beyond the classroom. It was our choice to say yes to experiencing life in new ways. And it was our choice to make the best of the experience when we were there. Through these choices, students were learning about each other, but more importantly, about themselves and who they were wanting to become.  

Q: Why do you think these travel and cultural experiences are so important for college students? 

A: Study tours are multifaceted, like how humans have multiple layers. We all undergo seasons of life, some of which we may need healing from, but aren’t even aware of it. However, it is important to note healing does not always have to be associated with pain or injury. Travel and cultural experiences are important for college students because they create opportunities to experience healing through learning occurring outside of the traditional classroom. Students are challenged to push themselves in ways they never thought they could. Students also engage in conversations with students they know by name, but don’t know individually. Creating opportunities such as this one allows for students to learn from each other, while learning about themselves. 

Group atrium shot

Q: What were some key lessons and takeaways from the trip? How will you apply those lessons back in your doctoral program and position as a teaching assistant?  

A: As adult learners and university students, it is not uncommon for us to undergo seasons in our learning journey where we begin to question our ‘why,’ as a coping mechanism of feeling jaded or burnt out. It’s also not uncommon for us to feel consumed with drafting big ideas, just to write them down, but left unable to act on them. This trip was a reminder that learning is constant and does not look the same for all of us. This trip was a reminder to live in the present and be present. It was a reminder that if we “talk the talk, we must be able to walk the walk.” For seven years as a teaching assistant, I’ve pushed students to strive to be their best selves, challenged them with new experiences and opportunities, and encouraged them to say yes to challenges, especially those they want to say no to. I have to be willing to do the same.  

Q: What was your absolute favorite part of this experience? 

A: There were several parts of the trip that I consider memorable, but there’s one thing that does take the cake.   Not a lot of people get to say they experience study tours, let alone travel abroad with their favorite people, or best friends. I did just that.  I got to travel with three of my favorite people. And when they read this, my message to them is thank you.   Thank you for being you, thank you for doing travel with me, and thank you for accepting me always, for who I am, and challenging me to ask myself if I am happy with who I am becoming. I am grateful for you, and for the lessons each of you continue to teach me every day.

River PhotoArch Photo