Many students began classes at Howard Payne University this week with broadened minds and new stamps in their passports. Thirty-five students took part in summer trips abroad, where they gained knowledge and made memories that will last them a lifetime.
Texas is generally thought to be a culturally diverse state, but the 12 students who traveled to London were surprised to learn exactly how diverse a location can be.
"It was ironic considering that America is often known as the melting pot of the world, to see such a disparate collection of ethnicities in London," said Ethan Hopkins, a junior from Buda."From Arab street peddlers and Japanese tourists to African businessmen and Italian cashiers, London's wide-ranging gathering of cultures was readily apparent."
The group had many chances to encounter the various cultures while touring the British Parliament, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral and many other historic landmarks.
This was the first time for several students to travel internationally or even travel by airplane.
"Foreign travel is a big step, and London is a great first trip," said trip coordinator Trissa Cox, an associate professor of computer information systems at HPU. "There is relatively no language barrier, it is politically calm and there is a lot of history and art. It really appeals to students."
Cox said she was surprised by the insightful comments she heard from students as they interacted with the locals.
Hopkins noted that Londoners were less concerned than most Americans about being in close proximity to each other, calling the concept of personal space "nearly nonexistent at times."
"Londoners also walk everywhere and generally do so at a quick, sharp clip," he said. "In contrast to a more relaxed pace in small-town Texas, they almost always seem to be in a hurry. Even when walking at what seemed a fairly fast pace, I consistently found myself passed up by the locals."
Students who traveled to London were Hopkins; Laurel Boren, a junior from Gun Barrel City; Rhea Bullock, a May graduate from Brownwood; Jennifer Crawford, a senior from Benbrook; Lindsey Gholson, a senior from Burnet; Ally Hamilton, a May graduate from Brownwood; Rebekah Reed, a May graduate from Cedar Park; Amber Schroepfer, a senior from Crowley; Phoenix Solis, a sophomore from Brownwood; JulieAnn Steubing, a sophomore from Rising Star; Benny Worley, a senior from Aquilla; and Kyle Ziegler, a senior from Brownwood.
Others on the trip included Trissa Cox; Curly Cox, associate professor of exercise and sport science; Nancy Anderson, dean of libraries; Kathy Hagood, associate professor of English; and Dr. Mitzi Lehrer, assistant professor of education.
Students in Carla Hawkins' class on Ecuadorian culture and history traveled to Quito, Ecuador, where they lodged in a guesthouse for local missionaries.
"We studied a book on Ecuador before we left on the trip," said Hawkins, an assistant professor of modern languages. "But there are some things that you just can't learn from a book."
Hawkins named zip-lining in Mindo, rafting on the Pastaza River and hiking to waterfalls close to Baņos as just a few of those things.
Students experienced first-hand the rich culture and history, the overcrowded streets and market places and the diverse geography.
"Quito sits very close to the equator (16 miles), but it is 9,000 feet above sea level," Hawkins said. "The weather was marvelous. On the last day of the trip, the students rode the Quito cable car to an elevation of 13,500 feet where they enjoyed a panoramic view of the city and pristine snow-covered volcanoes to the east."
Though surrounded at every turn by new sights and sounds, the students found several peaceful moments to enjoy.
"Seeing these mountains and the clouds practically being close enough to touch made me gain a greater appreciation for God's creation of nature," said Tonie Contreras, a senior from Early. Lisa Whitfield, a May graduate of Montrose, Colo., agreed.
"Being in Ecuador inspired me to not be so consumed with busyness and technology, but to savor the sweet simplicities in life," she said.
Students on the trip included Contreras; Whitfield; Robert Anders, a senior from Midlothian; Katelyn Bare, a sophomore from Aledo; Dennis Benitez, a May graduate from Carrollton; Justine Ferrell-Raborn, a senior from Salado; Mark Jimenez, a senior from Marlin; Jose Lopez, a senior from Brownwood; and Guadalupe Vidales, a May graduate from Brownwood. Sponsors were Carla Hawkins and Frank Hawkins, Spanish lab supervisor.
Italy and Austria
Dr. Celeste Church, an associate professor of music at HPU, and several other faculty members took students on a week-long tour that began in Italy and concluded in Austria. The special studies course toured and performed at some of the world's most famous sites.
The students enjoyed the rare opportunity of traveling abroad with Drs. Bill and Diana Ellis, HPU's president and first lady.
"It was such a treat to be able to travel with the president and his wife," Church said. "They were able to take time to get to know the students and let the students get to know them."
The group visited many significant cultural and historic landmarks including the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's "David" sculpture.
"We took a tour of the Vatican Museums, St. Mark's Square and St. Peter's Basilica," said Jake Shelton, a junior from Brownwood. Despite viewing a possibly overwhelming amount of some of the world's most famous works of art, Shelton was able to select a piece that stood out to him.
"Of all the artwork and all that I learned, I found the depiction of Jesus Christ being crucified on the cross the most moving and inspirational part of the entire tour," he said of a piece displayed in the Sistine Chapel.
Perhaps the most significant moments of the trip for these young musicians was the opportunity to perform at Rome Baptist Church and the Salzburg Cathedral in Austria.
"These students can now say they've performed internationally, which is an amazing accomplishment," Church said. "We weren't sure how many students would participate because of the economy, but they recognized the value of international travel and found a way to go. It is a great investment."
Students on the trip included Shelton; Allen Andrus, a sophomore from Anson; Kevin Baker, a junior from Brownwood; Kara Cheney, a senior from Temple; Talitha Cook, a senior from Howe; Timber Curtis, a sophomore from Houston; Emilio Diaz, a junior from Coleman; Kassie Laughlin, a senior from Comanche; William Massey, a sophomore from Goldthwaite; Grant Newman, a senior from Springtown; Jessica Nymoen, a freshman from Aledo; Jesse Smith, a senior from Comanche; Jeff Toyne, a May graduate from Leander; and Tray Wegenhoft, a May graduate from Columbus, Texas.
Other travelers included Drs. Bill and Diana Ellis; Drs. Celeste Church and Greg Church, associate professors of music, and daughters Becca and Sarah Church; Dr. Nell Hoffman, trustee; Tabitha Livingston, HPU alumna; Alan Wallace, HPU alumnus; and Dr. Elizabeth Wallace, professor of music.
Back to HPU
International trips benefit the students who go, of course, but the hidden benefits are the knowledge and insight they then bring back to campus.
"I was reminded that despite the various differences between cultures, language barriers and geographic locations, we are all God's children and all have the same needs and desires," Lisa Whitfield said of her trip to Ecuador. "Every individual is shaped by his or her own culture and family and these differences should not be a barrier but something that we embrace because it shows God's craftsmanship." Trissa Cox summed up the trips.
"We may look differently and act differently," she said. "But we are all God's creation."