Faculty-led spring break trips prepare to depart

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Image: Drew Robertson

Lisa Fortin, a study abroad ambassador for Mercer’s study abroad office, poses for a picture under the “Study Abroad” sign in Ryals. Fortin, a junior at Mercer, is travelling to Belize on a faculty-led trip over spring break. She will be studying coral reefs in Belize and she said “it’s just something that I love personally to learn about, so I’m really excited about it.”

Seven Mercer faculty-led study abroad trips are preparing to depart for 2020 spring break. 

“This is definitely the most programs and largest group of students we’ve ever had going over spring break for faculty-led programs,” said Study Abroad Coordinator Rebekah Anaya in an email to The Cluster.

This year, there will be six undergraduate level programs travelling to Belize, Cuba, Dubai, France, Puerto Rico and Spain, and one graduate-level program travelling to India. Each trip has a different purpose, but each allows Mercer students to earn class credit.

The faculty-led spring break trips will include visits to museums, cultural sights, international conferences on psychology in India and a trip to the site of D-Day in Normandy, France. Students going to Puerto Rico will visit a local hospital to complete a service learning component that is woven into their trip. Another trip includes the chance to snorkel for seven days straight. 

Students going to Belize with Barry Stephenson, an associate professor of biology at Mercer, will study and visit coral reefs by snorkeling. This is the only trip offered at Mercer with a focus on field ecology.

“It is vital to communicate the importance of these magnificent biological structures and why they are worth conserving, and exposing students to their diversity directly is a great way to do that,” Stephenson said in an email to The Cluster. 

In preparation for snorkeling, the students took a swimming test and have been studying different types of coral and how they interact with their environment. They had to learn close to 100 species to prepare, trip attendee Lisa Fortin said.

“It’s gonna be exhausting, but I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s gonna be like good kind of exhausting, where, you know, you just learn so much and like, you’re just having so much fun that you forget that you’re tired,” Fortin said. Fortin is a junior international affairs and biology double major.

A different spring break trip to Puerto Rico will include a service learning opportunity. 

“Most of our faculty-led programs don’t usually have a service learning component,” Anaya said.

The trip to Puerto Rico will be led by José Pino, an associate professor of foreign languages and literature. 

Pino said his Medical Spanish II class includes a service learning component, so he wanted to include that aspect in the trip as well. 

To prepare, Pino and the students meet once a week to research health in Puerto Rico, the effects of Hurricane Maria and the economy and education of the territory. Pino said he also brings in speakers such as, for instance, Puerto Rican students attending Mercer.

While in Puerto Rico, students will visit tourist sites in San Juan like Castillo San Felipe Del Morro and take salsa dancing classes. These students will also visit a local San Juan hospital to visit and play with hospitalized children.

Pino said this trip is a “life-changing experience” and while “it’s a little work…(the trip) is very rewarding.”

Fortin, a study abroad ambassador for the Office of International Programs, said that faculty-led trips “are great because you have someone that’s going with you, someone that knows what’s going on — likely knows the language. And so if it’s like your first time going abroad, or if you’re just a little bit more hesitant, it’s a really good option because you get a good taste of like, what being abroad is like.”

All faculty-led trips are overseen by the Office of International Programs at Mercer University. For more information on faculty-led trips, or other study abroad opportunities, visit mercerabroad.com.