Spring-Break Trip Offers Cultural Experience, Course Credits

Published 11.12.2004


The deadline for application and $300 deposit for a spring-break trip to Mexico has moved up, from Dec. 15 to Nov. 22.

Penn College students will spend nine days in Toluca, Mexico, from March 4-12, during their spring break from classes. While there, they are hosted by students and families from the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey campus in Toluca.

The students attend lectures on campus, tour industries and visit nearby cultural sites. Past tours have included visits to PT Cruiser and other manufacturing plants, Taxco ("the city of silver"), Mexico City, the wintering grounds for monarch butterflies, and the Teotihuacan pyramids.

"We've put it together from our perspective with a strong industrial slant," said Dr. Lawrence J. Fryda, dean of industrial and engineering technologies. "But it's perfectly acceptable for a biology student to go, and you will gain a tremendous amount from it."

Dr. Fryda developed the exchange with the Toluca campus. He is a strong proponent of short-term exchanges, and has successfully developed such programs at three colleges and universities.

The Toluca exchange is the first he developed at Penn College. Penn College students pay around $1,100 (depending on the number of students participating), which covers the cost of transportation to Mexico and the cost of hosting the Mexican students when they visit Penn College in the fall.

Once in Mexico, ITESM pays all the expenses for students' excursions, housing and on-campus meals.

Dr. Fryda argues that three key elements must exist in order to make study abroad accessible to more students, especially those in technical fields.

First, the stay in another country must be short in duration, lasting no more than two weeks. Second, the program must be as cost-effective as possible. Third, the students must be able to receive academic credit for the experience.

Students may earn three credits toward their degree for one of their elective courses either International Automotive Technology Field Experience, International Industrial Technology Field Experience, or a Humanities/Social Sciences/Art/Language/Cultural Diversity elective.

If students fulfill the course work and meet requirements of the program, they may earn credit for life experience for the course.

"For the cost of taking a course, you can earn the credit by taking a trip to Mexico," Dr. Fryda said.

He said a key component while in Mexico is the students' stay in the homes of host families.

"It's a 24-hour-a-day total immersion in the Mexican culture," Dr. Fryda said.

But speaking Spanish is not a requirement for participating. Four two-hour orientation sessions are required before the trip. These sessions will include prior reading assignments as well as discussions on what to expect and how to prepare for the travel. The sessions will also help prepare students to develop a required journal of the experience.

Dr. Fryda said there are not many study-abroad opportunities for engineering students, and many can't commit an entire semester to studying in a foreign country.

"Our intent behind doing this is to expose as many students as possible to experiencing another culture," he said. "All of our students need that experience. Many of our students will be working with internationally based firms. We find that if they have experience working outside the country, it gives them an advantage because the company knows they can hold their own in another country."

To be eligible for the trip, students must have at least 12 credits of technical courses and a grade-point average of at least 2.5.

As part of their requirements to earn course credit, participants will be asked to assist the ITESM students when they visit Penn College in the last week of September. The ITESM students modify a "Mini-Indy" racer to compete in an annual race at Williamsport?s Brandon Park to benefit the local American Red Cross chapter.

For more information about the program, contact Dr. Fryda, dean of industrial and engineering technologies (ATHS, RoomE134); Donald O. Praster, assistant dean of industrial and engineering technologies, (MTC, Room104A); Colin W. Williamson, dean of transportation technology, (ATC, Room133); or Anita E. Casper, international programs specialist, (ACC, Room7B).

Short-term study-abroad opportunities also are available to France, Italy, Japan and Australia.