OSP Grants Coordinator Jenny Chapman shares about her experience traveling with a study abroad program in Europe during Winter Term. She was among the multiple staff members selected to accompany programs this past January.
By Jenny Chapman
What would you say if you were offered the opportunity to travel globally for three weeks, all expenses paid?
It’s an opportunity offered to Elon staff members through the Global Engagement Program, and this year, I was lucky enough to take advantage of it. My experience allowed me to connect with Elon students and faculty, explore historic sites around Europe and support the global experiences of those involved.
I became aware of this amazing program several years ago. Sponsored by the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center and coordinated by the Staff Advisory Council, the program provides staff members the opportunity to expand their global perspectives during Winter Term. All staff members are eligible to apply after five years of employment at Elon. Those selected are assigned to a global engagement course and can study with the students during fall semester before traveling with the class during Winter Term in January.
My journey to being selected took time. I applied five times before my name was drawn, watching other lucky staff members be chosen, and then seeing the program put on hold during 2021 because of Covid travel restrictions. Then, luckily, I was picked to travel with a group of students and two faculty members to Germany and Austria for the “Lives of the Great Composers” course in January 2022.
I was excited to attend the weekly class sessions during the fall semester. It was an experience that allowed me to get to know the students and faculty members I would be traveling with and exposed me to their studies so I was prepared for our time abroad.
It became evident this year’s program would be different in many ways. Along with the ongoing pandemic, the Omicron variant was causing additional concerns. In the weeks leading up to our departure, there were several Zoom calls with participants, their parents, and representatives from the GEC. Understandably, parents were concerned and had abundant questions. Is it safe to travel? What happens if she tests positive before she leaves/while she’s there/before she heads home? Who will stay with him? How will he get to the next location/home?
I was impressed and reassured by the calm, professional way the GEC staff handled these questions and concerns as they navigated uncharted territory. They anticipated issues and had plans in place wherever we went. While there were some sites that were closed due to Covid, most places were open. We quickly adapted to wearing our masks everywhere, the occasional Covid test, and showing our vaccination cards multiple times a day.
During our time in Europe, we were able to explore historic and powerful sites around Germany and Austria, as a large cohort, in smaller groups and individually. In Munich we toured the city, dined at a Hofbrauhaus, had an emotional (and very cold) visit to Dachau Concentration Camp and visited several museums. I took a side trip in the snow to Castle Neuschwanstein, the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella’s castle.
My favorite location was Salzburg, Austria, where a wonderful tour guide spent a week showing the city to us, including a hike to and a tour of the Salzburg Fortress. We attended a chamber music concert at Schloss Mirabell where Mozart himself played, visited Mozart’s birthplace and enjoyed a Mozart dinner concert at a fancy restaurant. We visited Hellbrunn Palace and ventured underground through a salt mine! We traveled by bus to the lake town of Hallstatt which was breathtakingly beautiful.
Being the musical geek that I am, I booked my own Sound of Music tour. It turns out there were quite a few other geeks in our group who joined me. In Vienna we found more museums (Schubert and Beethoven), concerts, an opera and a ballet in the Vienna Opera House. A visit to the Composer’s Graveyard allowed us to see the final resting spots of many of the composers we had studied.
This program was one of the most meaningful and certainly memorable adventures of my life and I can’t adequately articulate how fortunate I feel to have been given this gift by Elon and the Staff Advisory Committee. As Grants Coordinator in the Office of Sponsored Programs, I don’t often get to interact with students. As a former teacher, this connection is something I greatly miss. I absolutely loved getting to know the 22 young people on this trip and am happy to say several have already reached out to me to let me know our connection will continue now that we are back on campus.
I was impressed and wowed by the dedication, patience, and endless effort exhibited by Elon lecturers Laurin Kier and Jinny Whitaker as leaders of our group. Their first concern was always the students and they worked tirelessly to make our trip educational, organized and fun. They included me in plans and made me truly feel a part of their team. I am proud to call them colleagues, and now, lifelong friends.
The opportunity Elon provides to staff members to participate in the Global Engagement Program is priceless and incredibly generous. I am grateful beyond measure and am forever changed.