Winter semester provides Elon staff with rich experiences

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OSP Grants Coordinator Jenny Chapman shares her experience traveling with a study abroad program in Europe during the winter semester. She was one of many staff selected to accompany the programs last January.

By Jenny Chapman

What would you say if you were offered the opportunity to travel the world for three weeks, all expenses paid?

This is 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 has allowed me to connect with Elon students and faculty, explore historic sites across Europe, and support the global experiences of those involved.

I learned about this incredible program several years ago. Sponsored by the Isabella Cannon Global Education Center and coordinated by the Staff Advisory Council, the program offers staff members the opportunity to broaden their global perspectives during the winter term. All staff members are eligible to apply after five years of employment with Elon. Selected individuals are assigned to a Global Engagement course and may study with students during the fall semester before traveling with the class during the winter semester in January.

My journey to being selected took time. I applied five times before my name was drawn, watching other lucky staff be chosen and then seeing the program suspended in 2021 due to Covid travel restrictions. Then, fortunately, I was chosen to travel with a group of students and two teachers to Germany and Austria for the course “The lives of great composers” 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 clear that this year’s program would be different in many ways. Along with the ongoing pandemic, the Omicron variant was causing additional concern. In the weeks leading up to our departure, there were several Zoom calls with participants, their parents, and GEC representatives. Naturally, the parents were worried and had many questions. Is it safe to travel? What if she tests positive before leaving/while she is there/before returning home? Who will stay with him? How will he get to the next place/home?

I was impressed and reassured by the calm and professional manner in which GEC staff handled these questions and concerns as they navigated uncharted territory. They anticipated problems and had plans in place everywhere we went. Although some sites were closed due to Covid, most places were open. We quickly adapted to wearing our masks everywhere, taking the occasional Covid test and showing our vaccination cards several times a day.

During our time in Europe, we were able to explore historic and powerful sites around Germany and Austria, in large cohort, in small groups and individually. In Munich, we toured the city, dined at a Hofbrauhaus, took an emotional (and very chilling) visit to Dachau Concentration Camp, and visited several museums. I took a snow detour to Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella Castle.

My favorite place was Salzburg, Austria, where a wonderful tour guide spent a week showing us around the city, including a hike and a visit to 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 lakeside town of Hallstatt, which was breathtakingly beautiful.

Being the music geek that I am, I booked my own Sound of Music tour. 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, opera and ballet at the Vienna Opera. A visit to the Composers Cemetery allowed us to see the final resting places of many of the composers we had studied.

This program has been one of the most meaningful and certainly most memorable adventures of my life and I cannot adequately express how lucky I feel to have received this gift from Elon and the Advisory Board of the staff. As the Grants Coordinator in the Office of Sponsored Programs, I don’t often have the opportunity to interact with students. As a former teacher, that connection is something I miss immensely. I loved getting to know the 22 young people on this trip and am happy to say that several have already reached out to me to let me know that our connection will continue now that we are back on campus.

I was impressed and blown away by the dedication, patience, and endless effort that speakers Elon Laurin Kier and Jinny Whitaker displayed as the leaders of our group. Their first concern has always been the students and they have worked tirelessly to make our trip educational, organized and fun. They included me in the plans and really made me feel part of their team. I am proud to call them colleagues, and now friends for life.

The opportunity that Elon provides staff members to participate in the Global Engagement Program is invaluable and incredibly generous. I am grateful beyond measure and am changed forever.

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