Every March on campuses across the country, students participate in a time-honored tradition: spring break. For the past 15 years, Bay Path College students have spent their spring break having a truly transformational experience through our “Capitals of the World” program. The students visit the major capitals of Europe, many for the first time, and see some of the most remarkable historic and artistic sites in the world. I accompany them on the journey. Away from the campus and classroom environment, I connect with them on a more personal level, and the students enjoy traveling with their college president. I’m honored that I am creating a memory they can remember with great pride and state, “I went to Europe with my college president.”
Nearly two-thirds of Bay Path undergraduates are students whose parents never attended college, and many of the students have not had the chance to go to another country. As a “first-generation” student myself, I know firsthand the enriching and empowering rewards of traveling abroad. From applying for their passport to their first plane trip to maneuvering through a foreign city, these subtle life lessons are invaluable to students both personally and professionally.
Knowing the economic challenges that have deterred first-generation and other students from going abroad, we created the 1897 Founder’s Scholarships that, combined with assistance from alumni and friends, help underwrite the costs of the Capitals of the World program. A faculty member and I serve as trip leaders, providing a structured yet fun atmosphere for the students that introduces them to a new culture literally one step at a time. To date, hundreds of students have participated in this annual exploration, and it has created its own success. I have seen students return inspired and renewed in their desire to learn, while generating excitement for the next group of Bay Path students eager to see another capital … to have a different adventure.
After each trip, I also return with a stronger conviction in the mission we all have as educators. Our most recent group went to Rome, and I still remember one incident, among many, that I will cherish. In preparing for the Capitals of the World, students are required to take a course studying the host city. While touring St. Peter’s Basilica, our guide made reference to Bernini’s columns. When the guide left to find our bus, one quiet student spoke up: “Did you know the spiral shape of the columns is taken from the columns of the baldacchino in the original St. Peter’s Basilica, which some people believe to be from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem?” We listened in rapt attention. I was witnessing a profound outcome: a student becoming a teacher.
On the final night of our trips, we have a farewell dinner. With tears and laughter, the students share their stories and favorite moments, and I can see the change in their character. They have found a new quality about themselves and they will never be the same. They have—in the words of our motto, Carpe Diem—learned to seize the day!
Learn more about student experiences on the Capitals of the World trip by visiting blogs by first-generation students Sam Casey ’11, who traveled overseas for the first time, and Laurel Fortier ’11, who visited Madrid, Paris and Rome. Click here to view photos of the Capitals of the World.
Carol A. Leary is president of Bay Path College.