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W&M students travel around the world for summer break

  • Around the worldJanice Van '12 spent her summer in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, teaching English to children through the William & Mary Bosnia project.

    Courtesy photo

    Around the world
  • Around the worldMorrison Mast '12 also spent his summer in Africa, on the island of Madagascar, where he researched the interaction between humans and wildlife through photojournalism.

    Courtesy photo

    Around the world
  • Around the worldStefanie Felitto '12 was in Budapest, Hungary, for a study abroad program through the Mason School of Business.

    Courtesy photo

    Around the world
  • Around the worldElizabeth Sterling '12, who studied abroad during the spring semester in Adelaide, a city in southern Australia, decided to stay for the summer. Here, she gets a close-up view of a Tasmanian Devil.

    Courtesy photo

    Around the world
  • Around the worldAndrew Bessler '12, worked at an internship through the State Department at the public affairs department of the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    Courtesy photo

    Around the world
  • Around the worldIsabel Hirama '14 (left) was in Geneva, Switzerland, where she and her family have lived for the past three years. She spent her third summer there working with the United States Mission to the United Nations.

    Courtesy photo

    Around the world
  • Around the worldVivian Smith '13 volunteered for the non-profit organization SKIP, Supporting Kids in Peru, where she taught classes in Trujillo, the third largest city in the country.

    Courtesy photo

    Around the world

When William & Mary Student Assembly President Kaveh Sadeghian ’12 e-mailed the student body, asking them where they were over the summer and what they were doing, more than 500 students from across the globe responded. The Student Assembly used a Google Maps application to map the responses and calculate their distances from campus.

The SA found that some of the students had immersed themselves in study-abroad programs and had delved into the world of embassies through internships. Others, through William & Mary or non-profit organizations, reached out far beyond the campus to serve communities internationally.

Study abroad

Elizabeth Sterling ’12, who studied abroad last spring in Adelaide, a city in southern Australia, decided to stay for the summer. According to the SA’s map, she was, at approximately 10,500 miles, the farthest away from campus of all the students who responded.

During a two-week break in her spring semester at the University of Adelaide, she traveled along the southeastern coast of Australia, as well as to Melbourne and the island of Tasmania.

“Best moment of the trip [was] climbing to the top of Cradle Mountain [in Tasmania] with my 5-year-old pair of Nike sneakers,” Sterling said. “Tasmania is wild, and the geography is so diverse, you literally walk out to the beach, turn around and you’re surrounded by a mixture of rugged mountains and lush rain forests.”

As for the Tasmanian devils, she recalls a quote from her tour guide, “Witnessing them feed is like unleashing World War III.”

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Stefanie Felitto ’12 was in Budapest, Hungary, for a study-abroad program through the Mason School of Business.

“Perhaps the most striking aspect of being in Budapest was the physical reminders of the Soviet occupation strewn throughout the city,” Felitto said, adding “[The] physical damage to buildings [from] the bombings during the various Hungarian revolutions serve as a reminder today of the hardship that this nation faced over the years … It was a powerful dichotomy, compared to what I’m used to, of the devastation that humankind can impose during war and revolt.”

Her most memorable moment during the trip occurred when “four other William & Mary students on the trip and I stayed up all night and climbed up to the Citadel Statue that overlooked the city and watched the sunrise from there. The views were absolutely breathtaking.”

Diplomatic ties

Isabel Hirama ’14 traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, where she and her family have lived for the past three years. She spent her third summer there working with the United States Mission to the United Nations.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to know all the people who work there, and just seeing how a mission works,” Hirama said, recounting the “random, fun assignments” she has had during her time there, working with the Community Liaison Office, Human Resources, the Health Unit, and Conference Services.

“One time last year I had to go all around Geneva delivering bottles of wine to thank different doctors who had helped mission employees,” Hirama said, “And one time this year, I spent all day designing and printing ‘I just got my flu shot’ stickers for the Health Unit. Every day was different, and I really liked that.”

Since her family moved away from Switzerland this summer, “as much as I love Switzerland … William & Mary feels like my home now.”

Andrew Bessler ’12, worked at an internship through the State Department at the public affairs department of the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I worked primarily at integrating various strategic documents for the section into one comprehensive strategy and was also responsible for maintaining the Embassy’s English-language Facebook page and Twitter feed,” Bessler said.

Bessler, who is the president of the William & Mary Ballroom Dance Club, spent his weekend “working with street youth, known as shegues, [by] running sports activities and teaching them how to dance.”

Bessler learned about the internship through the Cohen Career Center. He had originally been slotted as the alternate candidate for an internship in Nigeria. When he asked to see if any other positions were available, they gave him a weekend to decide if he wanted to go the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I almost balked at that, since the popular conception of the DRC is pretty bad,” Bessler said, “but decided at the last second to go for it because, hey, when else am I going to have the absolute freedom to decide to go to Africa for a summer with absolutely no other commitments?”

Although Bessler spent most of the summer in Kinshasa, he took a trip to Bandudu, where he was able to “meet Congolese as they went about their daily lives” and see the countryside.

As for being back in Williamsburg, “It did take me a week or two after getting back to get readjusted to everything being so open and visible here,” Bessler said. “In Kinshasa, almost everything is built behind 10-foot concrete-walled compounds topped with razor wire.”

Community engagement

Morrison Mast ’12 also spent his summer in Africa, on the island of Madagascar, where he researched the interaction between humans and wildlife through photojournalism.

“I’ve found photography to be a great medium to document and publicize my work, since photos and stories speak much louder and to a much broader audience than long academic papers,” he said. 

He worked primarily with Fanamby, a non-profit organization devoted to helping local communities with sustainable development that protected the local environment.

“The continued existence and well-being of both sides depends on showing local people that they don’t have to sacrifice these invaluable resources in order to make a living,” Mast said. “Madagascar is a place with severely degraded environmental resources and is currently in the middle of a political crisis, a condition which often throws conservation efforts to the bottom of the priority list.”

Mast has had to adjust to the “extremely comfortable” life back in Williamsburg.

“It was actually very hard for me to leave Madagascar, and I definitely feel like I left a big part of my heart with the Malagasy people and the land,” Mast said. “It’s still quite painful for me to come back and look at the sheer luxury of my daily reality here as compared with that in a developing country.” 

Janice Van ’12 spent her summer in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, teaching English to children through the William & Mary Bosnia project. This five-week trip caught the eye of Van, who is in the five-year program at the School of Education, because she aspires to pursue a career in education.

“I’ve traveled on several service trips through the [Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship],” Van said. “But since the Bosnia Project spans over a month, I like that this felt like both a study abroad and a service trip.”

Van fondly remembers the film festival they held at the end of the project. The children, who were between the ages of 6 and 14, had participated in making films.

“The proud looks on their faces made our work worthwhile. Our kids felt like big-screen celebrities,” Van said.

However, Van, who is back in Williamsburg, noted that “it feels nice to ask for directions without having to flail my arms to act out the words. Communication was a big challenge. But, because I knew Russian, I got by with what probably sounded like a kindergartner’s mix bag of Slavic.”

Vivian Smith ’13 also spent her summer teaching. She volunteered for the non-profit organization SKIP -- Supporting Kids in Peru -- where she taught classes in Trujillo, the third largest city in the country. Smith, like Bessler, learned about the program through the Career Center.

Two of the classes were at primary-level, where Smith taught mathematics and language arts in Spanish and helped her students with their homework and reading skills. At the secondary education level, she co-taught English with another volunteer.

“Volunteering at SKIP as a primary and secondary teacher was a hard job for me. Although I arrived at SKIP with no teaching experience, I loved my job placement,” Smith said. “Working with this multicultural team of volunteers alongside Peruvian volunteers who have worked with SKIP since its founding, taught me very much and made me the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Smith was also moved by the resilience of her students, “whose lives outside of the school are unpredictable and often dangerous.”

“To see 21 7-year-olds walk forward so proud, confident, and determined to improve theirs and their families’ lives, to see them exit in this manner after every class and then thank each volunteer with a huge hug, is a memory that has made a great impression on me,” Smith said. “The charismatic, valiant, and lovable character of each of my students at SKIP is even more significant than a memory - it is a touchstone to which I refer in moments of instability or sadness.”