Study Abroad Essay Contest Winners: Global Connections

Susan Bishkup, Second Place Winner of the Faculty and Staff category

I’m fifty six years old and the middle of seven children born to hard working and loving parents.  As a large family with financial limits, we were unable to travel internationally while I was growing up.   However, I “traveled globally” through books and movies, vicariously exploring the world through the stories and pictures of other’s trips secretly longing for an international adventure of my own. I even traveled through the “adoption” of children sponsored through Compassion International from Tanzania, exchanging letters and pictures as our sponsored children grew into adulthood.  While I learned much from these cultural experiences, I excitedly realized that global connections were strengthening in our country and around the world.  International travel was fast becoming more accessible to so many often through educational opportunities.

My personal “Global Connection” came when I least expected it. As a campus counselor at Wilkes University, I curiously read ‘Wilkes today’ announcements daily.  Perusing the activities one morning, I saw it…the announcement of a trip planned by Louise and Tony Berard, faculty of Wilkes University and Kings College Campus’s respectively.  I felt as though a personal invitation was coming my way to join together with faculty, staff, and students of the Wilkes University and Kings College communities to travel to Sienna Italy, a trip fondly referred to as “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Tony and Louise!

When we arrived in Italy, I felt an overwhelming sense that we were walking back in time in the presence of greatness of those who had walked before us.  From the moment our tour guides Rita and Marguerite spoke to us in their “Italian English” and our feet touched the cobblestone streets of Italy, I was filled with a sense of awe.  The magnificent cathedrals filled with marble and sculptures and the sacred inscriptions connected us with the twelfth century artists and cultures. Our palates were delighted by home -made pasta, chick pea soup, veal, gelato ice cream, pastries  and wine all served with Italian hospitality.  Our eyes were awakened with spectacular artistic expression as we visited Florence, the home of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.  I imagined these artists working tirelessly as I walked through the Uffizi art gallery filled with Renaissance art and viewed the magnificent and detailed masterpiece of David.  As we explored medieval museums, our whispering group was quietly and reverently connected.  Conversely, during the wine tasting trip, our traveling companions whom we had only known for a bit became robustly engaged.  I remember fondly the Italian woman who took the time to explain the stories of the frescos.  We communicated deeply through gestures and smiles while our son unexpectedly met a priest at the San Gimignano who had previously taught at Villanova, his alma mater.  These meaningful and diverse moments throughout the trip allowed us to become increasingly aware of our universal human connections. Undoubtedly, our world view was changing.

As I reflect on this experience during Thanksgiving, I realize that all my vicarious experiences of traveling abroad up to this point prepared my senses and “wetted my appetite”, but did not compare to the real feast of the actual experience.  The wafting aroma that the books, movies, pictures, and stories provided was but a glimpse of the taste that I so appreciated and savored. Nothing prepared me for the connections I had once only dreamt about.  Our global connections made on our journey bonded us to one another as families, as college communities and most especially to all that was “under the Tuscan sun”.

During my limited experience of traveling abroad, I humbly realized that international travel familiarizes one with rich connections of others, making that which was once deemed foreign as familiar while creating a deep appreciation for the diverse and beautiful culture of others all over the world.  As such, I am profoundly grateful for my travel abroad experience and encourage our Wilkes community to explore every possibility of international travel. I especially invite our students, as future leaders in a global world, to take every opportunity.  These experiences will allow you to be better prepared to work with and appreciate the interwoven beauty of contributions that others from varied cultures bring to education and the workplace.  In doing so, you will come to know that diversity is the true motivator for innovation, success, and human connection.  By experiencing international travel, you will open your eyes and your hearts to the uniqueness of all that abounds and in the process find your authentic self.

– Susan Bishkup


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