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Study away returns to PLU

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Lutes from the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean course in Greece (Photo by professor Antonios Finitsis)

Image: Lutes from the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean course in Greece (Photo by professor Antonios Finitsis)

March 2, 2022

After a hiatus last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 65 undergraduate and 22 graduate students from Pacific Lutheran University were able to participate in January term study away trips this year. The program took PLU students all over the world, with courses designed and taught by PLU professors offered in England, Germany, Greece, Mexico, and Peru. The experiences were fruitful for both students and professors, in spite of challenges presented by the pandemic.

“Study away is one of the big reasons why I chose PLU,” says Anna Van Vleet, theater major.

She visited Greece this J-term as a part of professor Antonios Finitsis’ Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean course. She chose to visit Greece because of its rich theater history.

“Before I left, there were a lot of things I was worried about, but once I got there that all just fell away,” says Van Vleet, reflecting on traveling amid the pandemic. Her professor, Antonios Finitsis, remembers having similar concerns at the start of the trip.

“Everybody was a bit anxious about the Omicron variant. All of us were very nervous,” says Finitsis. “At the same time, it was also exciting to imagine ourselves in Greece.”

For him, the return to J-term study away marks a reclaiming of important educational opportunities taken away by the pandemic. He believes in the importance of global education for college students.

“It is important to experience a different culture, a different way of life,” said Finitsis. “It gives you a different understanding of the world and supports the PLU Mission. We visit places that many people dream of visiting but can’t.”

Finitsis led his class to Greece with the support of the PLU Wang Center. The Wang Center collaborates with academic departments to support PLU’s commitment to global education. The center is also responsible for coordinating study away opportunities and preparing students and faculty for these trips. The Wang Center made every effort to keep students and faculty safe while studying away. Before participating, students had to complete a risk orientation training. Each trip had its own requirements for Covid-19 testing and entrance preparation, depending on the location. The Wang Center helped students prepare for safe travels by communicating these requirements and offering specialized risk training related to Covid-19 and other general safety knowledge for travelers.

While the return of J-term programs presented a lot of work for PLU staff, the payoff was in seeing the joy-filled experiences had by students. Courtney Olsen, the manager for short-term programs at PLU, reflects on the significance of J-term study away programs returning this year.

“There’s a widespread buy-in for global education at PLU,” she said “It’s definitely a part of PLU’s DNA. We are a globalized campus.”