Students reflect on their summer study abroad experiences as many COVID-19 restrictions lift


Image via Sean Hobson, Flickr

A United States passport.

By Julia DiPietro, Staff Writer

Pitt students caught the travel bug this summer now that most COVID-19 restrictions have lifted. 

Zane Troxell, a junior English literature major, participated in a program called American Junior Year at Heidelberg University for six weeks this summer. Troxell, who is pursuing a German certificate at Pitt, said he took his study abroad opportunity to advance his German speaking skills. 

“I always knew that I wanted to study abroad in college and thought that this program in particular would help me a lot with learning German,” Troxell said. “I only started learning German in my second year of college, so the program sort of served as a way to make up for not learning any German in my first year.”

As more countries ended their travel restrictions from the pandemic in recent months, students studied abroad in places such as France, Italy, Germany and England. Through the Pitt Global Experiences Office, students have the opportunity to participate in exchange programs, internships, Maymesters and other study abroad experiences. 

According to Troxell, he and his classmates had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the places they learned about in the classroom like Alte Brücke in Heidelberg and the East Side Gallery in Berlin. 

“My class was very small, which allowed for the professor to really focus on what topics we were struggling with,” Troxell said. “Our program also spent a weekend in Berlin where we got to see some of the historical sites we learned about in class. My favorite was seeing the East Side Gallery, a section of the Berlin Wall that, instead of being destroyed, was painted over and transformed into an outdoor gallery.”

Although he was happy with his decision, Troxell said AJY Heidelberg was his second choice program. PittGEO canceled his original program of choice for summer 2022, Pitt In Munich, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Initially, I was accepted into a different study abroad program, Pitt In Munich. That program ended up being canceled due to COVID, after which I was advised to apply to the AJY Heidelberg program instead,” Troxell said. “Although at the time it was stressful, and I had even considered waiting until later to study abroad, I am so thankful that I ended up applying to AJY Heidelberg after Pitt In Munich was canceled.” 

According to Dr. Belkys Torres, PittGEO’s executive director of global engagement, PittGEO developed many resources since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as flexible, hybrid learning. She said PittGEO serves as a hub of resources for students looking to travel abroad. 

“Now students can broaden their perspective and develop career-ready skills anywhere 一 internationally, within the United States and its territories, even virtually,” Torres said. “At PittGEO, we’re lowering every barrier to a truly global education.” 

Hannah Oliver, a junior majoring in finance and accounting, participated in the Global Business Issues: International Business Issues and the City of London program this past summer and had an internship as part of the program. 

Oliver said she took a course called “Survey of International Business Issues in the City of London,” and experienced many site visits and international opportunities. 

“I was an intern in the Borough of Haringey at the Turkish Cypriot Community Association in the finance and grants department,” Oliver said. “Through my course, I had the opportunity to participate in site visits to BNY Mellon, PwC, the IASB, Transport for London, the Financial Reporting Council and Lloyd’s of London.” 

Oliver said managing her time was important when completing this six-week program, but studying abroad was an extremely rewarding experience. 

“We had the opportunity to spend time traveling to Dublin, Paris and Venice,” Oliver said. “It was challenging to first adapt to living in such a large city that was completely new to me. However, it was the most rewarding experience of my undergraduate career so far.” 

While students who study abroad must manage their time carefully and have different internships and class work they must keep up with, their time abroad also gives them the opportunity to experience different places and activities in the country where they study abroad. 

Troxell visited a wide scope of places during his travels. He said his favorite destination was Cologne, where he saw the Cologne Cathedral, the Chocolate Museum, Museum Ludwig and Cologne’s Ferris Wheel.

“I would have to say that my favorite memory was traveling to Cologne with one of my roommates. Someone in our host family was from Cologne, so she was able to tell us the best sights to see and places to eat,” Troxell said. 

Oliver lived in a flat in Islington and utilized the public transportation system to gain a new sense of independence abroad. According to Oliver, in between work, class and site visits, she loved to explore London. 

“I adapted to long commutes on the Tube that are normal to locals. The public transportation system is world-class and allows you to travel all over London with ease,” Oliver said. “I spent time exploring markets, museums, shops, pubs and parks across the city, and in London, the arts are widely appreciated, so most museums are free to the public. Studying abroad allowed me to not only gain a new global perspective, but it also gave me a new sense of independence.”

Oliver said her study abroad experience was a once-in-a-lifetime event that she will always remember.

“My favorite memory was being able to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen during the Platinum Jubilee. It was incredible to be part of the local crowd during one of the largest celebrations of their culture,” Oliver said. “Seeing the queen and celebrating her 70 years of service during one of the last months of her life is something that I will carry with me forever.”