A Europe study abroad experience

AUBURN - The international education experience at Auburn University known among students as the ‘Bang, Bang Tour of Europe’ is much more than a chance to earn course credit by spending a month abroad.

Martin O’Neill, head of the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management in the College of Human Sciences, developed the program to offer students an education outside the classroom.

“In very rapid order, they drop into Europe and experience 14 cities in 10 countries – different currencies, public transportation and different values – in four weeks,” he said. “It offers a world view for those students who have never left Alabama or the country before. They all see how their profession is in each of these countries. And when they come back here, they actually look at their profession through a different set of eyes.”

Before each group departs, though, there is much to be learned. O’Neill requires students to plan every facet of the trip, and not just what sites to see. They must determine how to get from place to place, where to eat, what to see and do, and where to stay, within an allotted time and budget. They also must consider any risk that could occur such as if a student gets separated from the group or if they need to find a hospital.

“We have gone to Paris and not seen the Eiffel Tower,” he admitted. “It happened once because they didn’t plan for it. They have the plan before we get there and they make sure we follow it. They learn to manage everything, including each other.”

Since O’Neill has been on every trip since it began around 2004, he knows how it can be a challenge for a lone chaperone. He has since learned to share the responsibilities with new assistant professor David Martin. This year, Martin spent the entire four weeks in Europe, while O’Neill arrived about halfway through the trip and returned before it finished.

Although, the chaperone role was new to Martin, he had made the trip twice as a graduate student at Auburn.

“It’s very different to go as a faculty member,” O’Neill said. “You have to let the students lead and that can be difficult. You’re inclined to say ‘follow me,’ but there is no learning in that.”

Students also learn what not to bring for a four-week trip because everything they pack must fit in a backpack – 35 to 40 pounds for each student to carry.

It’s just another one of those life lessons O’Neill said students experience with this opportunity.

“It’s hard to beat. There’s no travel program like it anywhere in the world,” he said. “Because it’s so different, we have no problem attracting students year after year.”

(Contributed by Amy Weaver.)