Around the world in 100 days: West students spend break abroad

As the school year winds down, students can’t help but let their minds drift to the possibilities of what summer has to offer. While the majority of the student body decided to keep it local, some opted for an opportunity to embark on journeys to unknown lands for the chance to experience culture on a firsthand account. From the Native American reservations of South Dakota to the heart of Barcelona, Spain, students immersed themselves in environments unlike anything they had ever experienced, stepping out of their comfort zones and learning something along the way. Some of West’s travelers, including those who have graduated, took the opportunity to recount their adventures, sharing thoughts on why a summer trip abroad can be so impactful, hoping the footsteps left behind may guide new paths in the future.


Destination: Dominican Republic

Traveler: Natalie Roesch


Last summer, I spent three weeks in the Dominican Republic for a sweaty yet educational service and leadership trip. Despite it being the most painstakingly hot place I have ever been to, this trip is definitely something I will never forget. Daily visits to a local summer camp for less fortunate children allowed me to have a firsthand look at those growing up with next to nothing. Helping the kids with arts and crafts or simply just playing with them gave me the opportunity to both educate them and also fill their lives with joy. I was joined by 30 other people from all over the United States, which was an experience in itself. Living with a host family gave me an opportunity to immerse myself into their colorful culture, something we expanded upon with trips outside of our involvement with local care centers. Spending weekends experiencing tourist attractions such as a local beach or an eco-lodge, we hiked and swam at exotic venues. The constant exposure to the Spanish language and the Dominican culture is an experience I would not exchange for the world and I hope to one day go back and visit my home away from home.


Destination: Germany

Traveler: Alissa Arneson


I caught the “travel bug” back in the summer of 2016 when I participated in the Spanish trip to Panama and Ecuador. So, when I found out that I could travel to Germany this past June, obviously I jumped at the chance. This trip was all about reuniting with one of my best friends, Cynthia, who I had the privilege of hosting in October of 2016 when she came to the U.S. The immediate moments after we landed in the Frankfurt airport were filled with tears, hugs, and laughter. From then on, the journey only got better. For me, some of the biggest shocks that I encountered, although they will most likely sound like “first world problems,” were that there is no air conditioning in their houses, water is not free, ice is not commonly put in water, and dinner is normally served around 10:00 p.m. But, differences aside, Germany is a stunning country. We experienced  numerous castles, a boat ride down the Rhine river, a tour of Heidelberg, and, probably almost everyone’s favorite nightly adventure, Hessentag. Hessentag is the annual festival that is held in a different location somewhere in the state of Hessen every year. With our luck, 2017 was the year Rüsselsheim was the host. It was an incredible way to experience the culture in Hessen as there were many different performances, booths, and, most importantly, German food. For me, my favorite part of the entire trip were those moments where it was just Cynthia and myself when we spent hours talking and laughing or watching movies late at night. The hardest part of the trip was the goodbye. It was not knowing whether or not I would see some of the German students again or, if we would see each other again, when. Not many people can say that they have best friends/sisters who live across the Atlantic Ocean, but I am so thankful that I can. Germany will forever have a piece of my heart.


Destination: Poland

Traveler: Maddy Smith


This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to Zielona Góra on a mission trip, where I and others from my church taught a music camp in a local school. Being able to connect and form relationships with some of the local Poles through music was a touching experience, but only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the trip had to offer. As this was my first time in the country, I was also able to learn more about the Polish language and culture, something I had not been familiar with previously. During the trip I had the opportunity to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp. I learned so much more about the Nazi takeover of Poland and how the oppressed were affected, and it was amazing to see the different aspects of history firsthand, a nice change of pace from the typical learning we do in the classroom.

The last two days of our trip were spent in Wroclaw, a beautiful city surrounded by old European-style buildings. The opportunity to experience a new atmosphere made this trip one to remember, and as an avid traveler, I hope to return to Poland next summer for a few more memories.


Destination: Spain

Traveler:  Ihsan Rizky


Camp Nou, La Rambla, and La Sagrada Familia, all located within the stunning scenery of Spain, were the highlights of my trip overseas this summer. Having visited more than 15 countries in the world, these sights were among some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. In regards to attractions, I visited the Camp Nou, one of the world’s most revered soccer stadiums and home to one of the best football clubs in the world, FC Barcelona. Its breathtaking structure and size was immense, unlike any I had ever seen, truly showing how much love the Spanish people have for their the sport. Beyond Spain’s love of soccer, the country is also known for their architecture. Such a spectacle is one I experienced while touring La Rambla, a long street lined with a plethora of vintage shops and restaurants, which leads to the local Barcelona Beach. Such scenery makes for a perfect afternoon stroll. Antoni Gaudi’s Catalonian architecture is one of the greatest features of La Rambla, with heavy, classic Gothic influences which can also seen in La Sagrada Familia, a Roman Catholic church done by Gaudi in 1882. In terms of food, Barcelona, which is located near the Mediterranean Sea, offers a wide variety  - specifically seafood, paella, and tapas, things we call appetizers or snacks in the U.S. Overall, the extravagant soccer scene, spectacular architecture and tasty dishes made my trip to Spain definitely one for the books.

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