Potomac State students travel to Italy during spring break

Several Potomac State College of West Virginia University students and two employees recently traveled abroad during spring break for an invaluable global experience. “Splendors of Italy” is a brand new program which was offered at the College this spring and included a semester-long course tied to a spring break trip to Italy. 

Students toured The Vatican, were awed by Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel, maneuvered their way through the streets of Florence, observed the architecture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and were serenaded as they traveled through the canals of Venice in a gondola.

“The trip to Italy was an indescribable experience; while there I learned about their history and culture.  I was able to see how those in a different culture live and experience it for myself,” said Caitlin Woodson, a biology major from Frostburg, Md.   

The group began the first leg of their tour at the Vatican and Sistine Chapel.  Local tour guide, Francesco, made the ‘Eternal City’ come alive as he relayed the history of Rome and it’s many ruins to the group, including the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Trevi Fountain.  

They then traveled to the enchanting medieval town of Orvieto in the Umbria region of Italy.  While there, they viewed a cathedral made of black basalt and yellow limestone, walked the cobblestone streets and enjoyed lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes.  The day ended in Siena with a visit to the Piazza del Campo, well-known for its Palio horse race.  “This trip was absolutely amazing and has opened my eyes to the world outside of America!  Every day when we took a new journey to a different place in Italy, I fell in love with the country even more. I’m only nineteen-years-old and saw a country that most people in America will never have the chance to see. I also made friendships and I am very grateful for the opportunity and cannot wait to see what other places I am able to visit in the future,” said Courtney Helmstetter, a pre-forensic and investigative science major from Ridgeley, W.Va.

Potomac State students travel to Italy during spring break

Several students and employees at Potomac State College of West Virginia University traveled to Italy during spring break for an exciting trip abroad.  A stop to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa proved to be both educational and fun.  Left to right are: PSC employee Karen Sommers; Students Caitlin Woodson, Kiana Sturtz, Courtney Helmstetter, Lyndasia Jones, and Michael Myers.  Also pictured is PSC Employee Debi Cruse, trip coordinator.  Next year’s trip abroad is currently being planned. 

On the way to Montecatini the next day, the group made a stop at San Gimignano, a quaint medieval village surrounded by walls, several squares (piazzas) and 14 towers.  From there they visited Chianti vineyards and were treated to a typical Tuscan dinner at a local vineyard before ending the night by singing with other traveling companions to the tune of John Denver’s “Country Roads.”  “Italy was an amazing experience. The history, culture, food, and even the locals made the trip just as I imagined it would be. Thanks to this trip, I now have the experience that I will need when I study abroad in the near future,” stated Kiana Sturtz, a freshman biology major from Wellersburg, Pa.  

A local guide led the group on a walking tour of Florence the following day.  Considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, the city itself is a museum, revealing stories of a past life with art, statutes, monuments, and masterful works of architecture that line the streets and alleyways of Florence.  “Florence is a beautiful city, rich in art and architecture.  The Duomo, or Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore, not only dominates the skyline but is a testament to the ingenuity of its builder, Filippo Brunelleschi,” stated Debi Cruse, a writer/editor in the Communications Department at the College who served as coordinator of the class and trip.  

The following day, as the group traveled toward Venice, they made an all-important stop at the Square of Miracles to visit the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.  The Tower stands 180 feet high and is approximately 16 feet out of the perpendicular.  Construction on the Tower began in 1173 but was interrupted many times; it was finally completed around 1372.  According to Michael Myers, a non-traditional student from Hampshire County, “I climbed the 294 steps to the top of the tower.  The lean made it feel like I was falling as I climbed the spiraling marble staircase.  The view from the top was amazing.”    

Continuing on their way, the group finally arrived in Venice; “oohs” and “awes” could be heard throughout the water taxi as it approached the landing.  The crisscrossing canals, arched bridges, gondolas, and many piazzas were a sight to behold.  While there, the group enjoyed a delectable Venetian dinner at a café located just off of St. Mark’s Square, were mesmerized as they watched a Venetian glassblower create delicate objects de art; and enjoyed making their way through the canals of Venice in gondolas while being serenaded by a gondolier.  According to PSC Employee Karen Sommers, “My favorite part of the trip was people-watching in Venice.  Since it was Easter weekend, Venice was packed with people.  I enjoyed sitting down at a café and watching the boats and people go by, all the while drinking a delicious coffee.”  

The week was all too soon coming to an end and it was now time to travel back to Rome for the flight home. As the group journeyed through the Apennies, they made a final stop in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis.  Mixed emotions were evident – most were glad to be heading home the next day, yet sad because there was still so much left to explore.  Lyndasia Jones, a student from New Castle, Del., who graduated this spring with a degree in business administration, summed up her experience with the following comment, “The trip to Italy was not only a fun spring break excursion, but also a unique cultural and historical experience that will be beneficial to anyone, regardless of their major.”

The students gained a unique and international educational experience as they learned to deal with the ‘hiccups’ of traveling abroad, such as lost luggage and banking issues.  However, their monetary exchange skills and exposure to cultural diversities will serve to shape their views of the world and perhaps give them a different perspective on various issues and ideas. 

Additionally, because this was such a small group, vacationers who were taking the same tour were combined into one group of about 40 individuals.  PSC students were able to interact not only with the Italian culture, but with individuals from New Zealand, Canada, India, England, the Philippines, and from various other states in the U.S. 

Even the wait at the airport proved to be interesting and educational.  Several of the students were approached by another traveler who was also on her way back to the U.S.  The traveler, Janet Riola Hale, teaches business law and international business law in Germany, China and at Texas State University in San Marcos, Tex.  The students were captivated with her stories about horses, traveling and teaching in a foreign country.  “She gave us great advice,” said Helmstetter, “She told us to turn corners and open doors, to take the path less traveled, and to find our ancestors by seeking out our roots.” 

The students would also like to thank everyone who donated funds to the Italy trip.  They all agreed that, “What we learned, experienced and saw first-hand is invaluable and wouldn’t have been possible without your generous donations.  Your kindness is greatly appreciated!” 

Pictures of their trip can be viewed by clicking here.