Students share impact of international travel following trip to Ireland

The Penn State DuBois Honors Group

The Penn State DuBois Honors Group at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. From left, students John Mark Miller, Makayla Whaling, and Raquel Zattoni, Honors Program Coordinator Evelyn Wamboye, Assistant Director of Career Services Anna Akintunde, and student Andrew Mahle.

Credit: Penn State

A group of three Penn State DuBois honors students recently shared experiences they gained during a trip to Ireland with the campus Honors Program. John Mark Miller, Andrew Mahle, and Makayla Whaling took the international travel opportunity, available exclusively to honors students, to bolster their educational experience through immersion in another culture. They were led on the trip by Associate Professor of Economics Evelyn Wamboye, the coordinator for the Honors Program, as well as Assistant Director of Career Services Anna Akintunde.

The students made a presentation on the trip, which they took in May, at a Cultural Luncheon event on campus. The Cultural Luncheon Series features speakers who share their experiences in other cultures and countries around the world. To complement the program, food from the culture that the presentation focuses on is served. Guests enjoyed dishes including Guinness Pie, a type of traditional Irish meat pie (minus the Guinness in this educational setting) and potato pancakes, while they shared the valuable lessons they learned on their travels. A fourth student who made the trip, Raquel Zattoni, is no longer at Penn State DuBois and could not be there for the presentation.

Wamboye and Akintunde explained why opportunities like this are so meaningful and such an important part of a student’s education. Wamboye said, “Penn State is trying to educate people to have a global mindset and to have global engagement. Many students haven’t traveled much, so this is a good starting point for students to start really learning about the rest of the world. We want to open the window for them to get international experience.”

Akintunde added, “To see students who have never been on a plane and never been to another country have these experiences for the first time is so rewarding. I think they get a wider world view and see things differently. Experiencing another culture and another country for the first time challenges students and takes them out of their comfort zones, and that can prepare them for being more comfortable with travel and interacting with people from other cultures in their careers.”

To these ends, students immersed themselves for six days in Irish culture. They toured Dublin and surrounding areas, interacting with locals, learning about the history of the country, touring famous landmarks like the Guinness Brewery and the Giant’s Causeway, learning local customs, and sampling traditional cuisine. 

According to the students, all of these lessons were incredibly meaningful to them both, educationally and personally. Miller has ancestral ties to Ireland and was able to visit areas from which his family originated. He said, “It was a life-long dream to get to go there. It was great to use my position as a student to get there through Penn State and to learn about other places, because I’ve never been out of the country before.”

Mahle said connecting with and learning about the history of a new country was especially rewarding. He was also struck by the sights they were able to take in, like the view from the Cliffs of Moher, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in County Clare, Ireland.

“I had a ton of fun and learned a lot,” Mahle said. “The chance to stand at the Cliffs of Moher was amazing. Just seeing the landscape; it’s untouched. I loved being able to interact with the history of the country, going into castles, old churches, and seeing landmarks.”

Whaling added, “It was an amazing experience. It was my first time traveling outside of the country and first time flying on a plane. It was really cool to experience the culture and the famous places we visited.”

Whaling and Miller stand as examples of the amazing benefits Wamboye and Akintunde have cited in their reasons for offering these travel opportunities for students.  For many, it can be the first chance they’ve had to take such a trip, and it could spark in them a life-long passion for global citizenship. For these reasons, international travel opportunities have been a priority at Penn State DuBois, driven by extensive support from the chancellor’s office. Chancellor M. Scott McBride, who has traced his own family origins to Ireland, also traveled to the country this year with his brother, visiting places their ancestors called home. Through this and his other life experiences, McBride knows first-hand the benefits of travel and cultural education.

“Cultural competence is required to be an informed and effective contributor to our society,” McBride said. “It’s through study abroad that our students venture outside of their comfort zones to experience the richness of the world’s cultures.”

One other unique experience the students had in Ireland was running into a Penn State alumnus who told them he was traveling throughout Europe on business. This meeting provided the best possible proof that this introduction to international travel could come in handy in their careers.

“I was wearing a Penn State shirt, and he noticed my T-shirt,” Mahle recalled of meeting the fellow Penn Stater.  “It was awesome. He approached us and was telling us how he’s a Penn State alum on a business trip.”

The presentation the students made to the campus community about their travels was a requirement of participation in the trip. Organizers see this as another crucial component of the experience. Wamboye said, “Even the reflection on their part, knowing they’ll have to present on this, causes them to take the time to absorb more information and commit more of the experience to memory.”

Additionally, Akintunde said, “They also give other people the chance to step into Ireland and share the experience, the food, and the culture. They’re giving back by offering this to the campus community.”

This year Penn State DuBois expanded educational opportunities for students who excel academically with the Honors Scholar Program. Building upon the foundation of the existing Honors Program, the Honors Scholar Program provides opportunities for those enrolled to participate in specialized courses and opportunities, allowing them to engage at a higher level. Honors Scholars also have additional benefits and requirements, above and beyond the general Honors Program. For more information, visit