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    Students in Michelle Melendres' class pose for a group photo in front of a portion of the Berlin Wall.

    ‘Embracing differences’ through study abroad


    By Tamara Murga ’16

    Earlier this summer, 20 Mount students and alums said goodbye to another academic semester and hello to a two-week Eastern European trip. Michelle Melendres, EdD, assistant professor of sociology, created a cultural and sociological course for students interested in expanding their knowledge of countries such as Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany. After a spring semester of examining histories, traditions and foods, the class was ready to experience these countries first-hand.

    I was excited to enroll in a course rich in both academic and hands-on learning. Though I grew up in a metropolitan city, with a generous share of culture and diversity, Dr. Melendres emphasized the importance of travel in our lives. I couldn’t agree more with her statement after the life lessons I learned abroad.

    Once the calendar marked July, we embarked on our 10-hour flight to Europe. The excursion consisted of four major stops to which we traveled by bus once there: Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Prague, Czech Republic; and Berlin, Germany. Our itinerary included enough day activities to explore what each city had to offer while allowing us plenty of free time to do our own touring. All four cities welcomed us into what was a live history book. From walking down the same narrow streets that Mozart walked in Vienna, to reaching the top of ancient castles where many kings ruled centuries ago, we immediately knew this trip would connect us with the region in ways that even books and films cannot.

    Though we enjoyed savoring Germany’s famous chocolate and learning a couple phrases in the complex Hungarian language, many of us expressed similar interest in one of our most memorable experiences: The Berlin Wall. We stood before the infamous wall that symbolizes all sorts of emotions by many across the globe. As we walked by and touched the wall, our tour guide shared stories of divided love, ingenious escapes and battle. The group and I reached a point on a street where it was evident that the wall once stood high and stern. I placed one foot on what was once East Berlin and the other in what was West Berlin. We all agreed that this place is a reminder that, even with all the divisions we see in the world today, it is still possible to reach peace.

    Once we returned home, we all expressed how important travel is to one’s personal enrichment. Now that I’ve had this experience, I understand why Dr. Melendres feels so strongly about the benefits of travel. This trip helped us see how different, yet so alike, we all really are. We learned a great lesson in culture appreciation and embracing our differences. This, in essence, was why we boarded the plane in the first place. Peacefully and wholeheartedly exploring other cultures is what we should all aim to do.

    Tamara Murga ’16, a Journalism & New Media major, graduated in May. She served as editor-in-chief for The Athenian Print, the Mount’s student-created publication, and is now interning at Los Angeles Magazine. Murga notes that next summer, Dr. Melendres will embark on a new European adventure to Italy, France and Spain. Learn about other Study Away options at Mount Saint Mary’s University: https://www.msmu.edu/academics/study-away/.