How a study-abroad trip can change a life

October 15, 2012 | Leave a Comment

How a study-abroad trip can change a life

It has been more than four months since 11 students and faculty—nearly all from Campbell University—spent three weeks in Europe as part of a “Psychology and Culture” study-abroad trip, the first-ever hosted by Campbell’s Department of Psychology. But the impressions the trip made on the student participants remain.

“Sometimes reading an assignment will contain a topic that will trigger a memory and take me right back to a certain destination on our trip,” said Morgan Brame, a 2012 graduate from Campbell, where she’s now pursuing a master’s in mental health counseling.

When she reads about why some people don’t seek psychological treatment, for example, she goes back to Germany, where she and her travelling companions met with faculty and students at the University of Heidelberg’s Institute of Psychology. Through a discussion with them, Brame said, she came to more fully appreciate the relationship between psychology and culture.

“Because psychology has been an element of their society for several generations, it’s a more accepted option for persons needing psychological treatment there,” Brame said. Contrast that to the United States, she said, where seeking psychological treatment can often carry a stigma. “This trip helped expose me to how other cultures interact with and deal with potential stigma that could prevent [people] from seeking treatment.”

This, in turn, will inform and influence the individual private practice she plans to eventually start, she said. “This trip helped expand my understanding of people from other cultures. This will aid me in treating different people from different cultures.”

It’s that deeper understanding of psychology and appreciation for culture that Jutta Street, an associate professor of psychology at Campbell University, hoped the students would make when she began thinking about organizing a study-abroad trip more than two years ago.

She had assigned a group in her History of Psychology course to develop a study-abroad program that would take students to the places where psychology had its roots. That group produced a three-month itinerary. Street trimmed this class project down to 15 days and to three countries—Austria, Switzerland and Germany—and tagged the trip “Psychology and Culture,” because she “wanted to combine a lot of the roots of psychology in Europe, especially in Austria, Switzerland and Germany, with the cultures of those countries,” she said.  “I hoped that the students would have found some new or renewed appreciation for psychology, for culture, and for how we live our lives.”

Though all the students who had designed the original itinerary had graduated by the time the Department of Psychology offered the trip, a half-dozen students signed up. On May 15, 2012, they left for Europe. The travel group comprised six students majoring or minoring in psychology from Campbell, one psychology student from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and four psychology professors, three from Campbell.

Among their stops during their 15 day-trip: In Switzerland, they explored a museum highlighting the work of 18th–century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, visited the Reformation Wall, and toured the Carl Jung Institute. In Germany, they met with faculty and students at University of Heidelberg; they saw an exhibition on the history of psychology at the University of Würzburg; and they spent time at the University of Leipza, where Wilhelm Wundt, one of the founders of modern psychology, opened the first experimental psychology lab. In Austria, they toured the St. Stephen’s Cathedral and an opera house, and visited the Sigmund Freud Museum and the Viktor Frankl Institute. 

Along the way, each student experienced what the group came to call “peak moments”—when they connected so deeply with the history of psychology that they came to look at the field and even their own lives differently.

There were spiritual re-awakenings, for example, when the group visited the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” in 1517. Katelyn Montgomery, a senior in psychology at Campbell, was enthralled when the group toured the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna, Austria, where they saw Freud’s office and his famous couch for his patients.

Seeing that first hand, Montgomery said, exemplifies the value of a study-abroad experience like “Psychology and Culture,” which helps students absorb and retain more information because they not only hear about a subject, they “touch it, see it, and smell it,” she said.

And, she added, “I believe that in order to get ahead in a field, we must know where we’ve come from.” With plans to be a school psychologist, Montgomery said learning more about the ideas and tests developed by early psychologists will help her better understand what it will be like to implement them and help children grow academically and psychologically.

Yvonne Lum, who received her B.A. in psychology from Campbell in 2012, had her “peak moment” in Vienna, Austria. There, the group met with Alex Vesely, the grandson of the prominent psychologist and Holocaust survivor Vicktor Frankl who founded logotherapy. Basically, Vesely told them, echoing his grandfather, what drives people is having meaning in their lives; and it’s the lack of having meaning in life that underlies people’s depression or absence of joy. Vesely asked the group: “If you don’t have meaning in your life, then why do you wake up every day?”

“I needed that,” Lum said. “The role of having meaning in life—it’s an insight that I’ve since incorporated into my own life.”

This past summer, for instance, Lum moved to Georgia, where she’s a graduate student in clinical and medical psychology at Mercer University’s School of Medicine. She has spent the majority of her life in North Carolina, so the move was an adjustment for her and her family. She started questioning herself, “Why am I here?” In the past, such questioning might have led her to getting “down in the dumps,” she said.  

But because of the meeting with Vesely, she changed her perspective on how to look at life’s challenges. When the self-doubt came, she reminded herself: “I want to get a doctorate and have a better life. I want to take care of my children and set an example so they will try to do their best, too.”

“Focusing on purpose gives me a reason not to be sad; it gives me a reason to celebrate,” she said. “I wouldn’t have come to that realization if it were not for the trip. It changed my life.” 

Editor’s note: The Department of Psychology plans to offer the “Psychology and Culture” trip every other year. Beginning Oct. 17 and running through Nov. 1, Campbell’s study-abroad office will hold a series of informational meetings about programs they’re offering in summer 2013.  Learn more.  

Photo caption: The faculty and students who participated in the Department of Psychology’s first study abroad trip. Back row, left to right: Dr. John Viehe, Katelyn Montgomery,  Keith Mauger, Sam Faulkner, Dr. Gary Taylor; Front row, left to right: Jessica Broadway, Brittany Pernell, Dr. Jutta Street,  Morgan Brame, Yvonne Lum, Ms. Patsy Perry-Brandon (Photo courtesy of Jutta Street)

Article by Cherry Crayton, Digital Content Coordinator