If you were asked to describe your summer vacation, would you use the adjectives “eye-opening,” “breathtaking” and “amazing”? Several West Virginia University students who studied abroad would.
This summer, Sven Verlinden, associate professor of horticulture, and Peter Butler, assistant professor of landscape architecture, both faculty members in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, led 22 WVU students on an exploration of Western Europe.
One of the largest short-term study abroad trips offered to University students this summer, the Western Europe Study trip exposed participants to an international perspective on agriculture, natural environments, manmade landscapes, and different approaches to organizing society and managing the environment.
A Belgian native, Verlinden has coordinated six student-centered trips to Western Europe over the last 10 years.
“I believe it’s important to expose students to the benefits of international travel,” he said. “From economics to agriculture, countries in Western Europe are organized differently than what we’re accustomed to in the United States. Understanding and experiencing these differences can only benefit students as they prepare for future careers.”
The current trip program came to life three years ago when Verlinden connected with Butler. The colleagues share a love of travel, and their disciplines intersect.
“The disciplines of landscape architecture and horticulture intersect in many ways,” Verlinden said. “It only seemed natural for us to organize this trip together.”
The colleagues also share a love of travel.
“I love the energy of travel and teaching,” Butler said. “Everything is fresh and new, and you can see the discovery in the students’ eyes. I always hope they’ll get the travel bug afterward.”
During its journey, the group visited cities and countrysides in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Germany.
“We went to traditional tourist sites in each country, but we really focused our outings on parks and botanic gardens with trips to local dairy farms, orchards and historical industrial sites,” Verlinden said.
The idea was to build the students’ cultural awareness and international experience, an objective that falls in line with the University’s 2020 Strategic Plan for the Future.
“We had meetings and conversations with everyone from dairy farmers to landscape architects,” Butler said. “It truly was a first-person experience for all of us.”
The highlight, it seemed, for everyone was attending was Floriade 2012, a world horticultural exposition held once every 10 years that offers countries the opportunity to showcase their economic, social, cultural and technical developments.
“The Floriade blew the students’ minds,” Butler said. “It was an amazing space that was beautifully designed.”
Mariah Hatton, an agribusiness management and rural development major from Morgantown, was inspired to travel after her dad took a business trip to Ireland.
“I saw all of his pictures from Ireland and knew I wanted to travel to Europe,” she said. “He ripped an informational poster for the Western Europe Study trip off a wall at work and brought it home to me.”
While Hatton was sold on the trip after reading the flier, she said Verlinden’s enthusiasm didn’t hurt.
“He was so excited about the trip and it made me excited,” she said.
When asked if the trip was what she expected, it was a split decision.
“It was really cool because I was expecting the architecture to be different, but I didn’t expect the farms to be as well,” Hatton explained. “Visiting the farms made me really like my major; it taught me that there is more than one way to farm.”
Of the 22 students on the trip, 15 were landscape architecture students under Butler’s direction.
“For landscape architecture students, they develop knowledge of different places that they can draw inspiration from in their designs,” he said. “Since the majority of students are in their senior year, it’ll be nice to be able to reference the trip when discussing different designs and methods during studio classes.”
According to Butler, the students learned quite a lot about designing cities and parks for people as opposed to cars – techniques that have been prevalent in Europe for years but are only starting to gain popularity in the U.S.
For Greg Miller, a senior landscape architecture student from Masontown, Pa., the trip wasn’t simply about visiting the birthplace of great architecture; it was also a cultural eye-opener.
“The cities in Western Europe are more intimate and pedestrian-friendly. Everyone bikes there,” he said. “They are also eco-conscious. Sustainable living and design aren’t pushed over there; that’s already their way of life.”
The faculty-led Western Europe Study Trip was offered through the WVU Office of International Programs.
CONTACT: Lindsay A. Willey; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
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