A summer to remember: FSU students travel the globe, hone research skills

FSU & TU Dresden students gather around for their farewell dinner.
FSU & TU Dresden students gather around for their farewell dinner.

Florida State University students are using their summer break to travel the world, enhance their research skills and gain integral educational and career experience.

FSU-based programs, such as the Summer Global Exchange, Beyond Borders and Global Scholars, are providing students the opportunity to immerse themselves in local and global communities, make lasting memories and form lifelong friendships and connections while pursuing academic goals.

Sophomore Alexandra Saavedra traveled to Germany through Beyond Borders, a two-week cultural exchange program organized by the FSU Center for Global Engagement. During the trip, 10 FSU students visited students at Technische Universität in Dresden, Germany. The culturally immersive experience ended with a four-day trip to Berlin. Saavedra, a criminology major from Miami, recommends the program to anyone who is interested in traveling.

“It was an amazing experience,” Saavedra said. “I was able to see the average life of a German student and see some differences between Germany and the U.S. education systems.”

James (right) films an anti-smoking advertisement in Dakshindari, India.
James (right) films an anti-smoking advertisement in Dakshindari, India.

Junior Dwight James traveled to India this summer through the Global Scholars Program, a two-month internship that partners students with nonprofit organizations in Asia, Africa or Latin America.

“I wanted to study in India after learning about the Natya Shastra, a theatric Sanskrit Hindu text and other performing arts during my Intro to Theatre course at Florida State,” James said.

Over summer break, James, a creative writing and theatre major from Jacksonville, worked as a creative arts volunteer. He wrote poems for a dance theatre, documented women’s empowerment initiatives with the West Bengal government and mentored students in American Theatre and spoken word.

“Studying abroad makes you focus on your global impact and shows you the intersections between American culture and other cultures around the world,” James said. “I believe every student should study abroad at least once during college because it prepares you to challenge the norm and grow as global citizen.”

Senior Andrea Montoya-Garcia studied in Germany managing her own research project through the FSU Summer Global Exchange, which offers 12 FSU students the unique opportunity for cultural immersion and in-depth academic learning at more than 40 prestigious international universities. While in Germany, the psychology major from Tampa, conducted cognitive research with fellow FSU student Alex Aull under the direction of Christian Vorstius, a psychologist at Wuppertal University in North Rhine-Westphalia.

“Essentially, I am doing what most students aren’t able to do until they are in graduate school,” Montoya-Garcia said. “I am able to run my own experiment, choose and design an appropriate study, run participants and write a final report.”

Montoya-Garcia investigated the effects of meditation on ego depletion, the exhaustion of the physical and mental state. Results showed that 10 minutes of mediation can improve a person’s overall performance throughout the day.

“The experience I am having here is unbelievable,” she said. “Not only am I able to combine my two interests of psychology and travel, I am also able to immerse myself in another language while discovering a culture that is new to me.”

“As a student at University of Wuppertal, you are given a free transportation pass that allows you to travel on buses and trains. Therefore, traveling around Wuppertal is super easy!” — Andrea Montoya-Garcia

Senior Maura Binkley also participated in the FSU Summer Global Exchange this summer, earning FSU credits at the University of Wuppertal in Germany. Binkley, an English and German double major from Atlanta, spent her summer break studying with local German students and traveling to destinations such as Berlin and Amsterdam.

“As a student at University of Wuppertal, you are given a free transportation pass that allows you to travel on buses and trains. Therefore, traveling around Wuppertal is super easy!” — Andrea Montoya-Garcia“It can be really scary at first knowing that you are going to spend a semester far away from home in a place with all new people and a different language, but in the end, the experience is so rewarding and makes the world seem so small,” Binkley said. “Yes, there are times where you get lost or get confused in situations due to cultural differences, but times like those turn into big teaching moments and make you grow a lot. I’ve learned more and made so many more valuable friendships than I ever thought I would in just four months.”

Binkley (center) with some friends on a weekend trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Binkley (center) with some friends on a weekend trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Junior Alex Cao, an IDEA Grant winner, didn’t have to travel far this summer to bolster his research skills. Cao, a food and nutrition major from Destin, conducted a self-led study at the FSU Textile Testing Lab under the direction of Elizabeth McQuerry, assistant professor in the College of Human Sciences.

“I'd encourage anyone looking to get involved with research to just be open to any opportunities and to really let this time in college be a chance to grow and discover more about yourself.” — Alex Cao
“I’d encourage anyone looking to get involved with research to just be open to any opportunities and to really let this time in college be a chance to grow and discover more about yourself.” — Alex Cao

“This was my first endeavor into research,” Cao said. “All of this wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t ask ‘What if?’ I didn’t have to take textile science for my major, but I thought it sounded interesting and knew this chance may never come again. So, I took my shot and ended up finding a new field interest and conducting research in it.”

Cao, in collaboration with the University of Kentucky, researched how to ensure that surgical gowns in today’s market meet industry standards.

“Surgical gowns were not meeting industry standards during the Ebola Crisis of 2014,” Cao said. “The gowns worn to treat patients with Ebola were defective and allowed infection to spread between patients and healthcare personnel. Over 500 healthcare personnel and thousands of patients died as a result. As an aspiring physician, this directly impacts my career goal.”