In Fall 2023, two OUE staff members, Criss Miller and Iteeah Pounds, had the opportunity to travel to England and Europe as Group Leaders for the First-Year Semester Abroad (FYSA). Below, Criss and Iteeah share their thoughts on their travels and experiences with the FYSA student cohort.
Criss Miller, Assistant to the VPUE/Program Manager, Sr.
On my first day of nursery school during lunch, Ms. Brown, the school Director, gave me these instructions, “Crissandra, put the two-year-olds in a line”. I have been a group leader ever since. So when I saw the e-mail requesting applicants for the FYSA Group Leader position, my spirit leapt! This would combine my love for travel, arts, culture and working with students. I knew it would be an amazing experience and, looking back, it did not disappoint.
To begin, 47 students (faculty, tour guide and bus driver) is a large group to keep track of—especially in a foreign country! As we boarded the bus leaving Oxford, my thoughts were, “How will I keep up with them all?” Our first test was leaving England, as we all had to go through immigration twice. But to my delight, the process was as smooth as butter. Everyone had their passports as instructed, and they were orderly and efficient. My worries were put to rest. We had a great group of students that would follow directions, moved as a cohesive group, and were kind and good natured. And so we began!
While it’s difficult to recount all the details of my experience, I can say that I enjoyed every moment. There were long bus rides through the countryside (6+ hours), tours of cities from Ghent to Berlin, visits to historical sites, and more. We visited the Music Museum in Brussels and the Louvre in Paris. We enjoyed beautiful concerts, from Bach in his church in Leipzig to Don Giovanni in a two-hundred-year-old Opera house in Prague. We even met up with the group from Georgia Tech Europe for a night cruise down the Seine! However, when we visited the Pergamon Panorama in Berlin, that was a ‘drop the mic’ experience. Please look it up. It will TAKE-YOUR-BREATH-AWAY. Our faculty host, Dr. Danielle Wilkins, and Tour Guide, Heike, gave talks at every stop and our students were engaged and worked on their assignments along the way.
Alongside the beautiful tour, there was also the daily grind of logistics, checking in and out of hotels, checking on classroom space, making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be and on time, a few minor illnesses with trips to the ER, and a few very minor discipline issues. I often say it’s like a very long high school field trip. But even with that, it was amazing. As I ended my time in Prague, I met Iteeah Pounds, the group leader for the second half of the trip, for a tour of the Prague Castle. I was able to apprise her of any issues and logistics. I felt whole and good as I left, knowing that I had accomplished my goals of keeping the group safe and healthy while also having an amazing time. I also knew I was leaving the group in good hands.
Iteeah Pounds, Co-op and Internship Program & Operations Manager
When I met the group in Prague, I knew that Criss had gotten the program off to a great start—and that I had big shoes to fill. But I also knew that with Criss’s guidance, the faculty/program support, the student’s authentic engagement, and the knowledgeable travel staff (Heike Merklein and Joel Leboutte) it could only get better from here. On my leg of the trip, we traveled through Austria and Italy, stopping in several cities like Vienna, Velden am Wörthersee, Venice, Florence, and Rome. If I could only use one word to describe this experience, it would be “WOW!” From the concerts to the architecture and the rich culture, every part of this trip was an awesome experience.
Being a FYSA Group Leader exceeded all of the professional and personal goals that I set out to achieve. It allowed me to connect with first year students outside of my normal workspace, gave me an opportunity to see more in-depth student development from the academic side, and allowed me to see and think beyond the scope of my current role. Our last stop on the tour was Rome, and it was there that I achieved my final goal of the trip—to make sure all of our students returned home to Georgia Tech safely! I would encourage all staff member who are given this opportunity to take it—and it is definitely something that I would like to do again!