Students traveling abroad make the world their classroom
By Dara Bramson
Knight Ridder News Service
By Dara Bramson
Jessica Serrano, a student at the University of Miami, is no stranger to travel. Last summer, she backpacked through Europe; in 2004, she studied in New Zealand and Australia. This year, she's going to Southeast Asia, a new destination that she feels would benefit most from her tourist dollars, especially areas damaged by the 2004 tsunami.
She isn't the only student you'll see roaming the world.
In any foreign country this summer, you're guaranteed to see at least a handful of U.S. students. An easy way to identify them: They'll be carrying maps, English-something dictionaries and seam-split backpacks overflowing with souvenirs and dirty clothes.
For decades, college students have ventured out of the United States for a summer of backpacking. Some travel because they seek insight into an unfamiliar culture, others are eager to celebrate summer, graduation or final months of freedom.
"The overall trend for college-age students is Europe," said Sarah-Jane Wilton, communications coordinator at STA Travel, a discount student travel company. Though students tend to gravitate toward traditional European favorites like Britain, Italy and France, travel experts say young people also like to go to places that have been in the public eye.
"We saw a huge increase in Athens trips after the summer 2004 Olympics in Athens," said Jaimee Shield, a marketing specialist at Contiki, a California-based travel tour company specializing in all-inclusive adventure packages for 18-to-35-year-olds. "We are now seeing a hike in our Italian trips ... because of the Olympics."
Athletic and other special events tend to attract college students who long to participate as viewers or fans.
Nicolette Imam, a Trinidad native studying at Florida International University, plans to attend the World Cup in Germany this summer. "It's very exciting because Trinidad qualified for the first time this year," she said.
Fernando Anzoategui, an FIU student, plans to visit France this summer in hopes of seeing the Tour de France.
While special events like the World Cup or the Tour de France are the highlight of the summer for some, others purposefully veer away from locales saturated with media hype.
"We just want to surf!" said Vannia Giacoman, an FIU student planning a one-week trip with friends to Hawai'i.
Though tours around the United States and Hawai'i are among Contiki's offerings, the company's most popular trip this summer is Western Europe: Italy, France, London, Germany and Austria.
"For my college graduation present, I'm asking my parents for a Contiki trip to Europe," said Agustina Prigoshin, an FIU student.
"I'd like to visit several places while I'm on that side of the world."
Prigoshin likes the fact that Contiki trips are all-inclusive, and she won't have to worry about unexpected costs.
Priscilla Caceres took Italian language classes at FIU to prepare for a high school trip she will chaperone to Tuscany and Prague.
"I'm infatuated with Italian culture," Caceres said.
There also seems to be increasing interest in travel to more exotic locations in the Far East and South America. STA Travel has booked more trips to Machu Picchu and Ecuador this summer than in the past, Wilton said.
With more students craving unusual vacation locales, tour companies like Contiki try to cater to these demands, adding new trip options.
"People want to travel further east," said Shield. "We have a new trip to Croatia, by popular demand, and our new trip from Berlin to Budapest, going to Prague and Vienna, is popular."
An FIU study-abroad film program to the Czech Republic is on Luis Valle's agenda this summer. The curriculum includes attending the Karlovy Film Festival in Prague in June and July.
"I'm interested in film and it's a country I've always wanted to visit," Valle said. "The people and culture are very sophisticated. It's enriching to see other places."
STA Travel has also expanded choices by offering volunteer and language programs. Its volunteer program in Honduras, where travelers do conservation work and build homes, expanded in the past couple years.
"People are looking for more fulfilling travel experiences like volunteering," Wilton said.
Serrano plans to keep traveling whenever she can.
"I'm addicted to traveling!" she said. "I'm young, and my life is so flexible right now. I won't be able to get up and travel when I'm older. There are so many people and cultures to see and learn about, it taught me that material things aren't everything."