Study Abroad Offers Transformative Experience for EKU Students

Published on March 07, 2024

By Ethan Sirles

Through study abroad, EKU nursing major Jasmine Gaona shadowed the Red Cross and worked with patients in Mexico. Richmond native Charles Kokinda learned the German language. First-generation student Dustin Tucker explored World War II history in Europe. Studio art major Nomi Smith studied artwork and philosophies in Japan and brought home a new understanding of global society.  

Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) students have several program options to enhance their education abroad, along with plentiful scholarship opportunities to make the experience affordable and accessible—such as the EKU Education Abroad Scholarship, Spin the Wheel Scholarship and Honors Trailblazer Award.

“As the School of Opportunity, our impact is felt across the region and state, but it even extends nationally and internationally,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “The opportunity for students to learn in another country offers an incomparable educational experience. We not only provide affordable higher education here at home, but avenues of support to make these transformative experiences abroad possible for students of all financial backgrounds.”

Kokinda, a music major, studied abroad in Germany after receiving a Spin the Wheel Scholarship. At the annual Spin the Wheel event each winter, scholarship recipient names are drawn, and then students “spin the wheel” to land on a country for study abroad.

About his summer in Germany, Kokinda said, “We spent a lot of time learning the language. We would do exercises where we would go around the market and find specific items and name them in German. That interactivity was really cool.” 

EKU’s Spin the Wheel event awarded 19 students with scholarships to cover complete program costs and airfare for education abroad in 2024. Additionally, the EKU Honors program recently announced 20 recipients of the Honors Trailblazer Award, to support honors students’ participation in study-abroad programs for spring or summer 2024. The Trailblazer Award offers up to $1,500 (or up to $2,500 for students applying to study abroad in East Asia) for eligible expenses.

Smith’s study-abroad experience in Japan last year was only possible because of the Trailblazer Award. “Japan provided me an opportunity to explore how cultural exchange mitigates conflict and promotes peace and understanding,” said Smith, an EKU honors student.

The Trailblazer Awards are the result of a series of major endowment gifts from EKU friend and benefactor, Mr. Li Chunbo. The generosity of Chunbo and other donors builds global connections and supports study-abroad experiences for EKU students.

“Though I was hesitant about the ins and outs of leaving the country, I was met with great support from EKU Honors and the EKU Education Abroad office by providing me with the Honors Trailblazer Award,” said Tucker, a junior honors student and business management major.

Tucker chose to study in Germany in summer 2023 because of an interest in the country’s history and culture. “I was fascinated with World War II from a young age, and I wanted to see a lot of this history in person,” he said.

While studying abroad, students take classes and participate in activities that contribute to their chosen degrees and programs. Gaona, an honors student, said, “I chose Oaxaca, Mexico, because there was a program that allowed me to get experience in my field.”

Outside of academics, students immerse themselves in their surroundings while abroad. “I was able to use my Spanish, and it definitely improved a lot,” Gaona said. “I loved the community, too. Everybody knows each other and is just so kind to each other.”

For Tucker, he most enjoyed opportunities to explore the country. Kokinda added, in addition to learning the German language, he also valued how much he was able to learn about the country’s history. “We had the opportunity to visit historical sites and museums, which offered valuable insights into what life was like for people in Germany in the past century, and how the past continuously affects the present and future,” Kokinda said.  

The students who studied abroad last year said their experiences will stick with them for many years to come, and they feel thankful to have had the opportunity to see what the world has to offer.

“This trip helped me reflect on the privileges I have as a student at EKU,” said Tucker. “Being in another country seemed impossible, but because of EKU, it was such a simple and fulfilling experience.”

Gaona still keeps in contact with her host family and friends she made in Mexico. “I also gained a new appreciation for being able to speak Spanish here at home,” she said. “I work with a lot of Spanish speakers, and it makes me really grateful to know I could help them translate.” 

​​EKU Education Abroad contributes to a quality education by providing students with opportunities to expand their horizons and learn through new experiences, cultures, languages and historical sites.