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USF Honors College students give their impressions of London trip

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Twenty University of South Florida students in the school’s Honors College recently spent seven days in London.

BY PENNY FLETCHER

HILLSBOROGH COUNTY — Twenty University of South Florida students in the school’s Honors College recently spent seven days in London. It’s something anyone in the Honors College is eligible to apply for, but it takes hard work and dedication to achieve it.

“Last year (2010) another advisor and I took some students to work on the devastation still remaining from Hurricane Katrina,” said USF Honors College Academic Advisor Amanda Cutchens. “It was so rewarding I said I would do it again in a minute.”

She did, and this year, her husband Josh was also able to go along and chaperone.

“It was hard eliminating the students who applied who didn’t get to go,” Cutchens said. But we were limited to twenty.”

While some of the fees are self-paid, trips taken by Honors College students that are tied to a course are partially paid through Honors College program money.

The London trip cost each student $1,200 plus their ticket, Cutchens said. But they each got a $600 scholarship toward that and if they lived in the dorm, they got an additional $200.

Many had to work either full time or part time jobs to make up their portion of the fees. Some work all year to put themselves through school.

Both the youngest and oldest students who took the trip work more than one job year round.

Brandi Hollis, who recently moved to this area from Fort Lauderdale, has two jobs as well as her work as a student. At 27, she was the oldest student to go on the trip.

Hollis has had to work hard to get her education, and eventually wants to be a magazine journalist.

“People say print news is a thing of the past, but I still believe in it and want to be in the field,” Hollis said in a telephone interview April 5. “To work for a magazine like Time would be my dream job.”

While in Fort Lauderdale, Hollis began working with A Child is Missing, a group that gets the word out in the early stages when a child or elderly adult is missing. She got a transfer to the Tampa branch, and now takes calls for the 24-hour service nights and weekends from law enforcement agencies across the country. Then she passes those descriptions and leads on in mass “telephone call and text blasts.” She also helps organize and present events for families that participate or work with the group.

Besides this, Hollis works three days a week in the Student Center at USF making travel arrangements for individual students and groups.

“Let’s say a team has to play in another state, I’ll do the travel arrangements, hotels- everything,” she said in a telephone interview April 5.

The youngest student to take the trip was 20-year-old Sacia Mullins of Ruskin.

Mullins works hard to stay in the Honors College yet she holds a full time job in the office of M & M Printing Company (owner of The Observer News) and besides this is doing an apprenticeship with Siggybunk Productions as a production assistant and camera woman.

Sacia MullinsThe artsy Liberal Arts major says she hopes working at small, independent film companies will give her the experience she needs to go after an acting career.

Along with her school and jobs, she has studied music, plays the violin, harp, piano and sings; dances and does gymnastics.

Cutchens says all her Honor College students are serious about making something of themselves.

Fortunately, some others were also available for interviews.

“I definitely enjoyed this trip,” said Alexandra Parrish. “I think one of the things that I liked the most was that this was the first time that I was able to go on a trip without my parents, and it was fun to make my own decisions. I also learned a lot about budgeting my money. My favorite part of the trip was going to see Phantom of the Opera, followed by the visit to Westminster Abbey. I also enjoyed meeting a bunch of new people and getting to experience a different culture.”

Even though English is spoken, road signs looked very different because everything is measured in meters, Cutchens reminded me. “And also that people drive on the left side of the road!”

“Traveling to London was the most enriching experience of my life,” said Allison Chalifoux. “I feel that it not only strengthened my independence, it enabled me to cultivate my knowledge and better develop my self-sufficiency. I enjoyed getting to immerse myself in another culture and experience what they experience every day. And the food was delicious! The trip helped me gain a deeper appreciation for people different from me. Everything about London was beautiful. The antique buildings gave me the feeling of being hundreds of years in the past. There was so much history surrounding me that it made me feel that I was part of something special. The city reminds me of New York but there is one difference- while the area is constantly bustling with activity, I never once felt rushed or frantic, as a big city often makes me feel. I felt more relaxed and able to take my time and enjoy the things around me. There is no sense of urgency, no sense of time being rushed that I didn’t have an opportunity to enjoy myself. And the people there were so friendly.”

“One week was not enough to see everything and do everything,” Allison continued. “There was so much I wish I could have done. It gave me a passion to travel back there one day and continue the journey I started.”
The group stayed at the Imi Hotel in London, near the famous Kensington Park, from March 11 through the 17th.

During that time, they saw the Phantom of the Opera, went to Stonehenge, the Roman baths in Cambridge, Windsor Castle, and the site where the British Royal Air Force (RAF) worked with the Americans during World War II.

Amanda Cutchens had been to England three times prior to chaperoning the students, having studied at Cambridge and then going twice on vacation.

“This whole thing is about the students learning to experience and appreciate other cultures and people,” Cutchens said. “I am just so glad to have had the opportunity to be with these students as they experienced London for the first time. It was an amazing trip, but it was the students that made it such a pleasure.”

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