Pitt Students Make the Most of Their Summer

Victoria Johngrass
Victoria Johngrass in Paris. 

“What did you do over the summer?” It’s the most common question friends ask each other when returning to school and perhaps the most cliché English class assignment ever. For nearly 2,000 Pitt students this year, the answer is an excited, “I studied abroad!”

“It was completely amazing,” said Victoria Johngrass of her trip this summer to Paris to study French and the French education system. “Paris was more beautiful than I could have imagined, and every day I was there I fell more in love with the city and the culture.”

Victoria is majoring in Biology and French and hopes to someday work for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). However, she was a bit worried in advance of her trip because she was not sure about her competency in speaking French. She had earned good grades and had spent hours speaking French with other students, however, she had no real-world experience.

Victoria Johngrass and the other Pitt students on her Study Abroad trip to Paris outside of the theater where they attended a play performed entirely in French
Victoria Johngrass and the other Pitt students on her Study Abroad trip to Paris outside of the theater where they attended a play performed entirely in French. 

“When I first arrived in Paris with my fellow students, it was scary to speak to the locals. I was afraid they were going to judge me,” Victoria said. “But after a week, the French were responding to me in French and not English. By the time I left, I was speaking in a more complex manner than I ever had before.”

Victoria and her seven Pitt schoolmates taking part in the six-week program took two classes while in France; spent time in local high schools observing and interacting with the students; and learned about careers where they could use their French skills, including providing translations and teaching English in French schools.

She says the experience solidified her desire to work for Doctors Without Borders after she graduates in 2020 and will be invaluable in that role.

This was Victoria’s first trip out of the United States aside from a weekend in Canada. She says she would not have been able to study abroad if it had not been for the two scholarships she received.

Pitt Study Abroad Director Jeff Whitehead says the number one reason students give for not taking advantage of a study abroad opportunity is a lack of funds.

“It often does not take a lot of funding to make the difference between going on a career-changing trip and staying at home,” Jeff said. “Our most typical scholarship of $1,000 is usually enough to make the difference, but demand outstrips the scholarship funds we have to give.”

Sadie Trout also received a scholarship to help support her study abroad experience over the summer.

“I did something amazing this summer but I had a lot of help.”
- Sadie Trout

Sadie, an Environmental Science major, traveled to South Africa on a five-week study trip. She says she is telling everyone—especially her three younger siblings—that they need to make an international education trip a part of their college experience.

“In the U.S. we often feel like we know everything,” she said. “But after traveling, it is clear we don’t know enough about the rest of the world.”

The 14 students on Sadie’s trip took two classes while in Cape Town. Both classes were taught by Pitt professors who combined lectures with field trips throughout the region to highlight the history and comparative education curricula.

Sadie was able to gain experience related to her field of study; she is focusing on water management issues while at Pitt and visited Cape Town during what she describes as a “water crisis.”

Sadie Trout above the beach near Cape Town, South Africa.
Sadie Trout above the beach near Cape Town, South Africa

“The water infrastructure did not keep up with a growth in demand and now they have a shortage,” Sadie said. “The water is turned off in sinks in public restrooms and hand sanitizer is taking the place of washing hands. Seeing that firsthand was much more enlightening than learning about it from a textbook.”

The trip was Sadie’s first time leaving the country. In fact, she obtained her passport with the help of the study abroad program before going on the trip.

“I did something amazing this summer,” Sadie said. “But I had a lot of help. I would not have been able to go without the scholarship, and it would not have been as enriching had it not been for the leadership of the professors and the support of the University.”

Follow this link to read more stories from this issue of the Chancellor's Circle Update.