After experiencing stress from the pandemic over the past couple of years, students and faculty shared how studying abroad this past summer left them feeling rejuvenated and with unforgettable experiences.
“Burnout and stress are so high right now, and we are all reeling from being in a highly anxious state due to COVID,” said Kasondra McCracken, a senior lecturer of healthy lifestyles who traveled with students to Greece. “This trip gave students a chance to practice what it feels like to slow down, accept and heal."
Exploring the connection between health and the Mediterranean diet
Christina Shepard, a clinical professor of nutrition and dietetic internship director, traveled for three weeks over the summer with 16 students to Rome and parts of Tuscany and Bologna to study the region’s nutrition, culture and cuisine, focusing on how consumption of the Mediterranean diet affects health.
“Rome in particular has a unique food heritage, which makes it interesting to learn about the history of the area and how their diet patterns and traditions came to be,” Shepard said.
Students explored food and nutrition from production to consumption by participating in cooking classes and visiting farms and olive oil, wine, cheese and balsamic vinegar manufacturers. They also joined guided tours of food markets and other popular tourist destinations.
“Don't think,” Fahmy said. “Just do it. Go on that trip, spend the money, enjoy your life and take the opportunities that are presented to you. Traveling abroad with ASU means you get a unique experience that you could never have on your own or with a tour guide.”
Unlocking Ikaria’s secret to longevity
McCracken joined 10 students to Ikaria, Greece, for 16 days to study healthy lifestyles, social connectedness and longevity on the Greek island designated as a Blue Zone — one of the five longevity "hot spots" in the world with the longest living inhabitants.
“Many residents of the island live to 90 and beyond, and they are healthy — free from dementia or other chronic diseases,” McCracken said. “These elders are active in their community and are an important part of the island’s culture.”
Students engrossed themselves in the history, traditions, healthy lifestyles and culture of Ikaria by cooking and eating a Mediterranean diet, trekking through the scenic mountainsides, engaging in afternoon siestas and swimming in the crystal clear sea.
Students also had the opportunity to visit a local festival, hot springs, beaches, a honey house, a yoga/meditation center and more while experiencing the low-stress, slow-paced, highly social and physically active lifestyles of the island’s inhabitants.
Ashley Losacco, a senior studying educational studies with a focus on personal health, said one of her most memorable parts of the trip was learning how to make local dishes using fresh ingredients.
“We had a beautiful class by Thea, the owner of a local restaurant, where she taught us how to make some local dishes with fresh food from her farm,” Losacco said. “It was at her farm under a beautiful lush canopy with a large farm table and handmade benches that I felt like I was in a lifestyle magazine.”
For those interested in studying abroad, both programs in Italy and Greece will be offered again in the summer of 2024 — with dates to be announced next fall. Applications are not available yet, but students can sign up to be added to the Blue Zones interest list and Nutrition, Health, and Diet interest list to be notified when applications open.
Students interested in participating are also encouraged to get their passports as soon as possible and apply for scholarships offered by the Global Education Office if they are in need of financial aid.
Story by Mindy Lok, digital content producer, College of Health Solutions.
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