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International Human Services

July 25, 2018

A group of Angelo State students traveled a long way this summer to go to McDonald’s, but they weren’t hunting burgers and fries.

Instead, they were immersed in a month-long social work and psychology study abroad experience in “Unique Europe” – with a major highlight of the trip being a visit to the Ronald McDonald House in Bucharest, Romania. 

Dr. Tom Starkey Dr. Tom Starkey The 14 students were led on the trip by Dr. Tom Starkey, chair of the Social Work Department, and Dr. Crystal Kreitler, associate professor of psychology. Prior to their departure, Starkey reached out to the Ronald McDonald House in Lubbock. 

“They actually sent four hand-quilted afghan blankets with us,” Starkey said, “as well as some pictures that the kids in the Ronald McDonald House in Lubbock had made, saying ‘Get Well,’ ‘Thinking of You,’ and things like that. That was really neat because they were done by the kids.” 

“The folks in Bucharest were really excited about building a relationship with a Ronald McDonald House here in the U.S.,” he added. “So we’re going to collaborate with the Lubbock RMH to help the foundation in Bucharest by sharing our knowledge and best practices. We plan to go back next year and increase the amount of time we spend with them.” 

In addition to visiting the Ronald McDonald House, the students met with social work faculty and students at the University of Bucharest, Hogeschool van Amsterdam in the Netherlands and FH Campus Wein in Vienna, Austria. They also visited an elder daycare facility in Amsterdam and the Foundation for Children in Distress in Bucharest that takes in abandoned infants, many with birth defects. 

“After that visit,” Starkey said, “our social work students decided that we’d take them on as a philanthropy project. So each long semester, we are going to do a fundraising drive and send them the money. It was the students’ idea, so I think it’s good that the visit got them thinking about how they can make a difference in other parts of the world.” 

“There are things we can learn from these other countries, so our trip is really an exchange of ideas.”

Dr. Tom Starkey

As with all ASU study abroad trips, this one also had a cultural component. The various cultural excursions included the Anne Frank Museum, a windmill museum and a canal ride in Amsterdam; the Sigmund Freud and Mozart museums in Vienna; and the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest, which is the second-largest building in the world behind the U.S. Pentagon. 

“Our tour was an hour and a half,” Starkey said. “When we got done, our guide said that we had just walked 1.5 kilometers and only seen four percent of the building.” 

The group also visited Brasov, Romania, where they went on a castle tour that included Bran Castle – reputed to be Castle Dracula. 

“The students really enjoyed that,” Starkey said. “Plus, I think the high temperatures were in the mid-60s and it got down into the 40s at night. We were looking on our phones at the temperatures back in San Angelo, and it was like 105 degrees! So we were happy where we were.” 

The ASU group at Peles Castle in Romania The ASU group at Peles Castle in Romania This was the second summer for Starkey to offer the “Unique Europe” study abroad trip. Austria was added after the first year, and there are thoughts of adding Rome to the itinerary, as well as stops at Ronald McDonald Houses in Amsterdam and Vienna. 

“We want the students to see how social work and psychology are done in other countries and see the similarities and differences with the U.S.,” Starkey said. “All the universities we visit have a social work program, but Romania didn’t even have social workers until the 1990s. They are still learning the discipline, so we are hoping we can help them as we also learn.” 

“We had three students who had never left Texas,” Starkey said. “We had two who had never been on a plane and one who had never been on a boat. We want to expose them to different cultures because in social work and psychology, we are about diversity and learning how other people think. There are things we can learn from these other countries, so our trip is really an exchange of ideas.” 

The “Unique Europe” trip is not reserved for social work and psychology majors. Students interested in this or other study abroad opportunities should keep a close eye on the Study Abroad Programs website.