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New students soar into their college experience with Widener's first-ever freshman seminar course abroad.

Most students start their college career moving into a residence hall, but 17 students started their tenure at Widener University by boarding a plane with three professors and flying to Costa Rica for a weeklong immersion in “Culture Competence and Global Awareness.”

The immersion is a freshman seminar course, which allows students from all majors the chance to study abroad before even officially starting class on Main Campus. In the first year of the program, students focused on sustainability and community health globally, studying the environment and how everyone is affected by it. Biology Professors Bruce Grant and Itzick Vatnick, along with Normajean Colby, as assistant professor of nursing, led the trip.

Each of the faculty attended Widener Days and Accepted Student Days to promote the course to the incoming Class of 2021. Interested students had to submit an application and attend in-person meetings with the faculty before traveling.

Students traveled to Costa Rica on August 12, a week before moving onto campus. While in Costa Rica, the cohort stayed at CARES 21, a villa that Widener University purchased in 2016 in hopes of affording opportunities such as this for students.


This trip was a once in a lifetime experience that provided me the opportunity to discover a new culture as well as to form relationships with classmates before even stepping foot on campus.

Vanessa Lista ‘21

During the immersion experience, students visited sustainable farming sites, coffee farms, and even a high school where students studied English. They also learned how to improve their time management skills and focused on ways to better transition to life in college.

“The experience studying abroad has made a lasting impact on me,” Abigail Szablowski, a nursing major, said. Of the students attending the trip, half were nursing majors, as it’s one of the only opportunities nursing students have to study abroad within a tight curriculum. “I learned that the professors are easy to talk to. I never expected to be able to have relationships with my teachers, but they really care about us.”

The overall trip was a chance for the freshman to get comfortable in their new role as college students, a goal Colby already sees as a success.

“The students who started their college journey in Costa Rica, ahead of freshmen orientation, are more confident starting at Widener - both academically and non-academically. They had the opportunity to get on a plane with complete strangers and in about a week return with lifelong friends. They are resourceful and will be a real asset to new students wishing to make friends and navigate college.”