London study abroad proves perfect setting for UTRGV travel-writing class

BY Cheryl Taylor

Thirteen students from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley made London their home for two weeks in May while honing their creative non-fiction travel-writing skills.

The study abroad course was under the direction of Marianita Escamilla, lecturer in the Department of Writing and Language Studies.

“I wanted the students to be immersed in London as much as possible, so we held classes in a variety of places, including Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park, on the grounds of the American Embassy, and in our favorite coffee shop near the hotel,” Escamilla said. “The students became pros at navigating the Underground and the bus system.”

Prior to leaving the United States, the class met at UTRGV and received their assignments, which included reading and responding to six professional travel articles, making individual presentations on various historical sites, and keeping a travel blog.

“We had homework and drafts due throughout our stay in London,” said Angelica Castro, a mathematics major and English minor from San Benito. “If I had not given myself time to complete everything, I would have not been successful in the class. I secretly loved the homework, though. It helped me become a better writer and to not be scared to just start writing and edit, edit, edit.”


Alan Earhart, director of UTRGV International Programs and Partnerships, said study abroad is a multi-faceted experience that engages all the senses in the learning process.

“We encourage students to step out of their comfort zones and be open to embracing another location, another culture and all that entails – language, food, mannerisms, all aspects of daily life,” Earhart said. “Students generally return home with increased self-confidence and a wealth of knowledge that transcends traditional classroom study.”

Senior social work major Mayra Castro, from McAllen, said the trip helped boost her confidence.

“I actually carried on conversations with locals, I learned how to read a map, and I made friends with the other students in the class,” Castro said. “Whenever I felt self-conscious, I would remind myself that I am in another country and no one knows me.”

Castro said the trip came at the perfect time for her.

“Before this trip, I was so frustrated with how lost and confused I felt about graduating, but now I’m excited about graduating,” she said. “I plan to work while getting my master’s degree, and after I obtain my license, I would like to find a job at a non-profit, working with adolescents.”


Crisalida Rentas, from Tampico, Mexico, is a sophomore who chose to major in psychology and minor in sociology because she is interested in learning about the complex processes of the human brain.

“I’m interested in how we all interact with one another and how human relationships can be so complex, from a micro level to a macro level, in society as a whole,” she said.

Rentas wanted to experience a different culture and witness the differences in human relationships from another view.

“Professor Escamilla was a wonderful professor, giving us great tips and examples of how to make the best out of the trip, and how to travel write correctly. She showed us different styles in order to find our very own personal style,” Rentas said.


Shantal Brissette, from McAllen, took the class to fulfill her last course to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology.

“I did study abroad in 2014 to Florence, Italy, and that experience showed me how traveling opens your horizons, and how it also makes you find and learn from one’s self as much as from strangers,” she said.

Brissette admits to being fascinated with the English monarchy, especially the Tudor dynasty.

“I really enjoyed visiting the historical buildings, like the Tower of London and Hampton Court. Some of my group told me I was slightly obsessed with Henry VIII, and I have to agree,” she said.


Rehabilitation services major Guia Castro, whose family moved to Edinburg from New Jersey when she was seven, had a special experience while on the trip: She got to meet her English pen pal, Nica Del Mundo.

“We had been followers of each other’s blogs, and when I commented I would like to have an old-fashioned pen pal, Nica responded. So we’ve been writing real pen-and-paper letters for a year and a half now.”

The two pen pals learned they have a great deal in common, including being of Philippine heritage. Castro is majoring in rehabilitation services and Del Mundo works in public relations for public health.

“And we had the most amazing connection! I knew my mom had a college friend living in London, and it turns out that that friend is my pen pal’s good family friend,” Castro said.

The young women met for lunch at one of the popular Nando’s restaurants, walked to London Chinatown and had Chinese “bubble” tea, and then walked across Waterloo Bridge.

“Then we had to say goodbye and go our separate ways, but we know we’ll meet again – maybe here in the U.S. next time,” Castro said.


Hidalgo native Dinorah Moreno, a senior majoring in biology and minoring in business administration, said she has had little free time to join university clubs or organizations, so decided she had to make time for “one last adventure” before graduating.

“This trip taught me so much. I had an amazing experience, met a lot of people and made such great new friends,” Moreno said. “Professor Escamilla is an outstanding instructor, with so much enthusiasm for teaching. She has inspired me to keep traveling and writing about my adventures.

“I would encourage others to study abroad if they have the opportunity,” she said. “It is something you will never forget.”

For more information regarding study abroad opportunities, contact International Programs and Partnerships at IPP is part of the Office of Global Engagement.