The London Program study abroad has been a College of Arts and Humanities tradition for 34 years. Dana Rethwisch, along with 74 other students and five faculty members, took part in the first-ever London Semester in the spring of 1984.
“We were the first ones,” said Rethwisch, who now lives in Blythe, California. “We were the guinea pigs. The way they presented it, it was set up to see if our system of education would work in another country.”
“What I really gained from it being a semester was that we became part of that culture,” Rethwisch said, “and really learned what it was like to live in London. We had the safety net that we were all together in the hotel.”
Dr. Lyman H. Heine, a political science professor from the College of Social Sciences (pictured), led the group.
“He took us into Parliament on a tour one time and that was phenomenal,” Rethwisch said. “He’s the one who organized a study trip for a week over to Russia. We weren’t sure we were going to be able to go at the last minute because their leader [Yuri Andropov] had died and [Mikhail] Gorbachev was just coming in. We weren’t sure how that was going to work.”
Rethwisch talked about how much the students appreciated the way Heine looked over their group.
“He cared about the students,” she said. “My roommate had to have her tonsils out while we were there. They have a little bit different medical system there, so she went to the hospital. … Dr. Heine stepped in and he was like the dad who wasn’t there.”
Even though the London Semester took place in the spring semester, the students didn’t let Vintage Days go unnoticed.
“The week that Fresno State was having Vintage Days here, we got spring fever,” Rethwisch said. “We decided to make our own, hanging out on our balconies.”
Students lived in and took classes in a Pembridge Square hotel.
Each of the five professors organized a side trip that dealt with their curriculum area.
“Dr. Heine took us to Russia. The theatre professor took us to Stratford-on-Avon, for just a day trip. The English professor Stanley Poss took us out to the west country. We spent the night in a little cottage with a thatched roof. … The art teacher took us to Amsterdam. We had to do a visual diary as part of her class. … The business professor took his students to Lucern, Switzerland, to learn banking.”
Rethwisch has three college-aged children herself, but they haven’t yet done a study abroad experience of their own. She said she is trying to encourage them to do so:
“Maybe that’s something I got from doing this experience. We’ve always tried to encourage our kids to travel, to experience different cultures and see different parts of the world.”
Rethwisch said the most impactful aspect of the study abroad travels was the chance to get to meet and interact with regular people in the places they visited.
“Just getting to meet people and see how they lived was impactful. It was neat to see how our way of living and our government was kind of based off of them. And then to see the changes that our forefathers made in that system. We didn’t feel like we were tourists. We felt like we became part of it.”
Her appreciation of what an enriching opportunity it was has grown even stronger over the years. When she did her study abroad trip, she was just a sophomore in college.
“I didn’t know enough to appreciate it. But in years since then, I have really grown to appreciate it more. At one point in my career I was teaching ancient world history, and I was thinking, ‘I’ve been there. I’ve been to ancient Rome. I know because I was there, I’ve been to Russia. Because I was there, I can speak from such a more authentic and deeper perspective. Even more than what I recognized at the time.”
Students who participated in Fresno State’s first London Semester in 1984.