Pictured above, from left, Melissa Noriega, Samina Najmi and Janette Porraz during the 2018 London Program study abroad trip.
~ By Lisa Maria Boyles, communications specialist for the College of Arts and Humanities
Janette Porraz, one of the 2018 Students of Distinction for the College of Art and Humanities, was able to enhance the education she obtained in the Department of Art and Design during three weeks she spent studying abroad in London.
Porraz was one of 25 students and two faculty members — English professor Dr. Samina Najmi and Philosophy professor Dr. Robert Maldonado — who participated in the College of Arts and Humanities London Study Abroad program from Dec. 27 through Jan. 15. Porraz received a full scholarship to participate on the trip from the Edward O. Lund Foundation. Lund was a local artist and Fresno State arts curator who died in a cycling accident in 2015.
The study abroad experience included visits to many museums, including the Museum of London, National Gallery, the War Museum and the Natural History and Science Museum. Other experiences included trips to Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and Stonehenge.
“The whole idea is that London is the text,” said Najmi, who was participating as a Study Abroad faculty member for the first time. “They’re not spending a whole lot of time in the classroom.”
Marisa Mata, a third-year English major, wrote a first-person reflection about the recent London trip and how studying abroad greatly changes a person’s outlook on life. Najmi, who grew up in London, is of Pakistani descent and hadn’t been back in many years, spoke of how the trip wasn’t just life-changing for the students.
“For the directors, especially a first-time director, like I was, it’s also a transformative experience. You grow with your students,” Najmi said. “I had mixed feelings about my childhood in London. It was in the ’70s when it wasn’t a great time to be ‘that Paki kid.’ I had a lot to process too.”
Toward the end of the trip, Najmi took a trip back to her childhood neighborhood, a suburb 20 minutes away from London.
“It was transformative,” she said. “Yes, my elementary school was still there and my middle school was still there. But everything else had changed. It was not, at least in my experience on this trip, it was not that racist, bigoted place of memory. … To be there in my identity as a Fresno State professor, was kind of an amazing thing because I’m secure in that identity.”
The group returned to Fresno the day before spring semester classes began. The culminating assignment after the students’ return is a travel narrative about the trip and the experience.
“My favorite part was discovering the city while on foot with my friend Melissa Noriego,” Porraz said, “and really embracing all that London has to offer; such as observing the diverse culture, discovering hidden monuments and markets.”
Noriego, the friend that Porraz mentioned and a fellow art major, was also able to participate thanks to a scholarship from the Edward O. Lund Foundation:
“The board members are kind and compassionate art patrons who are honoring their loved one by supporting art students,” said Noriego, who expects to graduate in fall 2018. “My favorite part about the trip was riding the Underground and listening to the many languages being spoken by the riders below the international city. Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to see the world and humanity in a more comprehensive way.”
The College of Arts and Humanities has offered a London Program study abroad trip since 1984. Since the program began, more than 1,250 students have taken part.
Though the London Study Abroad is offered through the College of Arts and Humanities, it is not limited to students studying those disciplines. Najmi said half of the students this year were from other Fresno State areas — biology, political science, business, engineering and criminology.
Porraz, who had never been out of the country before the London trip, will get to continue studying art abroad this summer. She received a scholarship to participate in the CSU Summer Arts course on Contemporary Drawing and Painting in Florence.
“The experience changes you for the best, I think,” Porraz said. “It certainly did for me. It made me a little more confident and it opened my eyes to a totally new world — one that I very much want to be a part of and contribute to.”