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Students and faculty who participated in the Jan. 6-10 WIU Disney Cruise Study Abroad program. Front row (L to R): Robyn Smalley (Burlington, IA), senior, recreation, park and tourism administration (RPTA); Jason Vogan (Lake Zurich, IL), senior, RPTA; Jaime Godina (invoked privacy), Kelly Jilek (Lemont, IL), junior, RPTA. Second row (L to R): Deanna Beachy (Fond Du Lac, WI), senior, RPTA; Kacie Kruckeberg (Lake Villa, IL), senior, RPTA; Jessica Moore (Shabbona, IL) senior, RPTA; Ashley McCoy (Petersburg, IL), senior, RPTA; Crystal Parchem (Lombard, IL), sophomore, law enforcement and justice administration (LEJA); Liz Lindstrom (Aurora, IL), junior, RPTA; Rachel Smith, instructor, RPTA. Third row (L to R): Nikki Dobyns (Macomb, IL), graduate student, RPTA; Kelsey Thompson (Grayslake, IL), junior, RPTA; Minsun Doh, associate professor, RPTA. Back row (L to R): Krista Mast (Quincy, IL), senior, RPTA; Julie Terstriep (Industry, IL), graduate student, RPTA; Amanda Rehtmeyer (McLean, IL), senior, RPTA, Andrew C. Brown (Genoa, IL), senior, economics. Photo courtesy of Rachel Smith

WIU's Disney Cruise Study Abroad faculty-led trip (Jan. 6-10) provided students with first-hand experience of what is like to work and live on a Disney Cruise ship and a high-end resort in the Caribbean. Photo courtesy of Rachel Smith

WIU Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration Instructor Rachel Smith said during the trip the students were required to attend a class meeting every day, which typically included a speaker or a tour. Students in this photo are touring the galley kitchen on the Disney Cruise ship. Photo courtesy of Rachel Smith

WIU students and faculty who participated in the faculty-led Disney Cruise study abroad program showed their school pride on their cruise stateroom doors. Photo courtesy of Julie Terstriep

WIU's Disney Cruise Study Abroad: Small World, Big Learning

January 24, 2013

MACOMB, IL – During Western Illinois University's winter break, 16 students discovered it really is a small world after all. The students, along with WIU Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration (RPTA) faculty members Rachel Smith and Minsun Doh, took an experiential education opportunity to take a cruise—a Disney Cruise, that is, via Western's study abroad program. The faculty-led trip (January 6-10) provided them with first-hand experience of what is like to work and live on a Disney Cruise ship and a high-end resort in the Caribbean.

In addition, the students were exposed to several nationalities and cultures represented on the five-day trip. And not only did RPTA Associate Professor Minsun Doh run into a woman she attended high school with in Korea, but the entire group also encountered a Western alumnus (who now works as an Illinois State Trooper) who was enjoying the Disney Cruise with his family. Smith said she expected the students to have the cruise experience and learn about the behind-the-scenes life of a crew on a cruise ship.

"I expected that in the Bahamas, too, as well as for them to have some cultural experiences there. But the fact they also were interacting with various individuals, families and groups from no less than 60 nations from around the globe provided the students with an invaluable opportunity to experience all kinds of different perspectives and interactions in one location on the ship," she noted. "They also were able to see how different nations' regulations were applied. For example, they really got to experience the difference between accessibility regulations (to accommodate people with disabilities) as they are applied in the U.S and how they are applied in the Bahamas. They also learned about how the staff on the cruise ship applied different employment and environmental laws for such things as accessibility and how it was to go through customs."

According to DeAnna Beachy (Fond du Lac, WI), a senior RTPA major who has plans to graduate next fall, some of her most memorable experiences came from her conversations with people from around the world.

"We met a woman from the Ukraine who provided one of my classmates—whose relatives were from there generations ago—with some information about her home country. She was fascinating to talk to over breakfast during one of our days there," Beachy said.

According to Julie Terstriep, who works at Western's Campus Recreation and is also a graduate student in the RPTA department, the daily assignments required for the students literally provided a world of opportunity to learn.

"In the Bahamas, we visited the Atlantis resort and saw what it was like to be tourist there, as well as how the staff there worked to provide services," she noted. "There were many different nationalities represented there, too. It was interesting to see, though, an advertisement for a fundraising walk for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation in the resort."

Smith said during the trip the students were required to attend a class meeting every day, which typically included a speaker or a tour. One day, for example, she noted, students toured the galley kitchen.

"There was also the daily assignment. One assignment instructed students to interview a crew member and another required them to participate in an excursion, which there were a lot for us to choose from—everything from scuba diving to parasailing to a stingray experience," she said. "The idea was to participate in it and see what it was like for the tourists, to be involved in it from registration to post experience."

At the end of each day, the group of 18 met up for dinner, which was never in the same restaurant on the ship. Disney-themed in nature—including the Royal Palace, the Enchanted Garden and the Animator's Palette—the restaurant-provided evening meal and wind-down time gave the class the opportunity to go over what they had encountered that day.

"We had the late seating at 8:15 p.m., and we would have dinner conversation about what experiences were new for that day. Dr. Doh and I asked questions like, 'What would you improve on the ship?' We discussed different topics each day to make sure that everyone was understanding," Smith explained.

For Krista Mast (Quincy, IL), a senior RTPA major, it was the first time she had ever traveled out of the U.S. and the study abroad program provided her with a memorable rookie travel experience.

"It was basically the first time I have really been anywhere," she said with a broad smile. "I can't even come up with the words to describe it… I guess 'amazing' sums it up."

According to Smith, the faculty-led Disney Cruise study abroad program was the first time Western's Office of Study Abroad offered this particular study abroad program. Prior to the actual trip, the class met four times in the Fall 2012 semester to prepare for the program. She hopes to continue to offer it every other year or so.

Beachy noted that although it provided her with a lot of first-hand knowledge about the recreation aspect of the cruise industry, she thinks it is appropriate for any number of major areas of study.

"I am glad I was able to take this opportunity and go with it. I suggest it to pretty much everyone. It doesn't matter if you're a recreation major or studying accounting or business or hospitality, it was all applicable."

To see more photos from the WIU Disney Cruise faculty-led study abroad course, see

For more information, contact Smith at or Doh at Learn more about WIU's study abroad programs at

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg, University Relations
Phone: (309) 298-1993 * Fax: (309) 298-1606