When sophomore Renee Giron steps off of the plane in Berlin at the end of this month, it will be her first time on international ground.

Giron and eight other University of Central Florida students will travel to Europe this summer as part of the university’s Sophomore Experience Abroad.

The unique study abroad trip engages students and helps build skills they’ll need during a year of transition, self-discovery and decision-making.

“SEA is open to any major, and you’re not studying one specific subject, so it’s more like a cultural orientation,” she said. “This trip is a reminder of how we’re all connected. People may look different and speak different languages, but can still find common ground.”

The trip was created as part of UCF’s Academic Advising Enhancement Program. Last year, seven students traveled to Germany and Austria.

“The program is designed without classrooms,” said Christopher Cook, the academic advising coordinator who created and leads the program. “The students spend their day-to-day activities engaged with the people, culture and history around them.”

Participating UCF students meet prior to their trip to discuss expectations for themselves as well as the program. They also learn about ways study abroad can benefit academic and career opportunities.

In 2010, researchers concluded after a decade of documenting academic outcomes from the University System of Georgia that students who study abroad have improved academic performance upon returning to their home campus, along with higher graduation rates. They also found that study abroad helps the academic progress of at-risk students.

This year’s Sophomore Experience Abroad itinerary includes a visit to the Czech Republic and stops at places such as the Munich Opera and the BMW Museum. Traveling students also will collaborate with German students to experience cultural exchange through partnerships with the German-American Institute in Tübingen and Amerika Haus in Munich.

“Chris designed the trip and our assignments to incorporate important skills like intercultural communication, confidence and interaction with others,” said Giron, an accounting major. “For example, we’re giving a presentation to German students and will have to use public speaking skills to articulate what our education system is like to people who are not familiar with it.”

Giron will also have the opportunity to connect her experience abroad with her academics; she just finished reading Night, Elie Wiezel’s firsthand account of surviving the Holocaust, for one of her classes, and will be visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial as part of the trip.

Because the program is a three-credit hour course, the schedule is also developed around students’ assignments, which include maintaining a journal and blog, leading guided tours and making several presentations.

The program has already garnered attention, winning UCF’s Judy Boyte Academic Advising Innovation Award, which recognizes innovation in advising. It was named among the top five most innovative new study abroad programs by GoAbroad.com, an international education and experiential travel resource website.

The number of applicants for this year’s program indicates interest as well—it received the second-largest number applications of all UCF study abroad programs this year.

Interested participants in the Sophomore Experience Abroad can be from any major and must have between 30 and 60 credit hours and be in good academic standing to qualify. Financial aid opportunities are available. Cook reviews the applications and interviews potential participants, looking for students who have limited experience traveling outside of the United States.

The program is made possible through the cooperation of several offices on campus, including the Office of International Studies, the Office of Interdisciplinary Studies, Student Development and Enrollment Services, the Sophomore Second Year Center and the advising community.

To learn more about the Sophomore Experience Abroad or read student blog posts about the trip, visit https://studyabroad.ucf.edu/.