Students explore law, government during study abroad in UK

Political science professor Allison Ellis, Ph.D., center, joins students in parliament during the recent study abroad trip to the UK. Pictured from left to right are Teffany Fernandez-Burke, Heather Fanning, Ellis, Ja’Niah Settles, and Charmane Orr.

This summer, four USC Upstate students traveled to the seats of government in the United Kingdom to get a firsthand look at how political systems operate in other countries. Professor Allison Ellis led the study abroad trip, which also included cultural stops.

Ellis’ spring semester class provided the background for the trip. Students studied how culture affects political systems, and analyzed the structure of government in the US and UK. They also compared campaigns, politics and media in both places.

This is the first time Ellis, who began organizing study abroad trips 13 years ago at Upstate, taught a class before going abroad.

“My hope is that it’s going to make it a richer experience for the students, because now they have a background that they wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Ellis said shortly before departing.

For 10 days, the group visited various places in the UK, including London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Ellis says it’s easy to assume all countries operate similarly, but travel allows students to experience and observe the differences.

Throughout the trip, students engaged in discussions and kept journals in which they responded to prompts Ellis provided about government, society and culture. Students often notice the differences in transportation, food and overall attitudes, Ellis says, but are also surprised by the popularity of American music and entertainment in Europe.

For senior Heather Fanning, a political science major with a pre-law concentration, the trip was her second with Ellis. Last year she was part of a group that visited Belgium and Amsterdam. She appreciated how Ellis balanced law and culture on that trip, and enthusiastically signed up for this year’s experience.

“I really felt it changed me, as corny as it sounds,” says Fanning, an adult student who frequently travels with her husband. “It was my first time in Europe, and I travel a lot. It was absolutely amazing. It was empowering.”

For Fanning, the opportunity to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of a place in person is invaluable. That experiential learning component is what makes study abroad so meaningful, Ellis says. “You could read about another country all day long, but you’re never actually going to understand it or have really a good idea of what it’s about unless you go there.”

Junior Charmane Orr, an Honors College student who is also a political science major with a prelaw focus, couldn’t wait to get going. Though she has visited Washington, D.C., before, she wasn’t able to tour any of the government buildings there. She was excited she’d have the opportunity in the UK.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing parliament and basically the art architecture overall, because I know it’s going to be really grand,” Orr says. “They still have a lot of their old architecture from the 18th century, and I’m really looking forward to seeing all the castles.”

The trip to the UK is her first outside of the country, and she is eager to see another part of the world.

“Yes, I can go visit another state, but how many people can say they’ve been to a different country?” she says.

Ellis says studying abroad offers students other benefits, challenging them as individuals and providing opportunities for growth, which is part of the larger college experience.

Orr agrees, noting travel is good for “getting out of your comfort zone.” Fanning, too, says she highly encourages the experience.

“I recommend everybody do some traveling wherever it is,” she says. “See how different people do things. That gives you so much more than a textbook.”

Ellis says one of the perks of traveling in a smaller group is she can plan a personalized experience for students. That allows for even more individualized faculty student interaction than Upstate’s small class sizes already provide.

The group also planned equal time between educational outings and fun: sampling local cuisine such as fish and chips and visiting Stonehenge, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace.

Meanwhile, Ellis is planning next year’s study abroad trip to Munich, Berlin and Prague for May 22-June 1, 2025. She’s co-leading the trip with history instructor Tammy Pike. For students interested in study abroad, Ellis advises planning ahead and meeting with staff at the Center for International Studies to explore payment options.