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USU Switzerland Study Abroad Program all about Innovation

Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013

story illustration from Switzerland about USU students

The Swiss publication 'L'Illustre’ published a 10-page spread on the volunteer work by Utah State University students at the St. Bernard Hospice.

BBC film crew and USU students in Switzerland

A BBC camera person films USU students polishing and ancient Thurible. The students' volunteer efforts will be included in a BBC documentary.

USU student cleaning 800-year-old painting

USU student Kirk Koenen cleaning an 800-year-old baroque painting in the St. Bernard Hospice.

Utah State University students travel around the world on study abroad programs throughout the year. During summer 2013, 40 students from USU spent a month in Switzerland and were involved in the filming of a BBC documentary.

“The focus of the Switzerland study abroad program is innovation,” said Robert Winward, professor of graphic design in the Caine College of the Arts and program director. “Students are immersed in an incredibly diverse country and learn to capitalize on design processes as a tool to promote innovation. They also learn about international travel, different cultures and experiencing life in general.”

The program was originally focused on graphic design, but Winward has expanded the focus to include students from all disciplines at USU. This summer, students from the Caine College of the Arts, Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, College of Engineering, College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business accompanied Winward on the program.

Lion Gate Films, a division of the BBC in London, was filming a three-part documentary on pilgrimage with travel host Simon Reeve. One segment filmed at the Great Saint Bernard Hospice in the Great Saint Bernard Pass of the western Alps. A producer contacted Winward about incorporating USU’s students, who would be staying at the hospice, into the documentary when the crew filmed. The documentary is anticipated to air sometime in fall 2013.

“We do a snowshoe pilgrimage to this medieval and historic hospice to learn from the monks and perform service for them,” said Winward. “I wanted to teach the students empathy, and who better to learn that from than monks who have dedicated their lives to serving others?”

Students had to snowshoe up the pass, cross a glacier through the Valley of Death and hike up to the hospice. While at the monastery, students dug out entrances to the building, cleaned the chapel and museum and completed any other chores that needed to be done. In past years the students have also built kennels for the St. Bernard dogs farther down the mountain, but were not able to this year due to the amount of snow.

“My experience at the hospice was one of my favorite of the trip,” said Laurie Harris, a senior majoring in family, consumer and human development. “We had the opportunity to give service by cleaning the chapel and I found such a great feeling doing that.”

The Swiss magazine L’Illustre featured a ten-page cover story on the contributions of the students at the hospice in its issue published June 12.

L’Illustre is basically Switzerland’s Time magazine,” said Winward. “This was an incredible occasion because USU students are making a difference out in the world and receiving national attention for their efforts.”

Another experience in the study abroad program occurred at the Nestlé Cailler chocolate factory in Broc, Switzerland.

The students toured the factory while enjoying all the chocolate they could eat. They then met with a company member and developed marketing and design solutions for the company’s products. Students divided into teams and each team came up with a storyboard idea, presenting it to the company for future use.

“Cailler is a very strong Swiss company with excellent values and it was a great experience to work with them,” said Allyson Canonico, a senior majoring in graphic design. “It was fun to dive into the culture, learn about them and figure out what ‘Swissness’ really is.”

This is not the first time USU students have worked with the chocolate company.

“Three years ago, a team of students created a storyboard concept for a TV ad and that commercial is now being implemented by the company,” said Winward.

As part of the study abroad program, Winward has the students walk 13 miles of the St. James pilgrimage route from Schwarzenburg to Fribourg, Switzerland. Students traveled the last mile of their journey without shoes, finishing at the St. Nicholas Cathedral.

“Walking the last mile barefoot was the best part of the whole journey,” said Canonico. “Each step felt so good but at the same time was so painful. It was a very bittersweet but enriching experience.”

For more information on the Switzerland study abroad program, contact Winward at

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Writer: Kara Rindlisbacher, 435-797-9203,

Contact: Denise Albiston, 435-797-1500,

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