The College of Architecture is excited to announce this year we are celebrating our 45th anniversary of the storied London Study Abroad Program. What better way to celebrate this outstanding achievement than to reflect on the program through the eyes of one of our recent alums during her trip abroad.
So what does a student pack for a whole semester studying abroad? Perhaps one might jam some books, clothes, a camera and a good pair of walking shoes into a large suitcase? Well yes, and a bike in Rachel Plessing’s case because she planned on bike riding across Europe after completing the London study abroad program with Architecture Professor Rumiko Handa. After all she needed a break with the hectic schedule she’d been keeping over the last several years. As an undergraduate, Plessing was working on dual Bachelor of Science degrees, one in architecture and the other in civil engineering, a busy schedule to say the least.
“I decided to go on my cycling trip solo,” Plessing commented. “Part of the reason is I couldn't find anyone crazy enough to join me. The choice to travel alone was great because it provided me with plenty of freedom to choose the pace I wanted, to stop, to eat, to photograph, or to tour as I pleased. In the end it allowed for a truly unique and personalized experience.”
The seeds of this idea actually came from various areas but perhaps the genesis of this endeavor started during her UCARE undergrad research experience with Architecture Emeritus Professor Keith Sawyers. While an undergrad she worked on a state of Nebraska architectural guidebook. A good portion of her time was dedicated to researching the architectural history of Omaha including its architectural landmarks and historic districts. So it is not too surprising that sometimes the conversations turned to travel. Sawyers would often talk about his extensive world travels with great enthusiasm and detail. He also led the study abroad program for 6 years respectively ’72, ’82, ’89, ’96, ’99, and ’06. So recommending the program to Rachel was an obvious choice.
”Keith is the person who really encouraged me to study abroad and inspired me to find a way to explore the world,” Plessing said.
One might wonder how physically straining biking across Europe would be, well not too strenuous for Plessing. Biking riding had been another longtime passion for Plessing. In fact during the summers, she would race bikes. With all that racing Plessing was already physically fit enough to handle the pancake-flat city of London but the hills of Tuscany and the French Alps were, to say the least, a bit more challenging.
“I've always loved biking, and it seemed like the perfect way to not only see some of Europe's iconic landmarks, but to really see and understand the world between landmarks. It took me off the beaten path, which is where some of the most beautiful places tended to be. Riding has always helped me relax, and the casual pace made it easier to discover things I would not have noticed from a tour bus, car or train. It allowed me to stop and take photos whenever I found a view or object that was inspiring. I could stop for a picnic wherever it looked comfortable and talk with people in the places I passed.”
With a well-laid trip itinerary, Plessing made her way through France and Italy. She started in St. Malo in northwest France and rode southeast through the countryside to the Loire Valley where she toured several beautiful chateaux. Later, she took a train to Grenoble, at the base of the Alps, and rode over, yes over, the Alps into Italy. She spent a few days in Lake Como before taking another train south to bike through Tuscany.
“I really liked the various hill towns in Tuscany. The densely packed buildings within the town walls made for great spaces including narrow winding streets and large piazzas. It was fun to simply wander through the different streets.”
As she traveled from town to town and through the countryside it was hard not to see the buildings and landscape colored by the architectural lens. The architectural education just doesn’t fade away on vacation, in fact it solidifies it. Perhaps Plessing’s study abroad program in the spring was the prefect precursor for the second half of her trip.
“London was an absolutely wonderful city to live in,” explained Plessing. “After living in the Midwest my whole life, it was a great experience to live in a large city, especially one with so much history. My greatest architectural take away from the study aboard program was a new perspective on the urban environment: how people occupy space and use their environment. It definitely has had a huge impact on how I view the priorities of building and urban design.”
At the end of her trip, Plessing’s family met her in Rome where they spent a week together before heading back to the United States.
At the journey’s end Plessing returned to UNL to finish that dual degree and later her Master’s of Architecture which she completed in May of 2015.
Now Plessing has an architecture intern job lined up in Denver, Colorado at the architectural firm H+L. After her internship Plessing’s goal is to become a licensed architect.
“I've especially enjoyed working on healthcare and educational buildings, so specializing in those areas of design is something I may pursue.”
However before her internship ends don’t be surprised to see Plessing hitting the rocky biking trails of Denver, Colorado.