For the first time, a student from AHRC New York City’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program (MRHEP) and a peer mentor participated in a study abroad program, thanks to a partnership with the Global Engagement Office and the Business Department at the College of Staten Island (CSI).

I liked the culture, the arts, religion, the food–I learned about everything,” said James Devine, a junior at the MRHEP at CSI, after returning recently from a 10-day trip to Florence, Italy. He was among a group of CSI business students to travel abroad and learn about international business. ”I am very responsible. I learned to enjoy life in different countries and get to know other people.”

Ife Okoh, Program Director of the MRHEP at CSI, who championed this opportunity, spent months working on logistics, funding, and all the details needed to make this a reality.

Studying Business in Florence

James enjoyed the social and educational parts of the trip, said Esteban Gonzalez, James’ peer mentor, who will be a CSI senior in the fall. “When we landed, he made friends almost immediately.” They joined some of the students on a trip to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and later a group of 15 enjoyed dinner together. “I’ve been in classes with James and he doesn’t usually talk to other people in class unless it’s a group project,” Esteban said. “In this group, he was chatting with everyone. He’s already invited his new friends to his home when the pool is ready.

The Italian International Institute hosted the program. James, a marketing/business major, enjoyed learning about different Italian businesses, including leather, fine interiors, winery, a restaurant and cooking school.  “I’m honored to be the first person (in MRHEP) to study abroad,” he said.

Esteban will be a senior in the fall and has worked full-time with MRHEP while pursuing his bachelor’s in psychology for the past four years.

‘Breaking Every Boundary’

For James, this was the first time he was going off of Staten Island without his parents,” said Michael Prindle, MRHEP Supervisor at CSI. “He has taken trips with his parents, but this is way beyond anything they expected him to be doing. We’re breaking every boundary he has ever had.”

And with this opportunity came expectations, Michael said. “With a mix of social and academics, we wanted James to learn about business in Italy, while enjoying the experience and venturing out into the community.”

“This was a big step up for him,” said Judy Devine, James’ mom, who admits she was nervous about him traveling to Italy. “To see him making really smart decisions and be aware … he learned a couple of important lessons about what he can do on his own and when he needs help. It was a good growth experience for him.” It was an age-appropriate experience, Judy added, and James was thrilled to be a part of it.

This was 100 percent doable,” Esteban said. “The professor told me throughout the day how impressed he was with James — understanding the lectures and asking questions, and told me how good of a job I was doing.”

Hope for Others to Have the Same Opportunity

When I asked James what was his favorite part of the trip, he said, ‘the first day, because it started everything,” Esteban recalled. “I had to agree.”

While the trip may be over, the memories from this experience linger for James and Esteban.

My hope from this trip is that we can allow other people from the program to have the same opportunity,” Esteban said.