When Fiona Moorehead left for England last Saturday, she was embarking on a journey in search of her roots.
The 20-year-old Pasadena City College student, who came to the United States with her parents at the age of 3, went on the trip with the hope that it will give her a better understanding of the British culture she experienced in her home as she grew up in Sierra Madre.
"I kind of consider myself an American . . . but I'm used to England because my parents kept up a lot of the customs when I was young," she said, mentioning the tea and crumpet ritual after school each day.
"I was considering taking a trip there," Moorehead said, but added that she could not afford such expense for a brief vacation.
Trip Became Possible
Moorehead's dreams of a trip to England became a possibility when her college announced in September that it would offer its first semester-abroad program this spring and that it would be based at Oxford University, 50 miles northwest of London.
She submitted an essay on how she hoped to benefit from the trip, along with two letters of recommendation, and the dream became reality when she and 43 other students and three city college professors, flew out of Los Angeles International Airport.
The students will take courses from Pasadena City College professors in rooms rented from Oxford and will live with British families until June.
Moorehead said she saved her money and got help from her parents for the semester abroad, which costs $2,700 and includes round-trip air fare and room and board. She also must pay the regular $50 fee charged to all students who take a full course load at Pasadena.
Henry Kirk, city college vice president and the administrator coordinating the semester at Oxford, said the program is designed to place humanities classes in an environment that can supplement the classroom. The Oxford trip also gives the Pasadena students an opportunity to go abroad for their studies, an option usually reserved for four-year universities through a number of programs with the junior year abroad.
"Our people are just going into the university their junior year and cannot participate in those programs, so this gives the student the opportunity to go abroad," Kirk said.
Pasadena is the only community college in the San Gabriel Valley that offers a semester abroad. And although community colleges traditionally have not offered programs abroad, Santa Monica College will send a group of students to Cambridge, England, for the first time this year, and Santa Barbara City College will offer its semester in Guildford, England, for the third consecutive year.
Will Teach Literature
Leonard Franco, a Pasadena English professor who will teach literature classes on the Oxford campus, said the program's first priority is its emphasis on studies. Franco said that students must take from 16 to 18 units of core English and history classes, and that credit for those classes can be transferred to the University of California or other four-year universities.
Pasadena students will take two history classes during the first seven weeks of the semester abroad and two literature courses the next seven weeks. A 14-week class entitled "Humanities Through the Arts" is also required, and students can choose up to three one-credit electives focusing on William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill or William Wordsworth.
Although the program puts an emphasis on scholarship, many students think they will get even more out of the experience of living in a different country.
Jennifer Bird, 20, a student from Sierra Madre, had planned to transfer to a four-year university this term but decided to wait until after she finished the semester at Oxford.
'Can't Pass Up Experience'
"I already have the 60 (junior college) units that I need to transfer, but I can't pass up this experience," she said.
Gabrielle Meindl, 20, whose mother was born in Scotland, said, "Nothing in the classroom will be as valuable as being away from home."
Meindl, who will transfer to UCLA in the fall after six semesters at Pasadena, said that she traveled around England last summer but did not think being there as a tourist gave her an accurate portrait of British life. "I thought studying there would give me a better feeling about the place," she said.
Franco, one of two English professors making the trip, sees the program as an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in British life. "Living with a family will provide a marvelous sampling of British culture," he said.
The Consortium for International Education, a nonprofit group that handles travel and living arrangements for more than 40 U.S. colleges with international academic programs, questioned the Pasadena students before they left on what kind of families they wanted to live with and then arranged accommodations.