The Alps

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Given the growing spread of COVID-19, expanded travel restrictions aimed at containing the virus, and the general uncertainty regarding timelines for the lifting of travel restrictions, the School of Arts and Sciences has decided to suspend all Penn Summer Abroad programs for summer 2020.

This 12-day, hands-on program introduces you to the nature, culture, history and languages of the European Alps in Switzerland and Italy. We explore the geology of the Alps and how it influences the development of wildlife, flora, history, religion, culture and entire regions. We also investigate how humans have altered the environment and how we respond to climate change in Alpine ecosystems.

Applications open September 11, 2019
Early admission deadline Friday, January 24, 2020
Rolling admissions continue until the program reaches capacity
Final application deadline Tuesday, March 31, 2020


During the program, we observe nature in a spectacular landscape, visit cultural sites off the beaten track and engage with urban centers, such as the city of Zurich. We also get our hands dirty at historical and modern stone quarries (guided by local experts); take in geological monuments (Bergell, Ticino, Rhine Canyon); visit important cultural sites (UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Bellinzona and Rhätische Bahn, Church of Zillis–"Sistine of the Alps"); hike across mountains, glaciers and rock glaciers; study plants and wildlife; and learn about local culture and languages.

Bring your hiking boots! Physical fitness is required as we hike several hours on most days on clearly marked mountain paths. Dr. Reto Gieré, the Program Director, is an experienced mountain climber and trekker trained in first aid.

Join us for an information session to learn more about the program:

Date Time Location
Thursday, January 30 5-6 p.m. Williams Hall, Room 1
Monday, August 17, 2020 Morning arrival in Zurich
Monday, August 17, 2020 Program housing check-in date
Monday, August 17, 2020
2 p.m.
On-site orientation
Monday, August 17, 2020
2 p.m.
Classes start
Friday, August 28, 2020
7 p.m.
Classes end
Saturday, August 29, 2020 Program housing last checkout date
The Alps

August 17 - Zurich: Meet group at 2 p.m. for on-site orientation, followed by city tour

Study topics: Charlemagne and his influence in the Alpine region; from Roman city to world financial center

Overnight in Zurich, Switzerland


The Alps

August 18 - Drive via Ruinalta, Viamala and Zillis to Monte Spluga

Study topics: Rhine canyon and Flims landslide; gorges and Roman roads; language divides; Sistine of the Alps

Overnight in Monte Spluga, Italy


The Alps

August 19 - Hike through Valle Cardinello and drive to Chiavenna

Study topics: The Alps and their impacts on the Roman, Medieval and modern history of Europe

Overnight in Chiavenna, Italy


The Alps

August 20 - Chiavenna

Study topics: Strategic position and history of a key town

Overnight in Chiavenna, Italy


The Alps

August 21 - Drive through the Bergell Valley to the Engadine

Study topics: Bergell culture, people and architecture; continental divide; language divide

Overnight in Pontresina, Switzerland


The Alps

August 22 - Cog railway to Muottas Muragl and hike to rock glacier

Study subjects: Permafrost; climate change and its effects on mountain villages; farming in extreme environments

Overnight in Pontresina, Switzerland


The Alps

August 23 - Explore the Engadine, walk to Morteratsch glacier, and climb Munt Pers (3200 m)

Study topics: Traditional architecture; Ice Age; glacial retreat and effects on ecosystems, landscape and culture

Overnight in Pontresina, Switzerland


The Alps

August 24 - Drive via Bernina Pass, Cavaglia and Poschiavo to Chiareggio

Study topics: Glaciology; glacial geomorphology; history of emigration

Overnight in Chiareggio, Italy


The Alps

August 25 & 26 - Daily hikes from Chiareggio

Exact program depends on weather conditions, but we will choose from the following activities:

Rifugio del Grande, Vedretta di Vazzeda, Val Sissone
Study topics: Genesis of igneous rocks and effects on surrounding mountains

Val Ventina – Lago Pirola
Study topics: The Earth’s mantle at today’s surface; flora and fauna of the Alps

Quarries and mines in Val Malenco.
Study topics: Importance of stone quarries for the population of the Alps

Overnight in Chiareggio, Italy

The Alps

August 27 - Drive through Valtellina and along Lago di Como to Bellinzona

Study topics: Where Africa meets Europe (and the World)

Overnight in Bellinzona, Switzerland


The Alps

August 28 - Bellinzona and return via Gotthard Pass to Zurich

Study topics: Unesco World Heritage castles; Alpine landscapes; historic trade routes

Overnight in Zurich, Switzerland

The Alps

August 29 - Individual departure and return to US


All students register for a total of one course unit (c.u.)*. Course offerings are subject to change. Course registration is completed by the Penn Summer Abroad office for students who confirm their intent to enroll and submit the required pre-departure documents.


GEOL 319 (1 c.u.)

Taught by Reto Gieré

In this course, students explore natural phenomena through direct field experience and gain hands-on experience with methods used to study our environment. Students study the geology of the Alps and how it influences the development of wildlife, flora, history, religion, culture and entire regions; how humans have altered the environment; and how humans respond to climate change in Alpine ecosystems. Students prepare presentations on specific topics which are held during the field trip.

Students are housed in various hotels, hostels and mountain cabins.

Tuition and fees are subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and may change without notice.

Tuition and fees for 2020 will be posted in spring 2020. Please use 2019 costs listed below as general estimates only.

    • Tuition for summer 2019: $4,392
    • Program fee for summer 2019: $1,800
      • Penn Summer Abroad deposits ($500) will be credited to students’ accounts when final program costs are posted
      • Includes administrative costs, accommodations, all breakfasts and dinners, and excursions
    • 2019 estimated cost sheet

Payment is due according to Penn’s Student Registration and Financial Services billing schedule.

Contact Information

For details about the program, courses, or location including academic advising, travel dates, housing and orientation:

Reto Gieré

Program Director
Reto Gieré
Professor and Chair, Department of Earth and Environmental Science
University of Pennsylvania 
Tel: (215) 898-6907

For assistance with the application, financial questions, pre-departure or other general information:

Fisher-Bennett Hall
Penn Summer Abroad Office
College of Liberal and Professional Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Fisher-Bennett Hall, Room 101
3340 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19104-3335
Tel: (215) 898-7326

*Academic credit is defined by the University of Pennsylvania as a course unit (c.u.). A course unit (c.u.) is a general measure of academic work over a period of time, typically a term (semester or summer). A c.u. (or a fraction of a c.u.) represents different types of academic work across different types of academic programs and is the basic unit of progress toward a degree. One c.u. is usually converted to a four-semester-hour course.

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(215) 898-7326

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