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Students get more than academics when studying abroad

By David Rhoden and Siena Morgan
On February 10, 2011

After a long flight, the plane finally lands. As the 20-year-old from Virginia shuffles his way off the crowded airplane, he realizes how thirsty he is.

The college sophomore begins to navigate the maze of people and security to find  bottled water.

When he approached the counter, he asked for a bottle of water, but had to do so in Chinese. But, he did not use the correct word for water.

He accidentally asked for a "bottle of handsome."

Josh Pivirotto, an international studies major, is one of many Norwich students who spent time learning about and studying in another country over the past year.

Pivirotto spent two months in Beijing, China, as a foreign exchange student. "It was a huge culture shock. I got over that pretty quickly and just started accepting the culture for what it was," said Pivirotto, recalling the bottled water story.

More college students are deciding to study abroad, including students at Norwich.

Since 2000, there has been a 130 percent in the number of students, according to Vistawide World Languages and Cultures. About 262,000 students studied abroad in the 2007-2008 school year, about one-third of the total number of college students.

Norwich contributes about 40 students to the statistic per year, according to Sally Gonzalez, international advisor. "Norwich encourages all students to consider an international experience and we can't emphasize enough how critical it is to begin planning early on in your college career," she said.

Students are beginning to learn the benefits of study abroad, with companies going global, and many degrees becoming global as well. Go offers programs that help students studying in business and finance, to give students a better view of the corporate atmosphere they might be working in. The programs are "designed to help students understand the complexities concerning environmental, development, and globalization issues and the role they can play as global citizens."

While Norwich does not have any one formal study abroad program, the university provides an International Center to help students put together programs and work with third-party providers, Gonzalez said.

For students in the Corps of Cadets, there is the option of an exchange program with l'Ecole Speciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr. This program is based on application, language proficiency, academic qualifications and a personal interview, said Gonzalez. The program is on a one-to-one basis as well, with each school sending only a select number of students.

However, students in the Corps are not limited to the Saint-Cyr program, and can participate in other programs if they get clearance from their ROTC units if they are planning on commissioning.

For all students, the choice to study abroad takes both academic and financial planning.

Kevin Martel, 20, a history major from Walpole, N.H., is planning his second trip abroad for next fall.

On his first trip, he studied over the summer in China, which he said helped with his minor in Chinese. "It's the best way to go, especially learning the language," Martel said, "I really understood it more, and actually got a lot more out of it."

Martel said, "The experience was life-changing, to be in the position where you don't even know how to get a cup of water, we take that for granted."

Next fall, Martel will be studying in Sydney, Australia, for the semester.

Michelle Austin, 20, a junior international studies major from Bowie, Md., studied in Australia over a summer semester. She picked the program herself and said she "got some help from the International Office about some programs. Once I found my program it was like clockwork."

Austin received a $1,000 scholarship to help pay for her trip, and encourages others to do the same. "Apply for scholarships from anywhere," she said.

Study abroad programs can be found through other schools or from independent companies that specialize in helping students study abroad. "Definitely pick a program that is legitimate. My program did almost all the work for me. Pick a program that is used by a lot of people so you don't get ripped off," Austin said.

Hai Nguyen, a 22-year-old senior criminal justice major from Utica N.Y., went on an exchange program to South Korea.

"I didn't know what South Korea was all about I just wanted to go overseas and travel," Nguyen said. "But when I got there it (was) just amazing; great people, great site seeing, great food."

Several students took part last year in a foreign exchange program to different countries overseas. From South Korea, to Australia students traveled around the world participating in exchange programs.

"I was always interested in studying abroad, so I just walked down and talked to the study abroad advisory," said Brian Von Hone, a 21-year-old senior computer security major from Marlborough, Conn.

Vincent Lally, a 22-year-old senior computer security major from Sparta, N.J., couldn't think of being roommates with anyone else, so he decided to go along with Von Hone for the trip.

Von Hone and Lally have been roommates for three years, and have done everything together. They both traveled to the Czech Republic.

The International Office has many people willing to help with planning, as well as financial assistance and grants for those who apply, according to Gonzalez.

The benefits of studying abroad can be counted in many different statistics, but from those who have experienced it, "it is the experience of a lifetime."

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