It really is a small world © Nov. 28, 2006 Norwich University Office of Communications

Former US Ambassador to Africa, William Harrop, speaking at Norwich University during International Education Week.

photo by Jay Ericson Former US Ambassador to Africa, William Harrop, speaking at Norwich University during International Education Week.

Ryan Swalls ’03 was not prepared for whom he might run into while visiting Norwich to hear the former Ambassador to Africa, William Harrop, speak on Nov. 15 during International Education Week.

“The last time I saw her, she was sixteen,” Swalls said, referring to Desislava Slavova. The two first met five years ago while Swalls was studying abroad in Germany. At the time, Swalls had befriended a fellow NU student, Christine Evans, who turned out to be Slavova’s sister. Shortly thereafter, the Bulgarian-born Evans invited Swalls to see her home for Christmas. Although circumstances kept Evans from returning home for the holidays, Swalls did visit Bulgaria, where he was graciously hosted by Slavova and her parents.

That was in 2001. Now, five years later, the two were serendipitously reunited when Swalls returned to NU, where Slavova is currently a student. Much has changed since the two saw each other last, enough that Slavova “didn’t recognize him when he walked up to me.” Nonetheless, Slavova said she was surprised and happy to see her old friend when she realized who he was. Thanks to the study abroad program and an ongoing effort to internationalize the campus at Norwich, the world has become a much smaller place for the both of them.

International Education Week, held Nov. 8 through 16, was part of an annual nationwide celebration that highlights study abroad and student exchange programs throughout the world. At Norwich, the week is a major part of the school’s drive to increase global awareness on The Hill.

According to Norwich President Richard Schneider, the events of the week were designed “to stretch the minds and vision of our students and to reveal what they might do during their four years at Norwich with regard to studying foreign languages, studying abroad, hosting international students on our own campus, or simply being better global citizens.”

With opportunities ranging from luncheons with a German consul from Boston and a former Ambassador to Africa, to webcast conversations with students studying in Germany, to a dinner and presentation by a group that completed service learning projects in Vietnam last summer, students were introduced to the many opportunities that Norwich affords to those interested in the world at large.

Jenifer Atwood Hasenfus, Norwich’s International Student Advisor and the coordinator of the week’s events, said International Education Week was created for students “who are interested in looking for something more, something different, something they can use in the future.” She said the week shows students that “we really have a lot of international connections and things going on on campus.”

Speaking to an audience of students and professors on Nov. 8, Dr. Wolfgang Forvek, German Consul, noted that there is a need to “educate people that we need bigger dimensions to cope with the future.” Although Forvek was speaking specifically of Germany’s need to prepare for globalization, his statement also highlighted the reason that Norwich works to make its students more aware of the world around them.

“The world is increasingly inter-connected. Employers in the global marketplace need employees who can communicate across language barriers, relate to customers in diverse cultures and approach their work with a global mind-set,” Schneider wrote in an email interview. “Whether our goal is to be captains in the Army or captains of industry, we need to understand the global economy — the political, social, religious, and economic behavior patterns of our own planet.”

Harrop echoed that belief during his presentation, stating that traveling abroad and interacting with foreign students on campus “educates and broadens young Americans in understanding and relating to the world…you look at the world a little differently and understand other people’s views.”

Students attend a webcast during International Education Week.

Photo by Jay Ericson Students attend a webcast during International Education Week.

Architecture students studying in Germany this semester broadened the minds of their peers on the Northfield campus during a webcast held in Webb Hall. During the virtual conversation, the students in Europe discussed aspects of German culture that can only be understood by witnessing them firsthand. This direct connection to peers studying across the Atlantic was a remarkable benefit for the on-campus students, many of whom have plans to study in Germany at some point in their Norwich career. The ability to talk with others who are enjoying their time abroad “keeps the conversation going,” Hasenfus said. By the end of the Web cast, the groups had planned to meet online again in the upcoming weeks, fulfilling Hasenfus’s hopes that the students will keep talking.

Another way in which Norwich keeps the international world on students’ minds is through the NU VISIONS Abroad program, coordinated by the University’s Office of Volunteer Programs. The culminating event of the week was a presentation on the program’s spring 2006 service learning trip to Vietnam. Those attending The Night of A Thousand Dinners were treated to Vietnamese fare while students shared stories of their trip to the Southeast Asian country. Partnering with Clear Path International, a Vermont-based, non-profit that works to disarm landmines left over from the Vietnam War, the students were able to participate in a variety of service learning projects while experiencing Vietnamese culture. 

“There is a very large world out there that’s getting smaller,” stated Evan Spaulding ’09, during the presentation. According to Spaulding, NU VISIONS Abroad “presents a significant opportunity for people to go elsewhere in the world to learn and study.” Fellow student Stacey Pichardo ’08 said she believes that trips such as the Vietnam excursion “help to broaden your perspective. It helps in understanding why people do things a little differently than Americans do.”

Nicole DiDomenico, Director of Volunteer Programs at Norwich, said experiences such as those had in Vietnam can and do have a profound affect on students.

“Focusing international travel around the theme of service provides our students with a potentially life-changing experience,” she said. “It…allows us to address our goal of internationalizing the campus with our philosophy of service to others before self.” Moreover, international service learning projects, DiDomenico said, “allow the students to get an intimate glimpse of the country’s culture.”

Evan George ’09 recalled that “the biggest thing that I took back from the Vietnam trip is that if you just smile and you are nice to people, you can get along with them.” George said this is an invaluable lesson to learn in a world where rumors of anti-Americanism in other countries are heard daily. Through lessons gained while abroad, students are better prepared to enter a world where boundaries, both physical and technical, are being broken every day, he said.

And it’s with events such as those offered during International Education Week and programs such as NU VISIONS Abroad that Norwich is teaching its students to become more aware and connected to the world around them. And those connections, as Swalls and Slavova will tell you, will make the world a much smaller and friendlier place.