Finding one’s home © March 23, 2007 Norwich University Office of Communications

Photo of José Sinclair walking in a dormitory hallway.

photo by Jay EricsonJosé Sinclair making the rounds through a dormitory.

Common wisdom tells us it’s all about the journey, but for some, the destination often eclipses the experiences of the road.

For Bizhan Yahyazadeh ’80, who was born in Abedan, Iran, the trip to Norwich was a long one.

His excursion began when he joined the Imperial Iranian Navy in the 1970s. At that time, most officer training for Iranian military personnel occurred in the United States, and as such, Yahyazadeh was first sent to the Citadel, and from there, to Norwich.

“I was part of the first [Iranian] group to come to Norwich in 1976,” Yahyazadeh said. “And when I came to Northfield…it didn’t have a place in my wildest dreams.” After growing up in the largest city in southern Iran, the small Vermont town “was a shock to my system.”

Yahyazadeh’s educational progress was interrupted by the outbreak of the Iranian Revolution. “After that…I decided I didn’t want to stay in the navy and had to go back to Iran and resign.” Returning to Norwich to finish his degree in business management was never a question. After coming back, Yahyazadeh began working as a member of the University’s grounds crew and since then has worked his way up to his current post as the University’s director of facilities. Deciding to stay at the University was easy, Yahyazadeh said. “I couldn’t find any better place than Norwich.”

But Norwich certainly gave Yahyazadeh more than a job and a degree. “When you say American Dream, meaning you start from the bottom and work your way up, I can say I did that.”

Rija Ramahatra ’05 also traveled to Norwich from far off lands and couldn’t bring himself to leave upon graduating. Hailing from Madagascar, the Assistant Director of the School of Graduate Studies said he first heard about Norwich from an uncle serving as an ambassador in Washington D.C. After graduating with a degree in Business Management, Ramahatra took a summer job working for Professor Robert Schmidt; but the summer wasn’t long enough to satisfy Ramahatra’s desire to spend more time on campus.

“I felt comfortable at Norwich, it is like a family to me,” Ramahatra said. “[So when] the School of Graduate Studies had a job opening…I applied for it and got it.”

The choice to stay after graduation was an easy one, the 29-year-old alum said. Ramahatra attributes his positive experience as a student and staffer to the friends and family that he has gained through the University. “During a rough time in my senior year,” he recalled, “President Schneider took me under his wing…and people took me in like their son.”

And with his sights set on an MBA through Norwich’s School of Graduate Studies, Ramahatra said he has no plans to leave Northfield any time soon. But that’s not the only thing that keeps him at the University. “I have found my comfort zone,” he said with pride.

The youngest international student to make the transition from classroom to cubicle is José Sinclair ’06, assistant director of residence life. His journey has taken him from his childhood, spent mostly in Panama, to Germany, where he attended military school and first learned of Norwich. After hearing about the school, he said choosing to attend Norwich for undergraduate work wasn’t a hard decision for him.

“I grew up in Panama City where there were a lot of people and we didn’t have close relationships,” Sinclair said. “So I wanted a small community where everyone knows each other.”

As a freshman, Sinclair was a member of the Corps of Cadets. That changed in his sophomore year when he learned that commissioning would not be a viable option for him due to his citizenship status. Despite the life-changing situation, Sinclair said he still had reason enough to stay at Norwich.

“I had made connections with the professors and students,” he said, “so even though I wasn’t going into the military, I had something to keep me here. I wanted to stay because I fell in love with the University.”

After graduation, Sinclair sought a job with the Residence Life Office, where he had worked as a resident assistant while attending school. And his position at the University provides yet another reason that Norwich feels like home. “The Residence Life office…we are like a family,” Sinclair said.

While leaving home to attend college can be difficult for all students, for international students the experience can be infinitely more trying. Fortunately for folks like Yahyazadeh, Ramahatra and Sinclair, their journey ended at Norwich, which is about as welcoming and friendly a place as you’ll find anywhere around the globe.

“During the last thirty years, I have been a part of this culture and I like it very much,” Yahyazadeh said. “For me, it’s as close to perfect as it gets.”