International Center celebration dinner celebrates university record number of students who experienced semester abroad

Olivia Bloom said seeing the world opened her eyes.

The senior neuroscience major, Student Government Association president, cadet and enlisted U.S. Marine has traveled abroad twice during her Norwich years, to Chengdu, China, in summer 2017 and Cusco, Peru, in fall 2018. Though the experiences varied widely, both helped her grow profoundly, she said, teaching her that life can change with a handshake.

Bloom was one of several speakers Monday night at an International Center celebration dinner at Plumley Armory. About 50 people attended, including students who’d gone abroad, international students who’d recently arrived and Norwich leaders including President Richard W. Schneider, Provost Sandra Affenito, Associate Provost Natalia Blank, College of Professional Schools Dean Aron Temkin and College of Science and Mathematics Dean Michael McGinnis.

“I think of studying abroad kind of like a conversation. You can think about starting one or you can go for it and see how it turns out. And the outcomes may be beautiful.” Olivia Bloom, Norwich senior

Bloom invited attendees to shake hands with unfamiliar people at their dinner tables. That simple gesture, she said, or making eye contact, or starting a conversation can start relationships and spark learning, she said.

“I think of studying abroad kind of like a conversation,” she said. “You can think about starting one or you can go for it and see how it turns out. And the outcomes may be beautiful.”

International students mingled with American students who had studied abroad at Monday’s International Center celebration dinner at Plumley Armory. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

Norwich had many positive outcomes to celebrate, having sent a record 95 students abroad and away in the fall. Many returning-from-abroad students at Monday night’s dinner had taken Norwich Expeditions to China, France (through the European Union NATO program) or Germany (through CityLab:Berlin). The night’s cuisine — barbecued pork and chicken with baked beans and peach cobbler — was designed to welcome American students back home, or welcome international students to America.

During the dinner, Tom Blood, Norwich’s assistant director of education abroad, and Mason Gregg, a senior cybersecurity major and cadet, described the international platoon, a new Corps of Cadets section created in spring 2019 to promote abroad study, support U.S. students before and after abroad studies and support arriving international students.

Gregg, the international platoon’s officer-in-charge, said the group had grown from four cadets to 10 and seemed poised to grow more, perhaps adding specific liaisons for each of Norwich’s Expeditions. The platoon, he said, will keep dispensing information, preparing predeparture FAQ briefings, helping cadets reintegrate stateside and touting overseas study.

“Studying abroad is a really great experience,” said Gregg, who studied with the EU-NATO program in Strasbourg, France and will commission into the Marine Corps when he graduates in May.

Thy Yang, Norwich’s assistant vice president of international education, said students can gauge their abroad experience’s benefit by revisiting test questions they answered before traveling and after, such as, “How well do you ask for and receive help?” “How willing are you to face problems and find solutions?” and “How well do you interact with and relate to new people?” She said improvement in any of those skills — leadership, problem solving, relatability, social flexibility — will help students best adapt in future social and professional scenarios.

“Being abroad and away is not about the destination, it’s really about the journey,” Yang said. “The journey is just the beginning.”

Beyond Vermont

Schneider said he envisioned many more abroad beginnings, perhaps a semester or a Maymester for every future Norwich student. The goal for academic year 2020-21, he said, is to send at least 160 students abroad and away.

Schneider added that he hoped the international platoon will eventually expand into a joint combined force, including both cadets and civilian students.

International flags and giveaway Norwich Expeditions stickers decorated the tables at Monday’s International Center celebration dinner at Plumley Armory. Norwich sent a university record 95 students abroad and away in the fall. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

“I knew I had to get you out of these (Vermont) hills. As beautiful as they are, they are limiting, and it’s not a real picture of the world … it’s not the whole story,” Schneider said to the returning students, adding that Norwich built internationalization into its 2019 strategic plan. “You have a lot more of the story, a lot deeper understanding of the world than any of our students who have never gone abroad already in your young life.”

Schneider said Norwich’s first student to go to Tanzania returned to Northfield and waited more than two hours in his office for a chance to recount her worldly transformation. Sleeping on a mat in a hut, she told him, had given her new appreciation for her dormitory room.

“She walks in and says, ‘Dr. Schneider, you changed my life,’” he said.

Life-changing moment

Bloom recalled her own life-changer, a visit to the Azul Navidad community on the Peru-Bolivia border. Maybe 100 people lived there in 100 square miles, she said, subsisting on scant resources. She had delivered bread, toys and what good cheer she could.

At Monday’s International Center celebration dinner, Norwich University President Richard W. Schneider said his hope is that all future students someday spend at least a semester studying abroad or away. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

Bloom said she was so moved by what she saw that she cried on the 12-hour trip back to her accommodations. Through her tears, right in the car, she started writing, expressing gratitude for what, and who, she had in her life.

Turning to Monday’s audience, Bloom invited her fellow students to go somewhere new and be part of someone else’s struggle or triumph.

“It will never be enough and we will always be helping our whole lives or experiencing things like this community,” Bloom said, reading from what she’d written. “But as long as there are those who give, those who need will receive.

“So, don’t stop giving opportunities to yourself, don’t stop giving passion to other places,” she said. “Be uncomfortable. Take a challenge. Life is a big experience and a conversation worth having.”

(Slideshow photos by Mark Collier.)

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