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Currents: global beginnings

First-Year Students Looking for Adventure in France and Italy Through New Global Beginnings Program

In the fall of 2009, 32 of Colby-Sawyer College's incoming freshmen have begun their studies far from our bucolic New London, N.H., campus. These adventurous students are now experiencing their first semester of college life in a new study abroad program, Global Beginnings, which recently whisked them away to Florence, Italy, and to Paris and Strasbourg, France.

Colby-Sawyer created Global Beginnings through a partnership with Customized Educational Programs Abroad (CEPA) and the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). The first semester of freshmen year is a convenient time to study abroad, according to the college's senior staff, because students have not yet committed to an academic major or begun to focus on their major course requirements and internships.

Global Beginnings may make international study and travel possible for many more Colby-Sawyer students, says Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculty Deborah Taylor, and accelerate the college's efforts to encourage students to develop global perspectives.

“In the past, our students weren't able to use their financial aid for international programs and so study abroad occurred one student at a time and was very difficult to accomplish,” Vice President Taylor explains. “With the Global Beginnings program they can apply their financial aid, which opens the door for more students to take this opportunity.”

Sixteen students from six U.S. states and five countries, Great Britain, Romania, Paraguay, Nepal and China, will spend their semester in Strasbourg and Paris, France. The other 18 students hail from eight U.S. states and from China and Azerbaijan.

Jessica Walton '13, a first-year student from Massachusetts, visited Colby-Sawyer in fall 2008 and liked the people, the beauty of the campus and its close proximity to her hometown. She chose Colby-Sawyer because she felt she would fit in well and she was already planning to study abroad in her junior year when she received an e-mail from Admissions about the Global Beginnings program. “I opened the e-mail and knew that no matter what, I was going,” she says. “I was ecstatic when I found out that freshmen could spend three months in another country.”

Walton had traveled to Northern France last year through her high school, an experience that made her realize how much she wanted to travel the world. She has chosen Italy for her first semester of college and hopes her five years of Spanish will help her with learning Italian. “I would say that I'm both excited and nervous, excited to live in Italy for three months and nervous about missing home too much to enjoy the experience. I know that it will be totally worth it.”

Walton plans to study Studio Art, with a concentration in photography, and believes her study and travel in Italy will lay the groundwork for her field of study. “I think that three months in such a beautiful country ...there would be no better place for a photographer to prepare for (her) college studies.”

Maria Cimpean, a well-traveled international student from Romania, first learned about Colby-Sawyer College and its Global Beginnings program through College Board, an online international service that helps to match students with the kinds of colleges that will meet their needs. Cimpean was searching for a small college where she would be able to get to know her professors and be better able to communicate with them.

“I noticed that everyone is really friendly (at Colby-Sawyer) and I think the relaxed atmosphere will encourage participation in class discussion,” she says. “I keep having this picture in my head of a big family when I think of Colby-Sawyer. I believe it's important to feel there are people who care about you when you're so far away from home.”

Cimpean has traveled in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Austria and Hungary, and this fall she'll spend her first semester in France. “I have always wanted to visit France, especially Paris, and now I feel that my dream is finally going to come true,” she says. “Strasbourg is situated close to the border with Germany, and it's the home of various European institutions, such as the European Parliament. The city also has a long history of higher education excellence, so I expect to be challenged every day of my stay there, in and outside the classroom.”

In Romania, Cimpean studied English and French in high school, and she's not at all worried about spending her first semester of college in Europe, which is close to her home country. “I think I owe my 'preparation' for this experience to my French high school teacher, who brought videos and maps of Paris to class and described the capital of France to us with such passion that I am pretty sure each of my former peers dreams of visiting it.” She adds: “I've traveled a lot in Europe so you could say that I am more concerned about the United States than Europe.”

She plans to major in Biology, with a concentration in Pre-Med, and feels the Global Beginnings program will help prepare her for what lies ahead. “Studying in a foreign country will make me more flexible and I will learn to adapt to different ways of life. Samuel Johnson once said that 'All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.' I am sure that I'll have a lot to learn from France and the French people.”

When searching for a college, Aynsley Doyle particularly liked Colby-Sawyer's library (built from three pre-Civil War barns) and its student-run community radio station (WSCS-FM), but the new Global Beginnings program sealed the deal for her. “I thought that out of all the colleges I wanted to go to, the opportunity to go to Italy for a semester beat out all other options,” she says. “I am just excited to get to live in a new culture. I feel like when you are just vacationing in a foreign country you might not get the local experience, which is what I'm hoping to get.”

Doyle traveled abroad just once before, to Ireland as a six year old, but she barely remembers the experience. Along with her excitement, she admits to feeling “super scared” about her upcoming semester in Florence, Italy. Yet she's putting her anxiety aside, knowing that many of her peers are likely to feel the same way. “I know it's going to be an amazing experience so I'm more or less making myself do this. This is my first big adventure,” she says.

First Chance to Meet

The Global Beginnings students arrived on campus in mid-August to meet each other for the first time and go through their own two-week orientation program. Coordinated by Campus Activities Director Sharon Williamson, this orientation combined the students' first two weeks of academic classes, along with library workshops, cooking classes, a hike up Mt. Kearsarge, and many other social and recreational activities.

One afternoon during Orientation, Mayra Padilla, a new student from London, England, who plans to major in Business Administration, watched quietly as the other students tried their hand at making Rice Krispy Treats during a cooking lesson in the Dining Hall's kitchen. Payra was born in Ecuador, grew up in London and later attended boarding schools in Massachusetts and North Carolina. She chose Colby-Sawyer because she wanted to be in a small school and small town environment. “I decided it'd be a good idea not to jump into a huge environment since I'd come from small schools.”

Asked if Orientation was helping her prepare for her journey to France, Padilla shook her head. “Personally, I've been to France many times; I live right next to it,” she says. “But it's helping make sure we don't get behind in our classes and helping us get to know everyone in the program. Usually I'm a very shy person, but I pretty much know everybody now. The people going to France are open and outgoing. We're all staying in a chateau, so that will be very nice!” Yet she adds that the program has also been intense and quite stressful at times. “We've had to do three-quarters of our course work for the semester in two weeks,” she says.

Framingham, Mass. resident David Hart also chose to study in France for his first semester. At this point, he plans to study History, Society and Culture at Colby-Sawyer, with a minor in Psychology. “I like the liberal arts and when I visited the campus I really liked the atmosphere and the people. When I saw that the study abroad program cost the same as a semester on campus, I saw no reason not to go; it was the perfect opportunity to experience a completely different culture,” he said.

Like many first-year students, Hart worried a bit that he might have a “nervous breakdown” when his parents drove off and left him on campus, and yet here he stands, nearly two weeks later, smiling and chatting with other students like they're old friends. “There's no high school drama here; everyone is talking to everyone else. I like having the down time to get to know everyone,” he says. “It's a very social atmosphere.”

Off to Europe

Following Orientation, the new friends split up, with one group heading off to Florence, Italy, with Humanities Assistant Professor and poet Ewa Chrusciel, and the other to Paris and Strasbourg, France, with Natural Sciences Professor Bill Thomas.

After two days in Florence, Professor Chrusciel sent an e-mail to many of her friends on campus describing their arrival and first impressions. After an orientation focused on safety, the group took a guided tour of the city and its historic sites, punctuated by stops for gelato, espresso and a couple visits to trattorias for their meals.

“Even though the students are still combating the jetlag, all I could see today was the faces of sunflowers – opening up and brightening (especially after we went to gelateria),” she wrote. “The whole day was packed with multifarious activities and filled with joy. The joy of new places. The joy of encountering the Beauty all around us.”

Meanwhile, Professor Thomas and his crew arrived in Paris, France, where they started off with a private tour of the Versailles chateau and a picnic in its garden, followed by visits in subsequent days to the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay, Montmartre and the Centre Pompidou, the Eiffel Tower, the catacombs and the Musee d'Art et de l'Histoire du Judaisme, along with a boat trip along the River Seine.

“It is amazing to think that we have been here over a week already and that we will be leaving for our five-day trip to Strasbourg early tomorrow,” wrote Professor Thomas. ”It has been a bit of a whirlwind, to be sure, with little time to write updates. The class has the responsibility to record and share our time here, and they will be doing that once life settles down for us at the chateau.”

The Global Beginnings students will continue their adventures in Italy and France, returning to New London, N.H., to meet the rest of their classmates in the spring. Until then, they will keep in touch with their home campus via Blackboard, an online communications tool used by the college community, sharing their experiences through comments and images. From here in New London, we'll enjoy their adventures vicariously, and await the next posting.

-Kimberly Swick Slover