“When we’re comfortable, we tend to put ourselves into a little box and get used to traveling from our home to campus and back again, making that your whole world,” says Mariam Sarkessian, a native of Malvern, Pa., about deciding to spend her junior year studying at the University of Nancy in France.
With an adventurous attitude and financial support from the Phillip N. Stan, III and Andrea McHugh Study Abroad/Internship Professional Experience Grant, Sarkessian enrolled in a nine-month program to earn a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.
Sarkessian found things to adjust to from the day she arrived in France. “Right as we got there, the apartments where I was staying, along with several other students in the study abroad program, had a power outage. We were without power for the first two weeks,” says Sarkessian. “No computers, no internet, no blow dryers, no refrigerator. None of the comforts many of us were used to.”
For Sarkessian, a business management major with a minor in music for voice, the real awakening was the classes. “The set up and structure of the classes was one of the biggest culture shocks. Everything was in one building, class schedules changed from week to week, the vacation schedule was entirely different, and each class was three hours long.”
The French education system stresses organization, self-motivation, independence and collaboration. Fortunately, her Bloomsburg business classes included many group projects. Each of her classes in France included two group projects, and in some, “that was the scope of the entire class,” she says. “We were given a group project and then that was it, we just had to complete that project and for that class.”
Outside of school, Sarkessian lived like a local, shopping at neighborhood grocery stores and dining in neighborhood cafes. “It was a lot more relaxing pace and healthier lifestyle than life in the U.S.,” Sarkessian says. “When we weren’t rushing to classes, we could walk to almost anywhere we wanted to go and nearly all the food was organic or locally grown.”
Along with completing an accelerated bachelor’s degree program, her scholarship made it possible for Sarkessian to travel to 36 cities in 10 countries by train, plane, bus and automobile. “Traveling by yourself in an unfamiliar place forces you to learn a lot about yourself pretty quickly,” she adds. “You discover more about your own strengths and weaknesses and how you will respond to challenges when they come up.”
At the recent Career Connections Expo held on BU’s campus as part of the Professional U initiative, Sarkessian updated her resume to include her study abroad experience. She asked employers if they offered opportunities in the areas of international business and project management.
“Through this entire experience, I was exposed to an amazing amount of different work styles and cultures,” says Sarkessian. “But after seeing how the work I might do would be applied in an actual international setting, I became much more confident about turning this into a career after college.” •
Tom Schaeffer is communications coordinator for the Bloomsburg University Foundation.
SIDEBAR: A Global Classroom
For Bloomsburg students, the world is increasingly their classroom. Last year, more than 100 students studied abroad in 15 countries that included France, Denmark and Ireland. And in 2017, the number of students going abroad will likely go up.
Already this year, 39 students have returned from a winter experience in Poland, Hungary and Austria. Later this summer, groups of students will explore China, London, Italy, Norway and Morocco.
“Studying abroad can be a transformative experience for a student,” says Nawal Bonomo, director of Global and Multicultural Education. “Students not only learn about life in other countries, they gain new perspective on our own nation and culture.”
At Bloomsburg, students have the option of studying abroad on short-term, faculty-led trips or spending a semester or academic year at a university abroad through an exchange program, a direct program, or through a third party provider. Long-term exchange programs allow students to earn credits at an international institution that apply to their studies at BU.
Opportunities to study through exchange programs continue to grow, with exchange agreements at 15 universities world-wide. “Students have become very interested in Australia,” says Bonomo. “Thanks to a direct agreement with Victoria University in Melbourne, students are now able to study abroad there at an affordable cost.”
Learn more about Bloomsburg’s study abroad programs at bloomu.edu/global-education.