Until she traveled to Spain as part of the College's Bridging Cultures program, Luisa Garcia SAS'14 had only been to two countries – the U.S. and her native Colombia.
It's safe to say that the Communication Arts and Political Science major caught the travel bug on that two-week trip – she has since collected a few pages' worth of passport stamps since then. "It was an incredible trip," she said. "Once I went to Spain, it wasn't enough."
Garcia spent the Spring 2013 semester in London, studying at Richmond University and interning for "The Today Show," and quickly discovered how easy it is to travel throughout Europe. She had saved to study abroad, but thanks to scholarships and grants, that money instead went to last-minute deals to visit Scotland, Ireland, France, Greece, and Croatia.
And she did more merely join the crowds at tourist spots.
"I tried to immerse myself as much as possible," Garcia said, "instead of, oh, let's just take photos." When she and a friend were in Dublin close to St. Patrick's Day, they headed to the bus station and asked for the cheapest ticket to another town, in search of the countryside. They found themselves in the town of Kilkenny, meeting plenty of locals and bedding down in a pub that had a couple of rooms.
That's exactly the mindset that Dr. Andre Beauzethier wants students to take away from the program, which he had overseen for 20 years before retiring this year. Beauzethier, who was also an associate professor of French, remains as an advisor.
When students return from a trip abroad – whether it's a week or a semester – "they say they are different," Beauzethier said. "They say that they are changed. They feel it. And most want to go back a second or third time."
The experience isn't always easy, Beauzethier said. Many students have limited experience with air travel, much less going overseas. "Students are nervous, but they want to go. Sometimes their families are even more nervous than them." There are the usual hurdles of language, etiquette, and diet. They might expect milk with their breakfast, or be surprised when few people speak English, Beauzethier said.
But ultimately, Beauzethier said, students return more open-minded, less afraid to meet people who have different ideas, and more willing to explore the unknown. "This is why we started this."
The Study Abroad programs at The College of New Rochelle award 3 to 15 credits, and can last for a semester or two, a month – usually over the summer, or between one and two weeks.
These Bridging Cultures courses are made up of classroom sessions during the semester followed by a trip over break to a selected country, and they have recently been opened to students in the School of Nursing, the School of New Resources, and the Graduate School. The courses can be taken as electives, but faculty make every effort to tie them to students' majors.
Beauzethier said the Bridging Cultures trips are a recent development, meant to ease first-generation college students into the idea of studying overseas. Many students and families, he said, don't immediately see the advantage.
This summer, the first SNR students took part in the Bridging Cultures program – one went to Ghana for 10 days, while the other spent 14 days in Paris. Graduate School students are planning a 10-day trip to South Africa over winter break.
During her trip to Ghana, SNR student Raynell Bridgen found trips to the Cape Coast Slave Castle and Dr. Bolling's Nursery School extremely rewarding. "Two powerful experiences -- both equally moving," she said. Of visiting the W.E.B. DuBois Pan African Cultural Center and Mausoleum, she said, "It was overwhelming to see all of the books he read and see how passionate he was about education."
Jessica Chavez SN'14 took advantage of the program's expansion, as one of a dozen students who traveled to Madrid, Barcelona, and Segovia for 10 days this past spring break.
During the semester, the group learned about their destination – culture, food, history, and social issues – with each student assigned to serve as a kind of tour guide for particular locations. She had concerns about saving money, and was surprised that servers at cafes and restaurants didn't expect to receive tips. But the native of Peru did have the advantage of being able to speak Spanish.
Chavez said the experience has made her feel more confident about traveling, and may make a point of visiting other countries instead of just visiting her home country. "I would definitely go back to Spain," she said. Also on her list are Mexico, Portugal, and France.
But the trip also gave Chavez insight related to her future profession. Her report after the trip focused on how the diversity of culture in Spain affects its universal health care system, which provides benefits even to non-citizens. She researched how providers deal with different religions and languages at their hospitals.
Beauzethier said there are plans to formalize the programs for nursing students. "We may reserve four or five families in France with medical backgrounds for students to stay with," he said.
Other specialized trips are in the works. Beauzethier said some may involve performing community work with the Ursulines in Tours, France. Another plan is to send science students to Costa Rica to study the environment. A trip not led by a language or history professor would be a first for CNR, Beauzethier said.
The Study Abroad program has come a long way in the past two decades, Beauzethier said. In the beginning, most students were sent to the University of Tours in France, with few exceptions. When Dr. Nereida Segura-Rico, Associate Professor of Spanish and chair of the department, joined the faculty, the program expanded to the University of Alicante in Spain.
Since then, by working with consortiums and other schools, CNR has been able to send students to every continent (save Antarctica, of course). In recent years, anywhere from eight8 to 30 students (in 2007) spend time studying abroad.
For many students, studying overseas simply wouldn't be possible without financial assistance. That's where the Russel and Deborah Taylor Foundation steps in.
"Without the Taylor scholarship, we would not have a Study Abroad program," Beauzethier said.
Since 1998, the foundation has paid half the cost of studying abroad for qualified students with a GPA of at least 3.0. More than 200 students have benefited from the scholarship, including Chavez and Garcia.
Dr. Russel Taylor joined the faculty of The College of New Rochelle in 1977 to establish its Business Department, but the inspiration for his scholarship goes back to 1936. That summer, Taylor – using some money he had made in the stock market -- and two college friends took an ocean liner to London. They bought an old car there and traveled throughout the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.
Not yet 20 years old, the three slept in the car, in tents on the road, and at student hostels. They even watched the Olympics in Berlin, sitting not 40 feet away from Adolf Hitler as Jesse Owens won the 100 meter dash.
"Those 11 weeks of meeting students from all over the world, and going through all those countries," Taylor said, "was probably worth at least two years of college education to me. It changed my life."
Taylor also wants to see CNR increase its enrollment, and he believes the scholarship program can serve as a valuable recruiting tool. Many students he's talked to consider time abroad the highlight of their undergraduate experience.
Hearing from the students he's helped is one of the benefits Taylor takes away from the program. "It's been a real gift to me," he said. "It's such fun as an educator."
For Garcia, the experience she's gained has proven useful as she tries to make a career of telling stories from the ground. She's been accepted into the CBS News Associates program, a 15-month stint that will send her through the networks various news programs. "I'm ready for them to send me anywhere."