For a growing number of Fitchburg State students, the world is their classroom. Through study abroad opportunities ranging from one-week to full semesters, students are broadening their horizons and learning how to be resourceful citizens of an increasingly interconnected society. Our diverse campus is also enriched by an international student population, creating local opportunities for cultural exchange. The global opportunities for students are about to expand even further, thanks to one of the largest philanthropic gifts in university history.
This page includes articles that were published in the Winter 2020 edition of Contact magazine, as well as pieces that were written by Communications Media students Miguel Cintron Aguiar '20, Leanna Johnson '20, and Ashley McHugh '20.
A Transformative Gift | Teaching is Universal | More than a Game | Kindness Matters | Next Stop, the World | Dreaming on Ice | A Diverse World | Finding a Voice | Caring for All | A Bigger World | Hitting the Ground Running | Where History Endures | The Heart of Europe | Global Understanding | Beyond the Fringe
One of the largest gifts in Fitchburg State’s history establishes the Global Ambassadors Scholarship Program, creating more opportunities for students to study abroad
By Matt Bruun
Anna M. Clementi was just a child when she visited Italy for the first time with her parents, including her father, Sandro, who first immigrated to the U.S. “I can still remember the smells and the sights, and how different it was,” she said.
There were other trips back to Italy, and when she was in high school, Clementi was an exchange student with a family in Annecy, France. “It was a lot of fun, with an intense language focus, and I still have very fond memories of that experience,” she said.
Knowing how her own experiences studying abroad shaped the person she would become, Clementi is committed to creating opportunities for other students to have similar epiphanies. Twenty years ago she helped establish the Center for Italian Culture at Fitchburg State, which provides scholarship support to dozens of students seeking to expand their horizons through international travel, in addition to supporting programming on the Fitchburg State campus.
And this year Clementi, via the Clementi Family Charitable Trust, established the Global Ambassadors Scholarship Program that will greatly expand the opportunities for Fitchburg State students to study abroad. The establishing gift is one of the largest single donations in university history, and Clementi–a longtime member of Fitchburg State’s Board of Trustees–hopes the program will change lives.
“I’ve seen firsthand how the students come back transformed,” Clementi said. “They see the world with different eyes. It’s about their self-reliance and their own renewed determination. We’re creating global citizens, and that’s very important in today’s world. If every student that graduated from Fitchburg State had the opportunity to study abroad even for a little bit of time, it would be a great gift to them. They will be lifelong learners.”
Any student may apply for the scholarship program, which will cover 50 percent of the costs for students to attend one of the university’s faculty-led international trips. Students will apply for the scholarship with the endorsement of faculty, with a particular focus on first-generation students and students with no previous international travel experience.
Clementi hopes other supporters of the university will be similarly inspired. “I would invite alumni who want to participate in travel and culture to contribute to the university,” she said. “We can grow this. My dream is that as these students go along in life, they remember this opportunity and they will then provide this opportunity to others. It will multiply in many, many ways.”
By Ashley McHugh '20
Getting to teach in a foreign country is an eye opening experience that can leave a lasting impact. Several Fitchburg State faculty members spent last summer teaching in China, and discovered their own horizons broadened by the experience.
The program is part of a new Fitchburg State University collaboration with the AUIA International summer school. This program is designed for Chinese students who are enrolled in universities in the United States who wish to continue their English-language studies while visiting home.
“For me, the real treat was being completely surrounded by another culture," said Professor Jenn Berg (Mathematics). "It took long-standing assumptions about the world and made me reconsider them. Study abroad is a valuable lesson in humility, and resetting mental patterns. Much of what we do day-to-day is based off of habit and established structures others have put in place for us.”
Professor John Lohman (Business Administration) said that being abroad changed the way he saw the world. “Even at 51 years old it expanded my mind and gave depth to my understanding,” he said. “As we flew over the top of the world you could see nothing but ice and tundra for hours. The 13 hour flight gave me a new perspective on the size of the planet.”
Lohman said travelling overseas allows you to try new things and challenge yourself. “Let go of your preconceptions and open your eyes and your mind. There’s a lot more to the world than we know,” he said.
Professor David Svolba (Humanities) were also on the trip and had similar experiences. “One of the most important benefits anyone can derive from exposure to cultures different from one’s own is the reminder that culture is so variable,” said Svolba.
Professor Adem Elveren (Economics, History and Political Science) had traveled to China before, in 2005. He said he valued seeing the country again through the lens of an economist, as the nation has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth. “I have travelled over 20 countries in four continents so far,” said Elveren, who was raised in Turkey. “It was very different than teaching in an American classroom. And it was very valuable experience to work in a very different country than I am used to.” He recommends a comfortable pair of sneakers for any global traveler, along with a sense of adventure. “Make sure you go out of your comfort zone,” he said. “Don’t keep eating hamburgers or pizza, try new foods. Don’t just see the tourist places, see each corner of the city. And don’t just take taxis everywhere, use public transportation. That is how you get the real sense of that country and that culture.”
While he wasn’t part of the AUIA trip, Professor Meledath Govindan (Biology/Chemistry) taught in China during his sabbatical in 2018 and plans to return there with students in summer 2020 for a course he is teaching on the chemistry of natural products. He has also taught courses in Italy (and plans to return there in 2021) as well his native India, from which he emigrated in 1975 to pursue his PhD.
“I came with $12 in my pocket,” he said, recalling the generosity of family members in getting him to the U.S. “My coming here, and living in a different culture, I think that’s why I’m so passionate about study abroad.”
By Miguel Cintron Aguiar '20
Japan is the cultural Mecca for video games. Legendary names like Nintendo, Sega, Sony Computer Entertainment, Taito, Namco, Capcom, Square Enix, and Konami are only a few of the many Japanese game companies that ushered a golden era of video gaming in the 80s, which entered pop culture in full force.
The Game Design program in Fitchburg State University has granted students the chance to view firsthand this important piece of media history. It all started the spring of 2016, when Professor Jon Amakawa took students to the Kanagawa Institute of Technology. Throughout the years, professor Amakawa has taken students to a number of establishments, like Reitaku University and Yamaguchi University.
Denzel Weatherspoon ’19 went on this trip, and it changed his life.
Weatherspoon fell in love with the culture, and now plans to move to Japan. He is able to do so with the contacts he made while networking in the trip. “I was very surprised by how nice most people were. People were also shockingly quiet in public.” he said. He was also surprised by how clean everything was. “Japan is really big on recycling and keeping the city as clean as possible.”
He decided to learn Japanese, and is currently using it to add an extra language to his video game Obsolete Souls. “I would recommend studying abroad because you really do not know how big and varied the world is until you visit other places. It is a very eye-opening experience when it comes to one’s perception of life and the world,” he said.
Imani Hunter ’20 grew up loving anime, the fantastical Japanese animation genre. She was so thoroughly immersed that seeing Japan in person was one of her lifelong ambitions. “It was always a dream of mine,” she said. “It’s the place I’ve wanted to go more than anything.”
Hunter, who grew up in Worcester and studies computer science with a minor in game design, visited Australia in high school so knew the joys of international travel. But Japan still loomed large in her mind. When she learned that students in the game design program would have the chance to visit the country, she knew she had to be a part of it.
“I loved it,” she said, recalling her two-week trip in 2017 that included stops in Kyoto and Tokyo. “It was so fun. That’s what really solidified my wanting to go again for a longer period of time.”
She got that chance in spring 2019, when she spent a semester at Reitaku University in Japan through Fitchburg State’s exchange program. In Japan she lived in a dorm with other international students, making friends with students from South Korea and Nepal, among other places. They still keep in touch.
Hunter’s international experiences changed her.
“It definitely improved my independence,” she said. “I did a lot of things on my own, and I just matured. I can rely on myself a lot more. Experiencing the language barrier definitely matures you, especially if it’s one of your first times traveling. It’s humbling, and you learn so much.”
Professor Jon Amakawa (Communications Media) said the voyages let students meet game design professionals and students in Japan and appreciate how expansive the field is. “I think their work becomes more interesting and creative,” he said. “Most people who have studied abroad view it as a highlight of their college experience, myself included.”
Korey Kinney ’20 was looking for personal development when he signed on for the Japan trip. “I was looking to go somewhere beyond what I was used to, but with something I am used to,” he said, describing the visit’s tours of game design firms in Tokyo and Kyoto. “It’s a very weird sensation, to know something and yet be completely unaware at the same time.”
By Matt Bruun
Megan Steiger ’20 knew that traveling to Africa to teach in a Kenyan school would be a memorable experience, but she didn’t expect it to change her life.
Steiger, a native of Leicester, and Professor Nancy Murray visited the Nambale Magnet School in Kenya this summer via the Kappa Delta Pi education honor society. (Steiger is co-president of the Fitchburg State chapter, and Murray is its faculty advisor.) During her month in East Africa, Steiger said she gained a new appreciation for the comforts of home, but also affirmed her passion to serve children throughout her career.
The Nambale Magnet School is a residential school for children orphaned or otherwise rendered vulnerable by AIDS in rural western Kenya. Some students come from families who can pay to attend, while others are able to enroll because of donor support. There are 435 students at the school, ranging from pre-kindergarten to early teens, learning from 17 teachers. The classes are taught in English.
“The students’ respect for their teachers was unbelievable,” said Steiger, recalling chants of gratitude throughout their lessons. “Just being there and donating my time was so rewarding, I want to keep doing it. I didn’t realize how much a kind gesture can mean until I did this.”
“For as little as they have, the teachers do a great job differentiating instruction,” Murray added. “And they clearly love their students. If you’re a good teacher, you can teach anywhere.”
The American delegation for the recent visit included Kaitlyn Thibault, a student at the University of Rhode Island who is also involved with Kappa Delta Pi. Steiger and Thibault collaborated on a guide book for future visitors to the Kenyan school. The American visitors brought $600 in school supplies and 20 iPads that were donated by Fitchburg State, and also provided a mobile app for free that supports early childhood literacy.
Steiger and Murray have kept in frequent touch with the Nambale students and teachers online since the visit.
“We talk about wanting our students to become leaders,” Murray said. “Megan’s own philosophy before the trip was the epitome of that, and now that’s even stronger.”
By Matt Bruun
Fitchburg State’s Office of International Education in Hammond Hall is a bustling space. In addition to Director of International Education Nelly Wadsworth, Study Abroad Coordinator Nicole Salerno and International Student Coordinator Sandy Yu, visitors will see world maps and posters advertising destinations across the globe. They will also likely meet some of the dozens of international students that the university welcomes each year, some of whom work in the office as student assistants. This fall, Fitchburg State hosted 41 students representing 25 countries.
The office coordinates a variety of study abroad programs designed to let students experience the world while keeping their educational plans on track. These options include faculty-led programs that are embedded into a regular semester with an international trip over spring break as well as longer sessions that are offered during the summer.
Just in the past five years, Fitchburg State students have studied in Australia, Cape Verde, China, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Peru, Poland, South Africa, Scotland, and Thailand.
Fitchburg State also has exchange agreements with universities in China, Germany, Italy, and Japan. And there are study abroad providers with whom the university works to facilitate student travel at the semester or year-long level.
“We are here to let students know that study abroad is within reach for them, and that we can help make sure they don’t miss any steps in their academic plans,” Wadsworth said.
“Study abroad allows students to be exposed to different cultures and develop skills essential for the workforce today,” said Salerno.
By Matt Bruun
Anton Metelev ’23 loves playing ice hockey. Growing up in Kirov, Russia (northeast of Moscow), Metelev knew he would have to leave his home if he were to balance his athletic aspirations with his educational goals.
“In the Russian system, you have to pick one (between academics or athletics) when you’re 11 years old,” Metelev said. “It was my choice to study in the U.S., and my parents supported me all the way.”
He was just 15 years old when he departed for Massachusetts to study at Arlington Catholic High School, followed by two years of junior hockey before enrolling at Fitchburg State. “When I visited here I loved the coaches right away, and I liked the campus,” he said. “And the hockey program is very strong.”
He also knew that at Fitchburg State he could strike the balance he wanted between athletics and academics. As a business administration major, Metelev sees himself as an entrepreneur. He will take his hockey career as far as it can go, and then hopes to work in business. “I believe in setting almost impossible goals and trying to reach them,” he said. “If you treat your dreams as a goal, and have an idea how to reach that goal, eventually you will get there.”
“Anton is a focused young man who loves playing hockey, and he is an excellent student who is developing into one of our leaders as a freshman,” Hockey Coach Dean Fuller said. “It’s great to be able to attract a student athlete from Russia to be part of our family here at Fitchburg State.”
Metelev said he’s found a strong community of friends in the U.S. “I wouldn’t say I’m that different from American kids anymore,” he said. He also feels that his experiences in America have prepared him to go wherever he wants in the future.
“I’m a person of the world already,” he said. “I feel like I can decide anywhere I want to go, and I will be just fine.”
By Miguel Cintron Aguiar '20
Rugged trails, bugs a-plenty, torrential downpours, and unimaginably serene beauty. Costa Rica is a tropical paradise with bustling towns and friendly people, filled with marvelous sights. One of said sights are the Costa Rican rainforests, which are strikingly gorgeous, but are also a vast ecosystem that houses a plethora of fascinating organisms. At night you can hear the hum of insects and frogs, and in the morning the harmonious cacophony of bird songs.
Professor Chris Picone (Biology/Chemistry) studied Latin American ecology for nine years (1988-1997), and lived in Costa Rica for two of them. Having made many friendships and connections, he was the perfect candidate to take students for a tropical biology course overseas.
Students traveled to Costa Rica last March and got to visit hospitals, field stations within rainforests, plantations, research facilities, lakes, towns, a hot springs resort where they zip lined over rivers and more. Every day, after students were done with their activities, they were allowed to go where they pleased. Students went into cities were they could go shopping and freely sample the culture. If there was not any cities nearby, students would stay in and relax or explore the wilderness.
Students’ knowledge increased as they learned many important life lessons. “I now understand that our natural ecosystem is the life blood of our survival as a species,” said Moses Gomez ‘20.
“The hospital we spent time in was very busy, not very clean and seemed unorganized. I have learned to appreciate the hospitals and doctors’ offices we have [in the US],” added Danielle Ferreira ‘20. “My favorite memory was spending time in the emergency room of the hospital we visited, where there were so many patients waiting to be treated and there was always something to do or someone that needed help.”
Students made lasting friendships with classmates and locals of the island, something priceless that can be found while studying abroad. Going to Costa Rica widened the perspectives of students, who recommend studying abroad to their friends and family.
“What surprised me most about the experience is how much I learned about myself," said nursing student Hope Lively '20. "I had never traveled outside the country before this and I think it opened my eyes to how much is out there to explore."
Kyle Humphries ’21, majoring in biology and psychology, was delighted the trip included field research as well as meeting the local community. “We got to experience more of the culture than just the class,” he said.
“My study abroad trip to Costa Rica helped me broaden my views and understanding of a health care system outside of the U.S.,” said Jordan Ayotte ’19. “It was fascinating to see how Costa Rica culture and lifestyle influenced the health of the community. Immersing myself in the community work that we did also helped develop a sense of confidence in that I was taking on these new challenges and overcoming barriers. Overall, it helped me develop a new perspective on nursing and public health that I can incorporate into my practice for years to come.”
Ayotte has been working as a registered nurse at the Miriam Hospital in Providence since last August.
By Matt Bruun
Mingqin “Joey” Zhang is excited to stand out in a crowd. A student in Fitchburg State’s MBA program, Zhang transferred here from a larger school in Boston because he felt he was surrounded by too many fellow Chinese students there. One of the big reasons he wanted to study in the U.S. was to improve his spoken language skills, he said, and that was hard to do in that setting.
He looked at Fitchburg State, which had the academic program he wanted—an MBA with a concentration in marketing—at a greatly reduced price.
“After a couple weeks here, I felt a sense of belonging,” he said. “I’m the only Chinese student in my class and I’m there to speak out.”
That outspokenness is a change for Zhang, who said there is a tendency among Chinese students to be quiet and shy in their native country. “I’ve had a big change since I’ve been here,” he said with a broad smile. “My life is getting better now.”
“Our diverse and multicultural student population prospers in a classroom setting where free communication of ideas and knowledge empowers us to become the leaders and entrepreneurs of the future,” said Nicolas Labovitis, one of Zhang’s instructors in the MBA program and whose class includes a number of international students.
Zhang loves the ability to travel beyond the campus. In his few years in the U.S. he has already visited the West Coast and driven from Boston to the Florida Keys. “I love to share my culture with others, and learn about the differences between our cultures,” he said.
Zhang hopes to finish his MBA within the next 18 months and plans to start his own business someday, either in China or the U.S.
In the meantime, he encourages people to broaden their minds by visiting other countries. While he loves the U.S., and will recommend Fitchburg State to his friends back home, he wants his new American friends to consider traveling to China. “People should definitely go to China. You will be welcomed there,” he said. “And you will love the food.”
By Matt Bruun
When Saisha Matias ’19 left the airport after returning from a faculty-led study abroad trip to Ghana last summer, she burst into tears. “I felt like I’d left a piece of my heart behind,” she said. “It changed my life.”
Matias grew up in Worcester in a religious family that has always encouraged giving back to the community. That philosophy is part of what inspired her to make the journey to Ghana as part of a course in global nursing led by Professors Debbie Benes and Akwasi Duah from the Department of Nursing, whom Matias calls her mentors.
Matias and her classmates worked in a variety of settings during the trip, including nine hours at a community health fair. “They didn’t want us to leave,” she recalled. “They were grateful because no one had taken so much time to sit in their community. It was a very eye-opening experience. I realized how privileged we are here.”
The trip inspired Matias to continue her education in global nursing, and she is now in a PhD program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. “I didn’t expect the trip to change my life as it did,” she said. “They really need a voice, and that’s where my desire to pursue a PhD came from. I want to be a voice. Being able to go out there was the deciding factor.”
That resonates with Professor Benes, who also chairs the Nursing Department. Her own passion for community nursing has manifested in her teaching and in supervising student research into local public health projects. She leapt at the opportunity to bring that philosophy to the global stage, including recent trips to Ghana and Costa Rica.
“It gives our students exposure to an alternative health care system in a developing nation,” she said. “We go into the communities and participate in health screenings, and students get to see what public health looks like under socialized medicine. And learning what it’s like to be a minority in another country gives them a perspective for caring for people here who don’t speak the language.”
The students learn beyond that appreciation of their discipline, she said. “They’re so used to going to the phone and getting Uber to go where you want to go, and you can’t do that in Ghana,” she said. “You have to rely on each other and learn to work as a team.”
Duah said the international voyages change students in countless ways. “We are always talking about transforming our students, but how do we transform our students if we don’t give them transformative experiences?” he asked. “They change in ways you cannot use words to describe.”
Duah, who emigrated from Ghana himself, said he was gratified by Matias’ passion for helping others. “There are some things that money cannot buy. As a professor, being able to give students such an experience that so transforms them, that’s all we need.”
By Matt Bruun
Caroline Anderson ’20 grew up in Lunenburg and was nervous about being far from home when it was time to go to college. She began her studies in upstate New York, about three hours away.
“I’d never been that far from home,” she said. “So I transferred to Fitchburg State and I absolutely loved it.”
Yet Anderson’s worldview was destined to change during the course of her studies, and she’s logged many thousands of miles in the course of completing her education.
The summer of after her sophomore year, Anderson went to Verona, Italy, for Fitchburg State faculty-led courses on physiology and chemistry. The courses explored those topics through the lenses of the Mediterranean diet and the chemistry of food, the latter including tours of vineyards and cheese factories.
“Going on a faculty-led program, you get to experience it but with some structure,” she said. “By the time I was going home, I didn’t want to leave. It made me find a new love of traveling.”
In her junior year, Anderson took a course on tropical ecology that sent her to Costa Rica. The voyage included a service learning project where students dug channels for rain, as well as walking the cloud forest and assorted research projects. “Doing a lab is very structured, and you see one thing,” Anderson said. “In the field, you get see multiple things interacting with each other.”
Anderson has learned a lot about research during her time at Fitchburg State. She was part of the group of students who performed paid research into the health of the local community and ecosystem in summer 2018 (right after she got back from Italy), and also was part of the group this past summer, as a peer mentor to the new researchers. This summer she also got to present her own work from the research project at an international conference in Puerto Rico.
Her first trip to Italy was made possible through a scholarship from the university’s Center for Italian Culture, and she’s grateful for the doors it opened for her.
“Traveling abroad, you grow so much as a person,” Anderson said. “I gained so much confidence. These trips made me the person I am today.”
Anderson is looking at graduate schools after she completes her degree at Fitchburg State. As for where she studies, Anderson said her map is wide open.
By Matt Bruun
Vera Ziegler of Stuttgart, Germany, made the most of her semester at Fitchburg State. Enrolled via the university’s exchange program with Stuttgart Media University, Ziegler embraced a variety of scholastic and extracurricular opportunities to make her experience one to remember.
She was familiar with the U.S. from spending her 10th grade year with a host family outside Dallas-Fort Worth (with whom she remains close). She was eager to see another part of the U.S. and continue developing her English language skills. “What I always loved is the country has so many different climates, and so much diversity, and so much else to offer,” she said.
At Fitchburg State, those opportunities included student athletics. In Germany, Ziegler said, athletics are not so closely interwoven with academics; students who want to do sports join private clubs outside the campus. Here, she was able to join the university’s cross country team.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “We do a lot together, and winning isn’t the most important thing. It’s more about our personal progress.”
Jamie Aubuchon coaches Fitchburg State’s cross country team and said Ziegler was a great addition.
“Vera is actually our third German exchange student in the past 10 years or so, and like her German predecessors, she has a true appreciation for all the new things she is experiencing here and is always smiling and willing to participate in other non-running activities, like fund-raising and community service,” Aubuchon said.
While Ziegler had no formal competitive running experience, she distinguished herself on Fitchburg State’s team and helped them qualify for regional championships.
“Vera’s maturity shows through with simple things like asking questions and pre-planning her day to be ready for any unexpected changes in the schedule,” he said, adding that Ziegler’s English skills are also exceptional. “She understands all the subtlety of our conversations and actually laughs at my dad jokes, too. The rest of the team rolls their eyes.”
Beyond running, Ziegler also joined the school’s Dance Club and has enjoyed activities from apple picking at local orchards to going camping on Cape Cod, where she went on a whale watch. “I’d never seen a whale before in my life,” she said.
After the fall semester, Ziegler planned to visit her former host family in Texas before doing some additional travel. She will finish her studies in Germany in 2020.
By Ashley McHugh '20 and Miguel Cintron Aguiar '20
Peter Canova '20 was so in awe with history that he wanted to experience it first-hand by travelling to Verona Italy last summer on a voyage led by Photography Professor Peter Laytin (Communications Media) and History Professor Daniel Sarefield (Economics, History and Political Science). "You realize all the insecurities, such as travelling for the first time out of the country and being on your own in a foreign land. All these things holding you back are not there." Canova said. "It was a very revealing and I feel like I am a better person now than I was before.”
Jeff Andre ’10, went on the Verona trip, during his time as an undergraduate and says it changed his life. “Verona was the classroom. Professor Laytin would tell us to focus on light and space and we would take our cameras and go out and take pictures that focused on light and space, for that trip I never put my camera down for a moment,” The trip to Verona was so impactful for Jeff and it gave a stepping stone to his career. Jeff had his pictures from the trip in an exhibit in the Fitchburg Art Museum and won a contest through the exhibition. With the winnings, he got an art manager for a year and got exposure in different art museums all across Boston.
Professor Sarefield feels that these students are really taking a personal and academic risk. “When they meet the challenges of studying abroad and succeed, they become more willing to take risks in the future, to dare to dream bigger, and they set out to accomplish those dreams, it’s truly inspiring.”
Not only do students get a once in a lifetime experience, they get a more connected experience with the real world to complement their education in the classroom. This immersive hands on approach really spoke to students on this study abroad trip. “We walk Roman streets, visit the remnants of Roman homes, villas, and buildings that were central to the Roman public life and are still standing underground throughout the city,” said Sarefield. Sarefield reflected that it was remarkable to experience the sights, architecture, and artifacts where our history began. Being where we first learned about where our history began, where the Roman’s started civilization, it’s truly a remarkable experience.
Professor Laytin’s students also documented the whole trip. Through their lenses they captured the scenic and historic parts Verona has to offer. Being behind the lens creates a powerful experience, and one that Laytin has seen change people. “Seeing the self confidence slowly build as the student navigates the new culture, it is apparent in their character upon their return.” He also adds that new experiences are key to growth in others. This growth is so rewarding, and watching his students grow as individuals truly makes it all worth it.
By Leanna Johnson '20
When learning about history in class it can become easy to forget the real world ramifications. During spring break in March students enrolled in a study abroad course called The Heart of Europe that involved travelling to The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Poland, visiting Oskar Schindler’s Factory and Auschwitz-Birkenau to experience the culture surrounding them.
“I felt strongly that students needed to experience the ‘Heart of Europe’ and the best way to see this mystical part of the world would be to bring them to the two countries, particularly Germany and Poland,” said Professor Joshua Spero (Economics, History and Political Science).
The opportunity to see the monuments discussed in class gives students the real world context needed to develop an understanding “only truly possible when they experience it first-hand – and this even goes for students who’ve been abroad prior to taking my study abroad class.” Physically encountering post-Communist era Europe paired with in class discussion allows students to grasp new information regarding international business, agency, and government based on their own personal experiences, which has a longer lasting effect. This form of visual and interpersonal learning provides a deeper understanding of the curriculum other students cannot achieve sitting at a desk.
“The solemnity of Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau seems to draw the breath out of your body and soul. It is something that even the Holocaust Museum in DC, as solemn as that is, fails to capture. I believe everyone should see those places first hand. A person afterwards would only want to ensure to the best of their ability that similar acts occurring in the world today come to an immediate halt and any future sufferings are prevented,” said Philip Spadano '19, a former Marine who majored in political science and international relations.
This way of learning brings students deep inside the curriculum, making the class feel more like a conversation rather than one sided lecture.
“Spending such valuable time on the road, to witness such extraordinary cultures, with their triumphs and tragedies historically, certainly expands both faculty and student horizons,” Spero said. This sentiment was also echoed by Spadano.
“The opportunity to see first hand the places where these critical events that we had discussed in the class was a complete game-changer,” Spadano said. “The historical aspects can truly be applied when you meet the people of the cultures and nations that you’ve discussed. The potential to make contacts there would prove essential to my future.”
While abroad in Europe students were able to combine theoretical and practical approaches to gain a level of contextual learning that will carry on into their professional careers.
By Matt Bruun
Muchafara Punungwe ’21, a native of Zimbabwe, had inside knowledge when he was looking to study abroad in the United States. His older sister studied in Fitchburg State’s MBA program and worked in the Office of International Education. Even his mother had visited the campus, and loved its peaceful environs and contained size.
“When it was my turn to come to college, I decided to come here,” he said. He has found his adopted home at Fitchburg State a warm and welcoming place. “I love the community here, and how everyone gets along.”
Punungwe, 25, has noticed some major cultural differences during his time in the U.S., including a reliance by his younger peers on their cell phones. He attributes people clinging to their phones as a sign of insecurity, and wishes they would instead appreciate the value of engaging one another eye-to-eye. “After college, you still have whole other mountains to climb,” he said. “There’s more to life than college. It’s just one chapter.”
Envisioning a career on Wall Street, he decided to major in economics. However, a theater class with Professor Kelly Morgan aroused new interests. “Kelly helped me find my passion,” Punungwe said, explaining his interests in theater and public speaking. “He sees potential that sometimes we don’t see ourselves.”
“Muchafara is a very talented, funny and thoughtful individual,” Professor Morgan said. “He is socially aware and cares deeply about the community and his colleagues. He’s very civic-minded, and by that I mean not only the immediate community but the world community. He is an exceptional young man. A poet!”
Punungwe, like his sister before him, works in the Office of International Education, and tries to use his position and his oratorical skills to spread the importance of cultural exchange. “I hope to bring a better understanding of the world out there,” he said. “The less you know, the more arrogant you are. The more you know, the more humble you become. I try not to be naïve, but the more opportunities we have to meet each other, the more opportunities we have to work things out.”
By Leanna Johnson '20
Surrounded by a world of creativity, what can a person do to get noticed? Fitchburg State theater students performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland were faced with this daunting question in more ways than one. Kenzie Jacobsen '20 learned about the trip from Professor Kelly Morgan (Communications Media), who teaches theater. Donations to offset the cost of the trip are solicited at Fitchburg State's theater performances each semester.
The Fringe Festival takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland with roughly 55,000 shows over the span of a month. Students and other patrons of the arts perform an array of shows across a multitude of venues in the city. For Fitchburg State students, who make the trek to Scotland every three years, the experience extends far beyond the stage. “Your job was anything from handing out flyers to having personal conversations with people, going to other shows and saying ‘I love your show, you should come see ours.’ It taught us the standards needed to physically market and it showed us what failure is because 1 out of every 100 people you give a flyer to is going to show up,” said Jacobsen.
Students were encouraged to think creatively and strategically while promoting their show, which resulted in many memorable and teachable moments. Jacobsen reminisces about a friend she connected with while on the trip, a man named Giuseppe, that she is still in contact with today. “It was incredibly hard to ever get places to put your posters up because everybody wanted to. I ended up getting this guy to put up our poster and sat down with him and just talked politics about what it’s like living in America and for him what it’s like living in Italy and now in Scotland working at this company.”
Experiences like this made the trip priceless to these students. “The ability to put on your resume ‘I performed in a Fringe Festival show in Scotland’ or to say ‘I marketed a show in Scotland’ is something that not everybody gets to say,” Jacobsen said. "How you get noticed in a crowd depends on how willing you are to stand out."