November 6, 2006

C.U.’s Exchange Program Thrives

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London, Paris, Florence, Barcelona — even Timbuktu can sound exciting for a semester abroad. But can you imagine spending months writing personal statements, applying online, filling out checks and waiting anxiously to hear a response for studying in … Ithaca? Conceiveably, it might be more likely that an international student would want to spend a first year in America soaking up the fast-paced, smog-filled, loud and crazy life of New York City or Los Angeles in Hollywood movies.

Even so, through the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) International Student Exchange program, international students come in droves — 25 to be exact. James Harte ’08, an exchange student from the University of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, stated that before beginning the application process, he had never even heard of Ithaca or Cornell. Yet, after doing his research he realized the great opportunities at Cornell.

“The courses are mind-blowing,” he said, quick to clarify that the classes at Birmingham are not so bad either. A member of the army reserve in Birmingham, Harte explained that he “wanted to take a break from the army” while he was in the United States, to concentrate more on academics and immersing himself socially.

The Cornell social scene proved to be a surprise for Harte as well. He said that the atmosphere of fraternities took some getting used to.

“I miss pubs,” he said “They’re a lot more friendly.” Overall, Harte has been making the most of his abroad experience, complete with captivating courses, a drastically new and exciting party scene, and trips to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Santa Barbara, Ca., in just one semester. “I would do it again in a second,” he said.

The CALS International Student Exchange program is unique in that it offers students a chance to bypass Cornell Abroad and go straight through the CALS office, literally exchanging with students at other schools. Australian schools seem to prefer Cornell, but students have come from Sweden, the UK, Netherlands, Mexico, Switzerland and Brazil.

Most international students who participate in the program major in food science, nutrition or applied economics and management. Yet many also make sure to expand their interests and take full advantage of Cornell opportunities during their stay.

Tamara Durham, study abroad advisor and CALS Exchange assistant, said, “Students who participate in extracurricular activities really make the most of their experience, doing as much as they can, which we encourage. The program is meant to be an academic and personal growth experience at the same time.”

Bonnie Shelley, CALS Exchange director, agreed, “The purpose of the exchange is that it is an exchange of students, academics and research. Students come here and do all these things that contribute to our university, our college and to the world in general; and then our students go over there and do the same thing.”

Jenna Hobocan ’07 participated in the program last spring at Sweden’s Uppsala University. It seemed that she could not wait to share her experiences.

“The school was the opposite of Cornell academically,” Hobocan said. Students would take one class at a time, for five weeks, two times a week — resulting in a slightly different stress level than at Cornell.

“You lose your Cornell image when you go there … you have to re-establish who you are,” she explained. Her university wasted no time in assisting her with that — pulling her almost immediately into Swedish life. While at Uppsala, Hobocan was part of a student nation, an organization that is similar to our fraternities and sororities. These student nations sponsored “gasks,” events similar to our formals, and participated in Valborg, “a day like our May Day,” Hobocan explained, where everyone floods the streets to watching boat races and pop champagne.

Hobocan had only positive things to say about Uppsala and the Swedes. She only paused in her praise of the program when explaining European perceptions of Americans.

“Sure, I would hear phrases like ‘ignorant Americans’ all the time,” she said. Yet, instead of discouraging her, Hobocan said that her experiences with abrasive Europeans resulted in strengthening her. “I went there being disappointed with our system, and after experiencing negativity and stereotypes, I became more patriotic.”

Overall, Hobocan claimed that she would never change her experiences: “I met so many different people, and learned about so many different cultures. I really became much more independent and gained essential life skills.”