David Allen, newly hired, hopes to expand international flavor at Norwich

David Allen, the new assistant director of the International Center and Services, at his desk at Norwich University.                                                                                      Darwrin Carozza photo

David Allen knows all about what it’s like to travel and learn in a foreign land. So it’s no surprise he is making the most out of his new occupation at the Norwich University International Center.

Hired at the beginning of February, the new assistant director for international programs and services speaks clearly on what his main goals and future projects are.

“A big initiative Norwich has at the moment is the internationalizing of the campus,” Allen said. “If we cannot bring students in, we will bring them out, so they can come back and further deepen the university community.”

Norwich prides itself in having an international perspective, and affirms in its vision statement that students will be, “American in character, yet global in perspective.” This international perspective can only be achieved by immersing the student body in the rest of the globe, and bringing international students to the university.

“By studying abroad, you have the opportunity for transformation,” Allen said. “I did not understand it when I was studying abroad, but it really does give you a different perspective of the world.”

Allen spent a year abroad in Japan after getting his degree in international education, and that helped the newly hired staffer have a direct experience of what it feels to be an international student.

“For me, I was the majority here in the States, then I went abroad and I was suddenly a minority. That concept, that culture shock, and understanding how to adapt was really beneficial,” Allen said.

Due to different reasons, in the past three years there has been a series of four different directors of the International Center. This has caused some instability in the office.

“There seemed to be a lot of turnovers in this office over the last couple of years, but I am planning to actually stay here.” Allen said. “I want to create uniformity so everybody knows what everybody is doing, and that makes us better at serving the students here at Norwich.”

The feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes forms a key part of the adjustment and learning that living in a foreign land brings. Studying abroad requires different levels of adjustment too: being away from family and friends, living in an unfamiliar environment, meeting new people, getting used to a different climate. In simple words, it is starting life all over again.

Norwich students from abroad know this all to well. “When I first came to the States, the most challenging part was to communicate,” said Denisse Zambon Regalado, 22, a senior triple-major in international studies, political science and Spanish from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. “People around me were not used to hearing and understanding my accent. It took me a while before being able to adapt to the new environment.”

Spending an extended period of time abroad means coping with a wide variety of changes that can cause high stress levels. International students are more likely to suffer depression and homesickness because of the difficulties of adapting to a new lifestyle.

Allen understands that situation, and so he does not see himself as a simple advocate and director. He also wants to be “a friendly face” to all the 79 international students currently enrolled at Norwich

“International students need somebody who can help advise them on the right track, and that is where I see myself,” Allen explained. “I always try to put myself in their perspective and try to remember from my personal experience how I used to feel. That allows me to empathize for them and helping them better.”

The unspoken rules of social interaction, the attitudes, and behaviors that characterize life in the United States are not the same as other counties. These “rules” concern not only language differences, but also wide-ranging matters such as family structure, faculty-student relationships, school/teaching system, and personal relations.

Taking care of foreign students, providing information, and assisting them during their transition and adaptation to Norwich, are just some of the tasks Allen and the staff of the International Center see as their job. Think of it not just as academic assistance but emotional care.

“The International Center has been extremely important, especially for me, as an international student here,” said Caitlin Heale, 20, a sophomore environmental science and geology major from Christchurch, New Zealand. “Keeping my visa status is imperative for me to stay in the country. Having the International Center looking after me and always be checking up to make sure I am staying eligible for my visa has been so helpful.”

“The International Center helped me with getting a job on campus, as well as getting a driver’s license,” Heale added. “I had no clue how to do any of these, I probably would not make it without their help.”

The International Center plays a critical role in the university’s vision of giving both international students and American exchange students a global perspective. Creating a network among people from different cultures and backgrounds is important in order to share a sense of understanding and tolerance towards differences.

“For Americans, American culture and customs are in the middle, and everybody else is ‘weird’ and off to the side,” Allen observed. “When you go abroad and see it in a world perspective, you understand that actually the United States is off, the ‘weird one,’ while the rest of the world is more culture together,” Allen said.

Because many American students at Norwich have never been out of the states, meeting international students will be their first encounter with all these different cultures and people. It turns out that is an important two-way street.

“We learn just as much as we teach when we come here.” Heale explained. “It’s a give and take kind of thing.”

Allen explained that, considering these differences in cultures and lifestyles, it is crucial for American students to understand that “there is a world, and then there is the United States.”

In a way, what the International Center staff is trying to foster is a sense of cultural sensitivity, which is defined as being aware that cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning them a value, positive or negative, better or worse, right or wrong.

“I believe it is positive to have many international students at Norwich because the ability for Americans to understand others’ cultures would be limited to what they read or listen to when they watch movies,” said Alissa Bissonette, 19, a sophomore accounting and business management major from Derby, Vt. “Having friends who are international students opens one’s outlook to the world, thus, opening Norwich’s mind to what the world has to offer.”

International students at Norwich impact people in different ways. Especially for students who are planning on pursuing a military career, it is fundamental to have a general knowledge of other cultures, a high priority in today’s military forces.

“I think it is essential to not only to our education, but also to our character development, to have as many international students as possible. International students expose us to new views, perspectives, cultures, and ways of life,” said Morgan Woods, 20, a junior double majoring in psychology and Spanish from Newton, Mass. “Working alongside those from other parts of world builds us as open-minded, tolerant, and diverse leaders in a growingly international society. In nearly every military career, international relations are essential.”

The number of international students at Norwich has grown considerably in recent years, according to the director of the International Center, and efforts continue to get, “more students involved and more programs available.”

“The growing participation of international studies in America has allow administrators to understand the value of a diverse student body and this does the same for American students,” said Zambon Regalado. “American students gain new cultural perspective and they learn how to be more empathetic.”

The International Center not only plays a liaison role between Norwich and international students, but promotes and assists students willing to study abroad. For the summer semester of 2018, a total of 72 applicants have applied for a session overseas, choosing Berlin (Germany), Czech Republic, Nicaragua, Singapore, Chengdu (China) among all the possible destinations provided.

“The International Center helped me to narrow down, lock in, and enhance my study abroad program,” explained Woods, who recently spent a semester in Spain. “They worked with me to help identify what I wanted to get out of my study abroad experience, and how I could best achieve it.”

Despite difficulties students might encounter while studying abroad, the benefits make it all worth it, students say.

“Everyone has their own experience, and I can’t guarantee yours will be the same, but you will learn more than you can ever imagine,” Woods said.

The benefits, beyond immersing yourself in a different culture and a life-changing opportunity for personal growth and development, also extend to creating a wider network of contacts and opportunities for a future career.

“For students willing to study abroad all I can say is: don’t think about it too much and just do it. You’ll thank me later,” Zambon Regalado said. “There is so much more of this world that we don’t know and studying abroad gives you the opportunity to get to experience something incredible.”

“If you ever even get half the chance you should do it. Being able to travel is always an amazing experience,” Heale agreed. “You never know when your opportunity to travel will close up, so take the leap when you can. That is what university is about; gathering completely new life experiences and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to better yourself.”

Comments

  1. Steven P Robinson, NUCC 79 says:

    I guess the success we had with international students in the past are a faint memory???
    I well remember the expulsion of the Iranian students in 1980 (Ed. Note: More than 75 were forced to leave, many just before graduation). I had several of the female cadets in the Rook Platoon for which I was the Cadet Lieutenant in SY 78 – 79. The next year, Cadet Parmis Talvaldari was one of my wife’s roommates. We were both very upset when President Carter expelled them. We really liked those folks, especially the young women who had gained my respect the year before.
    We had Thai, South Korean, Dominican, Argentine, Malaysian, Taiwanese, Haitian, French, Canadian, German and British students as I recall.
    The world was less easily connected, but I believe we may have actually been less insular than the current generation as we had to make person to person contact
    A big thing going for Norwich at that time was the Russian School as I recall, which could be handy to have in place considering the current state of international affairs.

    I wrote for the Guidon when I was at the Wich, likely my junior or first senior year.
    I attended full time, 9 semesters, from August 1975 – December 1979, exited with a 1.88 GPA. In the spring of 2012, I was accepted back [with Dr Vanacek’s patronage and assistance] as a nontraditional, long distance completion student. I completed the courses I needed, got the grades I needed [2 A’s] and was awarded my degree on 24 August 2013, 38 years to the day from when I reported for Rook Week. I walked across the stage the following May so my mom could see me get that sheepskin in a formal setting.
    I provided a lot of the verbiage for a “Star Wars” parody of the Corps and Commandant (Col. LaFond at the time.) I also did some “straight reporting,” like the article I did on the bomb scares. My main intramural activities were the TacAir Club (non-Arnold Air AFROTC cadets), the Tactics Club (military and role playing gaming) and the Fencing Club.

    Essayons – Steven (Who is looking forward, to my 40th and Norwich’s 200th next year. President Schneider said I could stay with my original class if I liked, and since I spent most of my effort with those men and women I have. My wife, Anita Megas, was NUCC 81.)

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