International Education

Grand Valley's foreign and study abroad students become global citizens

AuthurIt seemed natural that Arthur Ogorzaleg would teach the Michigan history class. After all, as a camp counselor, he taught outdoor education classes and was well liked by Muskegon campers.

Did it matter that he was a native of Krakow, Poland? Not at all, he said.

"I was teaching the ropes course, sailing and climbing; then they asked me to teach Michigan history," he said. "It seemed almost natural."

One of Grand Valley's international students, Ogorzaleg said he prides himself on his ability to adapt to different situations.

Adapting and transitioning - whether it's moving to a new, unfamiliar country or eating strange foods - seems second nature to international students. They are adventurous, outgoing and self-sufficient. More than 140 students from other countries call Grand Valley home, and most truly do make it their home.

Ogorzaleg landed in Muskegon four years ago as part of MCA International. He remembered attending orientation in New York with thousands of others. "Then they said, "You're going to Michigan,' and I was put on a flight to Cleveland, then picked up at the Grand Rapids airport by the camp director," he said.

Ogorzaleg worked in Muskegon for two years and then considered going back to school, building on his undergraduate degree from the Cracow University of Economics. Ogorzaleg liked what he read about Grand Valley's Master's of Business Administration program and enjoyed even more the help he received from the Admissions and International Education departments.

"They really take care of us, helping with paperwork and visas," he said.

Kate Stoetzner meets all international students. As director of International Student and Scholar Services, her job involves easing the transition from home country to Allendale. Before students arrive at Grand Valley, they know Stoetzner well. She acts as a travel agent, then - upon arrival - orientation leader, paperwork guru and adviser.

In addition to meeting GVSU's academic requirements for admission, international students have to take an English language test and show financial proof that they are able to support themselves for one year. Stoetzner said most students are seeking a degree, a smaller percentage study at Grand Valley for a semester or two. She said they choose Grand Valley for many of the same reasons as traditional students.

"They like the academic programs and the small classroom size. They like that it's a safe campus," she said. "Also, a surprising amount of students already know someone here."

Varee Jaruwongpan left Bangkok, Thailand, to spend her last two years of high school at Unity Christian in Hudsonville. She entered Grand Valley to stay in the area she had grown to like so much.

Varee"It's not too clustered here," said Jaruwongpan, an advertising and public relations major. "At home, I live in a big city and everyone is so rushed."

Jaruwongpan said she enjoys being a college student in America. She attends Grand Valley's Campus Ministry services, works at Zumberge Library and likes watching television and reading. What she most treasures, however, is her independence.

"If I was at home, I would be in my mom's circle," Jaruwongpan, 20, said. "It would be almost like I wouldn't know what to decide for myself. Here, I have had to do things without anyone telling me what to do, and sometimes it's learning the harsh way."

Like finances, for example. Jaruwongpan laughed when she said learning to manage a bank account was a trial-and-error process.

"But it has helped me feel more confident," she said.

Ogorzaleg, who speaks English, Polish and German, said traveling abroad has aided his confidence and increased his employment marketability. In the spring, he interned with an area global finance company.

"If you stay in one area, you become used to what you see and do there and you don't see anything else," he said. "When you go abroad, you see what people do, and how things are different. Otherwise people begin to think that people in certain nations are good and other nations are bad.

"You figure that out only if - and when - you go abroad. You become more tolerant and it helps build your personality."

Because of their outgoing personalities, it's easy for international students to make friends on campus; although Stoetzner said they tend to hang around with other foreign students.

"They are really good about trying to meet domestic students, but their core group of friends is international. I think that's natural, because they come from such similar experiences," she said.

And travel has been a constant in their lives. Ogorzaleg said he was surprised to learn that a small percentage of Grand Valley students participate in study abroad programs.

"I was surprised that lots of students have not been abroad or even out of Michigan," he said. "I took a friend to Chicago and that was the first time he was there. I was fortunate; I had the chance to travel across Europe.

"Travel broadens your mind and opens your horizon to a multicultural society."

Stoetzner said the same thing about working and socializing with international students.

"They bring a sense of different interests, a sense of sophistication," she said. "They add everything to this campus. It's easy to be touched by the students, they bring a reality of their countries and cultures."

Study abroad: A bug worth catching

You can easily spot the ones who've caught it. They are self-assured, passionate and have their goals laid out before them. They've caught the travel bug. And if you ask about their adventures, get ready for wild stories and a slew of pictures.

They are Grand Valley students who have broadened their horizons by packing their bags and heading to a foreign land. About 360 Grand Valley students study abroad each year; a record number of students took courses overseas last winter.

"We want to help students understand the value of studying abroad," said Wendy Wenner, dean of the College of University- Wide Interdisciplinary Initiatives, "This generation, more so than any other, will be defined as global citizens. It is not unusual to be well-traveled and we here at Grand Valley have to prepare them for that."

ShantelleWith hundreds of opportunities available, students can hand-pick the country where they would like to study. The rest is handled through Grand Valley's Office of International Education.

"The key is finding the program that is just right for you," said Meaghann Myers, coordinator of Program Services and Outreach. "The opportunities are endless and we can help students narrow down a program that will best suit their needs."

Ideally, the planning process should start six months to one year before traveling. Programs range from internships to service learning and from volunteering to taking courses. Some last for a semester; others last up to a year.

The Office of International Education, in the Student Services Building, has a resource room filled with pictures and information on programs. It is staffed with peer advisers who have studied abroad and can answers questions from culture, political systems and language, to luggage and airline tickets.

Myers, who traveled as a student to China, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, would like to see Grand Valley's campus internationalized. "We have never had a student come back and regret the trip. In fact, most come back ready to plan another adventure," she said.

'Pushers' in Japan have unusual jobs

You could call Shantelle Guyton the poster child for studying abroad. The 22-year-old senior has studied in Europe, Argentina and Japan. After spending a year at the International Christian University in Japan, she came back a different person.

"I am more mindful of people and the events surrounding me. I was able to get a different perspective on world events," she said.

Guyton took courses that complemented her international business and business economics majors, and also took time to travel around Japan and China.

"Japan is extremely overcrowded," she remembered. "There are people called 'pushers' who actually stand on platforms and push people into the trains to be sure they are full before taking off."

TashaGuyton was careful to take in the whole experience and said, in turn, people were very inquisitive about her.

"There aren't many African Americans in Japan," she said. "People would ask me about my skin color, but not in an offensive way."

Besides studying in Japan, Guyton worked as an intern with the House of Parliament in London in 2003, becoming the first African American to do so. In 2001, she was the only African American at the Model Organization of American States in Argentina.

'Everyone wanted to know me'

Before the fall of 2003, Tasha Carlisle had never traveled by herself, but there she was, headed to Ghana for a year. "It's been a dream of mine since I was little. I've always wanted to see Africa," she said.

TashaCarlisle would do more than see Africa: she would become the first Grand Valley student to take part in an exchange program between GVSU and the University of Cape Coast in Cape Coast, Ghana.

"My mom was very supportive," Carlisle said. "But, some of my relatives were worried that my life would be in danger or that I might catch some disease. When I arrived in Ghana, I knew none of that was true."

Carlisle knew she was in for a life-changing experience from the moment the plane landed.

She said: "I was the only non-African student on campus. I suddenly knew what it was like to be a minority. Everyone wanted to know me."

She still keeps in contact with friends in Ghana and Nigeria via e-mail and even led a book drive for the University of Cape Coast and elementary schools in Ghana.

No hustle and bustle

Chile was an easy pick for Joshua Matthysee. The liberal studies major is fluent in Spanish and wanted to use his language skills to study at the Southern University of Chile.

"I liked the fact that in Chile there aren't any classes on Friday, so students are encouraged to travel," he said.

ErikaAnd, travel he did, roaming the countryside known for its variety of climates, with desert-like conditions to the north and glaciers in the southernmost region. "Chile has beautiful beaches to the west and the Andes Mountains to the east," Matthysee remembered.

The laid-back, slow-paced life and the apathy toward time was something that fit well with Matthysee. So much so that when his four-month program was nearing its end, he found a job teaching English that extended his stay for another five months.

"I challenge others to go; it will change you," he said. "You will begin to focus on how you live and what you really need. Other people become more important."

Taking in big city life

Erika Edwards barely recognizes herself. While in Argentina, the history major scaled down waterfalls, visited penguins and snorkeled. In Ecuador, she climbed mountains, swam in the Pacific Ocean and visited the center of the world.

"I am not at all adventuresome. A friend pushed me into considering studying abroad," admitted Edwards. The Upper Peninsula native chose Argentina for her first destination. "Argentina opened my eyes to big city life. The entire campus was inside a 17-story building," she said.

ErikaEdwards said her house-mom was incredible, helping her with Spanish and making her feel at home. That home feeling set in quickly with Edwards taking on a role as English teacher and dance teacher. She also worked in a group home for girls formerly living on the street.

"I tell others to just do it. My time studying abroad has taught me to appreciate the many gifts that are given to me everyday. I have learned to take chances and laugh at myself," she said.

Page last modified March 17, 2014