W&M students make most of time abroad

First of two parts

According to a news release from the Institute of International Education, “For the second year in a row, William and Mary has the highest percentage of undergraduates participating in study-abroad programs compared to any other public university in the United States.”

The College of William and Mary is a leader in global education, even when compared with private universities. It ranks 16th on a list of top 40 doctorate-granting institutions. The only other doctorate-granting institution in the top 40 in Virginia is the University of Virginia, which ranks 24th .

William and Mary’s study-abroad program is administered through its Reves Center for International Studies, under the leadership of its director and vice-provost for International Affairs, Stephen E Hanson.

The center offers students a diverse selection of study-abroad opportunities. Students receive support, information, resources and guidance. The center arranges international university exchanges, provides workshops, peer advising and re-entry assistance for students returning from their overseas experience.

“Study abroad has become an integral part of a W&M liberal arts education by providing opportunities for students to challenge themselves in unfamiliar contexts, engage with ideas and knowledge new to them and self-reflectively consider their place in the world,” Sylvia Mitterdorfer, director of global education at the Reves Center said in the release.

The Reves Center awards more than $530,000 annually for study-abroad scholarships as part of its efforts to reduce financial barriers. The program was started by the founding director, Dr. James Bill, with an endowment of $50,000.

One of those who took the opportunity to study abroad was Tessa Bechert, a junior studying business, specifically marketing. She went to Prague, Czech Republic, last summer along with 30 other students. They were in Prague for about six weeks studying at Charles University, which was founded in 1348, making it one of the oldest universities in the world.

“We lived in university housing, placing us about a 10-minute walk from the famous Prague Castle,” said Bechert in a recent interview with the Gazette. “We all took a Czech language class and two more academic classes. In the Czech language class, we learned basic phrases to help us get around and be respectful tourists. We had an option to take a class on Central European modernism, on contemporary Central European politics, an art history class or a history class about the Habsburg Empire.

“These classes informed me of so much of the cultural history of Prague and the surrounding regions, helping me gain a deeper understanding and immense appreciation for the city I was living in.”

Although it was academics that brought Bechert to Prague, “it was not what made me fall in love with it,” she said. “Instead, it was Prague’s incredible beauty. Every day I felt like I was living in a fairytale. The cobblestone streets, the pastel-colored buildings, red roofs and the enchanting castle on the hill made the city feel magical.”

The William and Mary students apparently took good advantage of things Prague offers. “Most afternoons we would hang out in different parks, such as Petrin, overlooking the city, we attended festivals and concerts on an island in the Vltava River, and in the evenings went to beer gardens in Letna Park. Living in Prague for six weeks, I feel we got a small taste of what life is really in that city, beyond the tourist areas.”

Reflecting on her experience, Bechert said, “At William and Mary, the cliché us students like to say is, ‘going abroad changed me.’ As much as we joke about it, it is really true. Living in a foreign country pushed me outside of my comfort zone, allowing me to really grow as I adapted to entirely new surroundings and experiences.”

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his elected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Paris Shop and Amazon.com.

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