Month: June 2017

Making Lifelong Friendships On and Off the Slopes

Castleton’s Ski Team at the World Cup in Killington, Vermont

By Chris Eder, Alpine Ski Coach

I had a great college experience. I had great professors, competed on the varsity alpine ski team, and was involved with student government. Most importantly, I made many life-long friendships. My college experience would not have been the same if it were not for a particular group of students. This group of students I am referring to are international students. To me, the international students brought so much to my overall college experience. Many of my college friends were international students. I thought it was so cool to hang out with students from countries like Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, Jamaica, Kenya, and Ireland. These students added so much to classroom discussions and everyday life on campus. I was able to learn so much about different cultures. I was even able to learn a few foreign words and phrases. I know that if I were to visit a particular country, chances are I will probably have a place to stay (or at least a tour guide!). In fact, I actually stayed at a bed and breakfast owned by the grandmother of an international student-friend when I traveled to Ireland after graduating from college. These types of experiences, connections, and lifelong friendships are things that I hope our Castleton University students will have.

I love that Castleton has grown its international population! In particular, it is neat to see international students coming to Castleton to participate in varsity athletics. Currently, the men’s and women’s alpine ski teams (which I coach), men’s soccer, men’s basketball, men’s tennis, and men’s and women’s ice hockey teams all have rosters that include international student-athletes. Currently, the men’s alpine ski team has two international student-athletes from Sweden and Croatia on the roster, while the women’s team has one skier from Sweden. The incoming class for the fall of 2017 includes one male from Austria and two from Sweden. The women will be adding one more Swede. However, we may not be done, as we are waiting on decisions from four other international skiers.

When I started coaching the men’s and women’s alpine ski teams at Castleton University in August of 2003, one of the first things I noticed was that there was a lack of international flavor on campus. I felt as if our students were missing out on something special. The men’s and women’s ice hockey teams had some Canadian student-athletes, so that was a start. However, I felt as if we needed more. I was determined to recruit some international student-athletes for the men’s and women’s alpine ski teams and give our domestic students the type of international exposure that I had when I was in college.

Ski racing is a popular sport in European countries like Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Italy, etc., so naturally, there are some very good ski racers abroad. This alone, should be enough of a reason for a coach to want to recruit international ski racers, but there are plenty of very good ski racers in the United States. A focus in trying to attract international ski racers is to bring something else to the team. I want the American student-athletes on the alpine ski team to have the same experiences I had. Sure, having the international talent is a big plus and helps us win races, but there is more. They bring depth and cultural diversity that enhances the learning environment of every student-athlete.

So far, my vision is coming true. Our current international student-athletes have been a major asset to the success of our men’s and women’s alpine ski teams. In addition, I am seeing many positives off the slopes, as they add to the learning environment in and out of the classroom. I have seen relationships built between international students and American students that will last a lifetime. It makes me so happy to see our American student-athletes taking international student-athletes home during breaks. It has also been cool to see our American student-athletes visiting our international student-athletes. Last summer, two of our American student-athletes visited two international student-athletes in their home country of Sweden! Those two American students may not have had the chance to visit Sweden (or even considered it!) if it had not been for that connection. My hope is that this continues as we grow our international population. Not just with student-athletes, but for the campus community as a whole.

Sitting alongside and learning from international students in the classroom, various social settings, or even on a chairlift ride at Killington Ski Resort is part of my college education that I hope our Castleton University students have a chance to experience.

Welcoming International Students to Castleton: 2008-2017

By Erica Machia, Associate Director of Admissions

I remember the day I took over managing the international applicant territory…it was March 2008, and it felt overwhelming and exciting at the same time. Questions ran through my mind such as:  How would I be able to read students’ applications? How would I understand their transcripts to know if they were admissible? How would I be able to communicate with the students when we don’t speak the same language? Thank goodness for the internet; Google Search and Google Translate became quick friends of mine!

Throughout the summer before the fall 2008 semester, I became email buddies with the incoming students, learning about them and helping them prepare for their arrival and time at Castleton. That fall we welcomed four international students … all from Canada.  I was so excited to finally meet the students I had been working with so closely!

The spring 2009 semester we welcomed just one new international student from Canada who would join his fellow Canadians on the men’s ice hockey team. Now it was time to focus on the fall 2009 class, which turned out to be pretty impressive. We had nine students enroll from three different countries, Canada, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom. They were mostly athletes joining the men’s and women’s ice hockey, men’s basketball, and women’s ski teams.

Unfortunately, we didn’t bring in any new international students for the spring 2010 semester, but that did not discourage my efforts to work towards the fall, when we brought in five students from Canada, all joining the men’s hockey team, and one student from India! The following year, 2011, was fairly quiet with one student enrolling in the spring and five in the fall. However, it was our most diverse group yet; the students came from Canada, Japan, Peru, and Zambia that year.

By then I felt more comfortable in my role of working with international students through the admissions process.  While I still relied on my trusty Google friends, I had started making connections with colleagues at other institutions and attending conferences to enhance my knowledge. In the fall of 2012, we brought in another exciting class including nine international students from Bermuda, Canada, Denmark, Honduras, Peru and Sweden.

The spring of 2013 was another quiet semester with no new international students enrolling, however the fall was certainly a notable class. We welcomed eight new international students from Canada, Latvia, and Switzerland. At that time I could say that I had helped welcome international students from 12 different countries, and we were really on the move with diversifying our international student body!

The spring semesters are always a challenging time to welcome new international students because they arrive in January during our cold, snowy, Vermont winters. I remember meeting our one new international student for the spring 2014 semester on a nice cold snowy day; he was from Pakistan and excited to start his adventure at Castleton. The year, 2014, marked a real turning point for Castleton as we started to dedicate and invest in our efforts to internationalize Castleton’s campus not only from a recruitment perspective but from a retention and support perspective as well. After some hard work and dedication during the spring and summer, we welcomed a record breaking number of new international students, 12 to be exact!!! They were from Brazil, Canada, Nigeria, Sweden, and Zimbabwe.

Three new international students from China, France, and Sweden joined the Castleton community in the spring 2015 semester.  With the addition of the three students and two new countries to mark on the map, our motivation was high to work on the fall 2015 class of international students.  Yet again, we broke our record and brought in 22 new international students!  They hailed from Canada, China, the Czech Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Germany, Kenya, Nigeria, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. That was certainly an impressive year!

With our excitement over the growth of our international student population, we were ready to take on the spring 2016 semester.  We introduced three new students from Canada, France, and Germany to our beautiful campus.  Our fall 2016 class was an exciting one.  Not only did we welcome 21 new international students who would be enrolling as Castleton students, we also welcomed our first group of Global UGRAD students who would spend one semester with us bringing our total to 25 that fall! They came to us from Algeria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and Vietnam.

Staying consistent with the past couple of springs, the spring 2017 semester welcomed three students, one each from China, the Dominican Republic, and Sweden. This coming fall 2017, we anticipate another strong class of international students, hopefully 25-30 new ones.  We will welcome five Global UGRAD students and six students from other universities in France and Japan with whom we have built exchange programs.  So far we have students who will be enrolling from Bhutan, China, France, Israel, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, New Zealand, the Philippines, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela.

I am happy to say that during the last nine years we have welcomed more than 130 international students from 39 different countries to our campus! That is no small feat for our beloved Castleton University.  My work with Castleton’s international students has been very rewarding and I have built friendships with many of them. It’s always bittersweet to see them graduate and move on to new adventures, but I know that Castleton has served them well in their time here, they will go on to do great things, and lastly share their Castleton story with the world!

“Castleton Family” in China

By Professor Carrie Waara, History, Geography, Economics, Politics and Global Studies Program Coordinator

I recently returned from a fascinating month in China. Over and over again the “Castleton Spirit” that Frank Wan wrote about in the last blog led me to extraordinary experiences. I’ve traveled in China several times over many years, but this time, thanks to the “Castleton family”, I enjoyed warm welcomes from Chinese friends who gave me deep insights into this culture I have studied and appreciated for so long.

In Shanghai, my first destination, what a thrill it was, accompanied by friends of Castleton friends, to wander the streets of the old part of the city where modern history had been made, finding the historic homes of artists, writers and leaders. (Yes, I am a history nerd. And China has an awesomely long and intriguing history!) Shanghai is also futuristically modern, and I marveled at the contemporary architecture and art, subways and shopping malls.

Second, Anhui Province now feels like my new home, a kind of “sister state” to Vermont. The university scholars who have spent a fall semester at Castleton the last few years live in Anhui, where I joyfully reconnected with them, met their families, and got to see a bit of this rural, green province.

They took me on mountain hikes to historic sites dating all the way back to the Han Dynasty (roughly contemporaneous with the Roman Empire), traveled to vast bamboo forests and medieval towns preserved as UNESCO World Heritage Sites—and where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed!—and to China’s iconic and stunning Huangshan mountains in Anhui’s south.

Along the way, I delighted in dinners with Chinese friends, who were eager to demonstrate to me exactly why the cuisine of Anhui is esteemed as one of China’s finest.  Honestly, people, Huden Dining Hall has some catching up to do!

I discovered that, rather than children calling me A-yi (“Auntie”—a sweet familial name I was used to), they now call me Nainai (“Granny”—just as sweet and familial, but harder to accept! I don’t have any grandchildren yet!)

Right when homesickness struck me, I was invited to the home of a friend, where I met and fell in love with her whole family, especially Popo (my friend’s mother-in-law, my “older sister”) an amazing and lively cook, who let me film her in the kitchen. First I sat in the courtyard with father- and mother-in-law, helping to peel freshly foraged bamboo shoots from a mountain tea plantation, then got to hang out in the kitchen chatting with Popo. Mind you, all the while we are talking, she’s cooking, I’m filming her, and out the window neighborhood life in the narrow alleyway goes on, with babies learning to walk, dogs running in and out of everyone’s houses, neighbors chatting… It was a delicious meal I will remember forever, but, evermore I’ll remember how families in China took me into their hearts just when I was missing my own family so much.

My final highlight was meeting Castleton undergraduate Frank Wan and his warm, supportive family in Nanchang. Just like other Castleton parents, they proudly welcomed me and Frank—home from his first year of college—and expressed appreciation for Castleton’s care and education of their accomplished son. As Frank shared the history and culture of his beautiful hometown the next day, he of course introduced me to more yummy foods. What is family without food?

To conclude, it is a genuine pleasure to experience the Castleton connection in China. There is a saying of Confucius that perfectly captures the warm generosity of spirit that we enjoy both at Castleton and in China:

“When friends come from afar, isn’t it a delight?”


My first Chinese family, Baby Liuliu with parents William Wang Liangong and Justine Zhou Ting, former visiting Castleton Scholars, shown here in Huangshan City.

Huangshan mountains in Anhui Province.

With Frank Wan in Frank’s hometown of Nanchang.

Local dishes in Anhui Province, reputed to be some of China’s finest cuisine.

My First Year of University: Getting to Know the “Castleton Spirit”

By Frank Wan, Sophomore Student from Nanchang, China

I cannot believe I finished my first amazing year in Castleton. I am missing my first year of university every day of summer vacation here in China. When I look back at my life in Castleton, I appreciate so many friends, professors and “families” there.

When I arrived at Castleton for the first time in August last year, I found everything to be new, everything to be different from China. I was totally attracted to this beautiful small town. My first impression about Castleton was “green”— everything is green there. Also, everything is healthy and dynamic. People said “hi” to me, even though they did not know me. They were also willing to offer help to me if I had any problem. I call this the “Castleton spirit”, which means: people live together as a strong community, everyone is willing to help one another, people respect each other, and there are no arguments. I knew that English was the most significant thing that I had to focus on, but I was afraid of speaking to people because my English was not as good as it is now. However, I was surprised that there were so many students who wanted to be involved in our English program, by being conversation partners with international students. My conversation partners helped me build my confidence when we were talking together, and took me hiking and skating during the weekends as well. At the beginning, it was hard for me to be social in the school because we have such different cultures and languages.  I did not know how to start a topic with others, but my partners taught me how to do this with lots of patience.

Castleton has so many perfect professors, and Professor Waara is one of my favorites. She cared for me just like her own family. Many professors, like Professor Waara, treat us like family.  This summer, Professor Waara came to China to travel, give lectures and do research.  She came to visit me as well, which made me both surprised and delighted. We are eager to get to know each other’s culture, and I believe this is also part of the “Castleton spirit”.

Loneliness is the most common problem that international students meet in university. Our families and friends were not at Castleton and I felt unassisted.  But then I met my host family, Mr. Bill and his wife, Nancy.  They always took me to their house for family dinners and playing with their cute dogs, Maisie and Angle. They even invited me to stay in their house for Christmas break. They helped me understand the real American culture thoroughly, and they gave me the love like my own family in China. I did not feel so alone because they accepted me as one of their family members.

I changed a lot since I came to Castleton, thanks to my friends, professors and host family. They all made me stronger than ever. Now, I am looking forward to meeting more new students next semester.  I will tell them all about the “Castleton spirit”.

Christmas with my host siblings. December 2016.

With my conversation partner, Marissa, at Spartan Arena. February 2017.

With Professor Waara in Nanchang, China. May 2017.

With my host parents at my farewell dinner. May 2017.