Author: das04021

A Gift of Friendship

By Jessica Cromie, Part-Time Faculty Member and Host “Mom”

Last Winter I had no notion when I responded to Debbie Singiser’s email requesting volunteers for hosting international students the enormity of the gift we would be receiving. The gift was the very special friendship of three incredible Chinese international students, Rita, Rebecca and Tami. The girls have brought incredible joy and enrichment into our lives. Last night was our first time seeing the girls after their summer break, which they spent back at home in China. After dinner I sat back and watched the beautiful interactions in our home, and once again felt so thankful. Sitting there at the dining room table amidst the food, music and candles I heard Mandarin being spoken, girls giggling, and our young daughters learning about Chinese art, history, calligraphy, and most importantly connecting as family with our sweet friends. We spent the next day exploring a Vermont farm, something I have taken for granted. I have to admit watching all of the girls petting chickens, milking cows, and riding on a tractor is so much more fun through the lens of someone who has never experienced it before!

Initially last winter when I spoke with Debbie on the phone regarding hosting an international student she informed me that many of the international students would not be flying home for the holidays, and would be alone on campus. She informed me that many of them would love to experience an “American Christmas” and share a connection with a family. The prospect of having a student from another country to share our traditions and learn from theirs sounded like a fresh way for our family to celebrate, and appreciate the true meaning of Christmas. We told Debbie we were interested in hosting more than one student, and learned that there were three Chinese girls who were interested in staying together and spending time with a family. Our family suddenly became giddy about Christmas – What could we share with them? And experience together? Should we take them sledding? Or to see the Christmas lights?!

Last Christmas with the three girls was just the beginning of this incredible gift of friendship to our family. We have since had many adventures with the girls. We have all been Nordic and alpine skiing, and sledding together. What a joy to watch our 9- year-old teach the girls how to ski! These adventures have all ended with a lot of giggling, hot cocoa, and a new appreciation for things we tend to take for granted.

Our family spent an entire evening last fall learning to make Chinese dumplings, even our 5-year old was part of the dough rolling and vegetable stuffing. We love Chinese dumplings! We celebrated the Chinese New Year in authentic style, and learned a Chinese board game thanks to our sweet friends. We have learned some new traditions, and shared ours. We are thrilled to have another year with “our girls” now that they have returned to Castleton for the year. We would encourage other families to consider hosting a student or two. It has been a huge blessing to our family, and has carried the energy of adventure, connection, and curiosity into our home. We are excited for this next year, and for the experiences and adventures we will share!

Alpine Skiing

Learning Chinese Calligraphy

Outdoor Fun

Adventuring in Switzerland

By Jocelyn Forrest, Sophomore Student from British Columbia, Canada

(Editor’s Note:  In May and June, Jocelyn traveled to several European countries to see and learn about new places and to reconnect with current and former Castleton students along the way.  She wanted to reflect on her experiences by writing a series of stories for the blog.  This is Jocelyn’s second of three stories.)

 

I don’t have much to say about Switzerland since I was there for just over three days, and I only visited one place.  However, I can tell you why I fell in love. I first fell in love with this country when taking the train from Zurich, a main city of Switzerland, to Interlaken, a small town and my desired destination. Almost the whole ride I was entertained simply by the mountains that stood a short distance away from the train’s view. It was hard not to look.  When I arrived in Interlaken, I was in awe. It is completely surrounded by mountains. I compared these mountains to tall buildings in big cities- that’s how close they were. The only difference being that you can hike up or take a cable car up any of the mountains. I arrived in my hostel in Interlaken late at night and it was hard for me to fall asleep because I was too eager to begin adventuring Switzerland.

Interlaken is built on a narrow stretch of valley, between the emerald-coloured waters of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, and it has old timber houses and parklands on either side of the Aare River. In addition to its surrounding mountains, it has dense forests, alpine meadows and glaciers, making it an easy and desirable attraction for adventure travelers. Many travelers go there to do adventure activities offered such as paragliding, skydiving, canyoning, mountain biking, hiking, white water rafting, bungee jumping, paddle boarding, snowboarding, skiing and more. My first day I rented a stand-up paddleboard which took up the first half of my day. After that I went canyoning, which is the sport of exploring a canyon by engaging in such activities as rappelling, rafting, and waterfall jumping. It was by far the best thing I did in Switzerland and one of my favourite memories of Europe.

Later that evening back at the hostel it was karaoke night. Balmers Hostel is one of Europe’s first and most famous hostels. It has pool tables, ping pong tables, a life-size chess board, an enclosed backyard with hammocks, a bar, and a club. The atmosphere is amazing and the staff is great. Each night, there is a different themed party. This particular Tuesday night it was karaoke and it was a blast. People from all over the world got up to sing whatever they wished. I even got on the floor with two other Canadians to sing the Canadian national anthem and everyone was really into it!

The next day, I went white water rafting with a group of 40 people, which I had booked through the hostel. We rafted on emerald-coloured glacier water along mountains and small villages. The two-hour rafting trip ended with an opening to a beautiful lake and we settled there for a while. Switzerland isn’t as hot as Italy, but it was still hot for a Canadian, so jumping into the lake felt amazing. While I was there, the temperature was around 26-28 degrees Celsius.  Therefore it was a bit hotter than I was used to but not too hot, another reason I really liked Switzerland. For the remainder of the day, I relaxed on a hammock and walked around Interlaken. That night, it was beach night at the hostel and this was one of my favourite nights in Europe. I met people from Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Nova Scotia, Switzerland and the U.S. for a total of just fewer than 20 people. We exchanged travel stories and desires.  I learned a lot from them.

It was during these moments in talking to other travelers when I was reminded how important it is to travel. My destination before Switzerland was Amsterdam, which I absolutely loved, but on the last day there and en route to Interlaken, I had a lot of fallouts and hit a breaking point of feeling homesick. But this feeling ended when I arrived in Switzerland because it was very similar to home. I’m from British Columbia, Canada, which is surrounded by mountains so the scenery in Switzerland brought me comfort. Also the people I met in Switzerland were very relaxed and kind people, like Canadians. Switzerland is in my future as I hope to play pro hockey there once I graduate from Castleton and if that doesn’t work, I will go there anyway because sky diving from atop the Swiss Alps is on my bucket list. To end this, I will finish with this quote I stumbled upon: “Switzerland is a place where they don’t like to fight, so they get people to do their fighting for them while they ski and eat chocolate.”

Jocelyn Forrest

Slowing Down in Sweden

By Jocelyn Forrest, Sophomore Student from British Columbia, Canada

(Editor’s Note:  In May and June, Jocelyn traveled to several European countries to see and learn about new places and to reconnect with current and former Castleton students along the way.  She wanted to reflect on her experiences by writing a series of stories for the blog.  This is Jocelyn’s first of three stories.)

 

Earlier this summer, I began my five-week European trip in Sweden, and I immediately fell in love with the country. The Swedish people are very kind, classy, and gentle. It is a nice change from the more outgoing and “loud” nature of us North Americans. Everyone dresses very nicely there, at all times. What they consider pajamas, we consider a normal day outfit such as leggings and a loose t-shirt. The majority of the clothes worn in Sweden are navy blue, black, grey, or white—-in other words, you don’t see a lot of colour. Most of the vehicles are made by Volvo, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, or Volkswagen- even their semis are Mercedes Benz. There are no trucks and not many “not nice-looking” cars there.

I love Sweden, and I blame this on my newly acquired addiction to coffee, thanks to Fika. A Swedish tradition, Fika’s basic meaning is: “to have coffee“, often accompanied with something sweet.  It is more about socializing than drinking coffee. It happens at least 2 or 3 times a day and, trust me, the Swedes are shocked if you turn down Fika or even a coffee. I barely drank coffee before my trip, maybe one or two times per month. However, by the time I left Sweden, I was used to drinking at least one or two cups per day, which is a big change for me. I really like the concept of Fika in that Swedes will take time out of their day to sit with their friends, relax and talk, no matter how busy they are or how many things they have on their mind. I think this practice needs to be incorporated into North America, as we have a tendency to rush through our days and invite unnecessary stress into our lives. As a result, we pick up something quick from a fast food place before returning to our hectic day.  We do this despite the reality that in fact, we do have time to sit down and socialize and still keep our day intact.

I could go on and on about Sweden, but I will stop here so I can write about and share with you my experiences in two other wonderful countries–Switzerland and Norway. Stay tuned!

 

 

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.