Study abroad scholarships help students gain an international perspective
Living like a local in Switzerland means much more than cheese and chocolate for second-year Honors College student Elle Smith — although, of course, there’s been plenty of both. By far, the sweetest part about studying abroad has been immersing herself in the Swiss culture.
With the aid of a scholarship from the Global Education Office, Smith is taking her first trip outside the U.S. She is participating this semester in the Presidential Global Scholars program, based at the Steger Center for International Scholarship, Virginia Tech’s European academic center. The program encourages interdisciplinary and innovative plans of study to help students become truly global citizens.
“The Steger Center provides a great balance of independence and support,” said Smith, a first-generation student who’s majoring in philosophy, politics, and economics in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. At the renovated 18th-century villa in Riva San Vitale, a picturesque town in Switzerland’s southernmost canton of Ticino, she’s able to practice her Italian and build relationships with local residents and her fellow students.
“Schoolchildren walk through the courtyard here, and townspeople come by to invite us to events,” she said. “Riva San Vitale has become my home.”
She said that without the financial assistance, she would not have been able to travel abroad. Each year, scholarships from the Global Education Office and the Steger Center help offset expenses such as tuition, program fees, transportation, and accommodation. “The scholarships provided by Virginia Tech made me feel heard, valued, and excited to be a ‘change agent,’” Smith said.
Fourth-year architecture student Allison Rogers is also spending the semester at the Steger Center as part of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies Studio Residency program.
She decided to study abroad because she was eager to examine architecture from a different perspective. “I lost a lot of drive and motivation during the pandemic and having to spend studio time alone and learn from behind a computer screen. Studying abroad has given me the opportunity to start fresh, be inspired, make new friends, and form close relationships with my professors and mentors,” she said.
Underscoring its commitment to international engagement, Virginia Tech was one of just a few U.S. institutions that allowed students to study abroad in spring 2021. Since then, the number of students choosing to study internationally has continued to rise.
“Being abroad during the pandemic is a unique experience,” Rogers said. “I think it has taught me a lot about patience and flexibility, as travel plans are impossible to have far in advance with ever-changing restrictions throughout Europe. Traveling within Switzerland has also allowed me to appreciate how beautiful this country is.”
She said she loves to walk around nearby Lake Lugano and take in the views of the water and the colorful buildings nestled amid the Alps. “Studying abroad has rejuvenated my passion for architecture and construction. I think any student who studies abroad would agree that it is refreshing to study their respective interests in a new light,” she said.
When she’s not hitting the books or taking in the sights, Rogers is playing with the local team in the Swiss Basketball League, the top-tier professional club league in the country. “I was intimidated at first, and it was a bit frustrating, as I knew very little Italian,” she said. “But the coaches are incredible, and they welcomed me with open arms. I’m really glad that I’ve stuck with it because each practice gets better and better.”
Like Smith, Rogers was able to go abroad with the assistance of a scholarship from the Global Education Office, which like the Steger Center, is part of Outreach and International Affairs.
Funding study abroad scholarship programs is one way that alumni and friends can expand the university’s global reach and help today’s students experience international education. The impact of collective generosity will be particularly evident during the university’s annual Giving Day, when donors interested in supporting international education can participate by going online to give between 12 p.m. EST Feb. 23 and 12 p.m. EST Feb. 24.
“Studying abroad offers a unique opportunity for students to gain intercultural competency, self-awareness, and global perspectives,” said Sara Steinert Borella, executive director of the Steger Center. “These scholarships provide access to global programs for students with demonstrated need and help expand opportunities for Hokies who normally might not consider a study abroad or other global experience.”
Rogers said she hopes more Virginia Tech students will consider studying abroad and will be able to find a way to do so like her.
“No matter what your major is, you can always find a new perspective when you are immersed in a new place and a new culture,” she said.