Posted on Nov 26, 2001

Many alumni have stories of how their study abroad experience changed their lives in significant ways. Here are just four:

Erika Mancini '00 spent her 1997 fall term abroad in Rennes, studying French language and culture. The French major then went back for more, spending the year after graduation teaching English to French students in an exchange program at the University of Rennes.

“I started with a weeklong workshop for second-year dental students,” she says. “It was election time in the U.S., and getting to talk politics in class was something new for them. It was during my teaching experience there that I decided I wanted to teach French, and the MAT program at Union “called” to me. My fiance (Jeremy Newell '00) went to Rennes with me, and while I was teaching, he took a course at the university for foreign students to learn French. He'd wanted to go to law school before, and now, he's thinking in terms of international law.”

Steve Hartman '87 is director of business development for Strategic Power Systems in Albany, N.Y., a company with multiple European connections. For him, the journey began with a term abroad in Germany and then an internship at the Opel plant there.

“The terms abroad program, and the professors who encouraged me to go, were an unbelievable part of my education,” he says. “The experience made me fluent and really allowed me to experience the culture. Bill Thomas has impacted thousands of us for the rest of our lives with these programs.” To current students, he says, “If this is not part of your education plans at Union, it should be.”

Dirk Peterson '86, who's bilingual in German and went to France in fall of 1984, is now director of sales and marketing for Ametek Aerospace, in the Boston area. The job lets him travel a bit and use the language skills acquired at Union.

“As a mechanical engineering major, I wanted to expand my horizons beyond the technical degree,” he says. “Maneuvering my schedule so I could go to Rennes in fall of junior year meant giving up soccer, but I felt that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it didn't disappoint. I was very much a part of the French family I lived with, playing soccer on the town team with the father, practicing piano with the son. We still communicate from time to time.

“Being able to immerse yourself in something that interests you (and is relatively challenging) gets rarer as you move along in life, at least for me. The French immersion also had a professional benefit. Now that I am in an aerospace business with many European customers, I am able to draw on the cultural and language experience and provide better service to my customers.”

Frank Donnini '70, a history major who spent most of his career as in intelligence officer with the Air Force and now is a senior analyst with Science Applications International Corp., was one of thirty students in the College's first study-abroad group, which went to Vienna in the spring of 1969.

As he recalls, “We flew to Europe in late March. Part of our orientation was a trip to West Berlin with a chance to visit East Berlin. I remember Steve Serinsky and I taking a half-day trip to the eastern part of the divided city. A highlight was watching the impressive changing of the guards at the World War II memorial.

“We then went on to Vienna. It was cold and damp for the first month, and then turned out to be a great spring. The group stayed in the old part of the city. Our classes were in the Austrian-American Institute, behind the State Opera House. We walked to classes that took us past the huge St. Stephan's cathedral and other famous landmarks. We took intermediate German, art history, and independent study. The German course was practical for all of us. Art history, with an emphasis on baroque and rococo periods, was eye-opening, with examples all around us. It was interesting to look at old buildings, inside and out, and know exactly how, when, and why they were built as they were.

“I did my independent study on the role of the Austrian Communist party in the years after World War II and before the country declared neutrality in 1955. Austria, like Germany, was divided up by the four allies after the war. As part of my research, I contacted heads of various political parties on the extreme left, extreme right, and others in the middle to gain their personal perspectives. I remember inviting Professor (Fred) Klemm along for one of the interviews. He was excited about meeting the political leader and about my taking the initiative to arrange the session and then to conduct it, all in German.

“I have enjoyed traveling extensively ever since, in the U.S. and overseas,” Donnini says. “Much of this occurred during my twenty-three years as an Air Force officer, living two years in Australia and one in Thailand. I've also been able to continue traveling in my follow-on work as a defense contractor and spent three months in Germany two years ago. I was pleasantly surprised to see much of my German language come back after a hiatus of thirty-plus years.”