Going Global: Robert Morris University Going Global | Robert Morris University

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Nursing in Nicaragua. Marketing in Athens. Accounting in Dubai. And learning to live as a global citizen in China, France, Vietnam, and Namibia.

Robert Morris University’s study abroad programs offer students an expansive range of opportunities to travel, live, and learn overseas. Experiencing other countries firsthand allows students to see their own culture with fresh eyes. It also helps them to become people who can work and live with confidence born of successful day-to-day interactions in the wider world.

A global perspective is an integral part of a complete RMU education, and the university strives to ensure all students have the chance to learn through travel. Exchange agreements with a growing number of overseas universities lock in RMU tuition costs for students spending a semester or year abroad. Faculty-guided “short tours” – in which students spend spring semester studying a country in class, then go there with their professor for a few weeks in the summer – make travel and study abroad possible for those unable to take more time away from core classes and jobs. Short tours include faculty-led trips by nursing students to China and Nicaragua, film students to Gambia and hospitality students to Germany, France and Switzerland.

Those initiatives are paying off: A record 158 RMU students participated in study abroad programs in the 2008-09 academic year, almost double the number who went overseas the prior year.

Junior media arts major Channing Frampton was concerned a semester abroad would make it hard for him to complete his degree on time. Instead, he opted for a faculty-guided three-week short tour of Finland last June. Students visited the University of Tampere, attended an international film festival, and climbed to the top of the country’s northernmost weather station. Frampton, an aspiring TV weatherman who gives the forecasts for RMU-TV, even had an opportunity to deliver a trial forecast at the nation’s largest commercial TV station, in Helsinki. “We got to talk to broadcast professionals, and learn about technology in Finland, which in many ways is a few years ahead of us here in the States,” says Frampton, of New Bethlehem, Pa. “It was an amazing opportunity that I think will help in my future.”

International experience as a career plus is an idea that’s gaining credence. The Committee for Economic Development, a non-partisan advocacy group comprised of corporate executives and university leaders, estimates that U.S. corporations lose $2 billion a year because of inadequate understanding of global markets. “Employers are increasingly looking for workers with international expertise and language skills because they know it makes their organizations far more competitive in the workplace,” says RMU President Gregory Dell’Omo, Ph.D.

The competitive role that Dubai is playing among international financial districts is what appealed to accounting major Kevin Senko ‘09. The Scott Township native spent a semester last spring at the American University of Dubai, in the heart of the Persian Gulf. He roomed with a classmate from Nigeria and juggled a rigorous schedule of classes, including international finance, portfolio management, and history of the Middle East. “The textbooks were American, but the issues we studied came from the culture around us: currency exchange issues in a port city, discussions about pegging the value of oil to the U.S. dollar.”

“I want our students to feel comfortable living on the earth as global citizens,” says Jim Vincent, a longtime English literature professor who pioneered RMU’s exchange program with the University of Limerick and has led student trips to Ireland for the past three years. “We’re part of Pittsburgh’s attempt to become a stronger player in international business and commerce. You cannot do that with students who only know Allegheny and Beaver counties.”

Adventuresome Audrey Petrus couldn’t decide between Japan, Spain or London. So the actuarial science major opted for the Semester At Sea program last year, visiting 12 countries including Spain, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Vietnam, China and Japan – with the home stretch sailing through the Panama Canal. Her classes in global studies and physics were conducted on days when the ship was at sea, with organized and independent trips rounding out the education while in port. Petrus, of Zelienople, recalled exploring the bazaars of Morocco, learning to mediate in Thailand, and making friends everywhere she went. “You really get to see the world as a whole,” she says. “It’s like being a child again. You have to learn how to communicate, how to get around, even how to eat. You can sit down and have dinner with someone in Namibia, and see how it’s different from sitting down and having dinner with someone in India, and how that’s different from sitting down and having dinner with someone in Japan. And how it’s kind of the same.”

Breaking bread in another language was a revelation for Michael Church. The senior accounting and marketing major cherishes the moment he was first able to order a pastry in Greece. “It made me feel a great sense of independence to be able to go out and express myself and be understood,” the Wisconsin native says. Church spent four weeks studying public relations at the American College of Thessalonki with 35 other American students before setting out on his own for Estonia. The loneliness of solo travel gripped him for much of the first day, but it wore off as he navigated his way around Tallinn, tracking down the location of a cobbled medieval passageway he’d seen photos of in books. “It was the coolest thing,” Church says. “ ‘I’m here. I’m in another country. I’m on my own, and I’m finding my way.’ ”

Social sciences senior Krystal McCoy spent three weeks in Israel, where students camped with Bedouins near the ancient ruins of Masada, explored the ancient streets and alleys of Jerusalem, and swam in a natural spring alongside some local women wearing bikinis and others wearing burkas. McCoy says she anticipated some hostility towards their group of American Christians. She found just the opposite. “The most surprising thing for me was how warm and welcoming people were, everywhere we went,” says McCoy, of Moon Township. “In Nazareth, which is 90 percent Islamic, shopkeepers rushed to offer us cold drinks, and to talk with us about their customs, their religion.”

Those kinds of human interactions are key to the education of students traveling abroad, according to Vincent. “College is a time of personal growth as much as learning accounting principles or comparative literature. Seeing the world it the best way to encourage cultural diversity, and the best way to get people on the path of self-discovery.”

After a disaster, a helping hand

Despite an exam looming the next day, Luca Lugini was fast asleep early on April 6 in a house he shared with two other students at the University of L’Aquila in Italy. Suddenly, a massive earthquake shook them into terrified wakefulness. “We ran outside,” Lugini recalls. “It was really cold. There were many people in the street in just their pajamas.”

Lugini spent the rest of the morning in his roommate’s car. The dawn broke on a sickening sight: Dozens of buildings were reduced to rubble in the capital of Italy’s Abruzzo region. Nearly 300 people would be found dead, and some 65,000 left homeless. Of those killed, 55 were students of the university; several buildings on the campus of 27,000 students also were destroyed.

Five thousand miles away, western Pennsylvanians began thinking about what they could do to help. “By the second day, it was clear this was a bigger catastrophe than it initially seemed,” says Joseph D’Andrea, a retired language teacher at Moon Area School District and president of the American Italian Cultural Institute (AMICI) of Pittsburgh, “I began to think, ‘The community must respond in some way.’ ”

D’Andrea is a good friend of RMU. The university awarded him an honorary doctor of letters degree last spring, after he accompanied President Gregory Dell’Omo, Ph.D., and Provost David Jamison, J.D., on a trip to Italy’s Molise region to explore study abroad agreements with Italian universities.

Together they came up with a plan: AMICI would raise money to pay for room, board, a monthly stipend, and round-trip plane tickets for two students, and RMU would pay their tuition and fees for a year. “We thought the best investment is in young people, rather than in sending money to help reconstruct buildings,” D’Andrea says. The RMU scholarships were among 35 offered to L’Aquila students for study at U.S. and Canadian universities after the deadly earthquake. Another 160 students received offers to attend European universities.

On August 20 – one day before classes began -- Lugini, 21, a Campobasso native, and Berardo Artieri, 25, of Teramo, arrived in Pittsburgh.  Lugini is completing a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, while Artieri is pursuing a master’s degree in engineering management.

“My first impression: Everything is bigger here,” Lugini says. “Cars, streets, buildings. It was very strange… But everyone is also so much friendlier than in Italy, especially in those first days.”

“The friendliness of everybody is impressive,” Artieri concurs. “You can speak to professors informally here, almost as if they’re friends.” And he adds, “the studies seem more practical. In Italy you study many, many proofs that you will never need.”

Both have made friends living on campus, taking in American football games and experiencing a South Side packed with costumed college students on Halloween. One of their first projects at RMU was translating and recording Italian audio for a series of foreign language walking tours of downtown Pittsburgh the university produced for the G-20 summit.

Lugini and Artieri say they are grateful to the community members, professors, and fellow students who are helping them to complete their studies. “This is not just a beautiful campus, but it’s full of beautiful people,” Lugini says. “I would definitely tell students back in my country to come here if they can.”

AMICI is continuing to seek contributions to support Lugini and Artieri through the spring semester. Those wishing to help may contact D’Andrea at gdandrea1@verizon.net.
 

Sneak peek of an RMU student documentary about two Italian students who came here after their university was hit by an earthquake.