Study Abroad Enriches Cadet Experience

Cadets travel the world under VMI's study abroad program. Watch the slideshow above to see scenes from their experiences over the past year. 

When most people think of VMI, the iconic image of the barracks comes to mind, or perhaps the Corps of Cadets marching in a parade. But what about cadets in civilian dress in Budapest, Bangkok, or Botswana?

Study abroad, whether for a semester or several weeks in the summer, is a vital—and sometimes overlooked—part of the VMI experience. For Col. David Hall ’83, director of international programs, and Patricia Hardin, assistant director, getting cadets overseas is their mission, and it’s a mission they believe is vitally connected to the purpose of the Institute overall.

“What we’re trying to do is develop in our graduates a global perspective,” said Hall. “There’s a great big world out there, and it’s very interconnected these days.”

Being ready to step into a world that’s much bigger and broader than the United States is key to cadets’ future success.

“Most employers these days …. are looking for graduates and employees who understand that [global] perspective and step into that multicultural environment and be effective right off the bat,” Hall stated. “Our role is to augment and enrich the overall academic program to give them these cultural competencies that will enable them to be effective upon graduation.”

With that end in mind, Hall and Hardin expend much effort getting the word out about study abroad to both cadets and faculty. For cadets, there’s a study abroad fair held each fall that advertises study abroad opportunities, both VMI-sponsored and third party-sponsored, for the upcoming summer. This year’s event will be held Thursday, Sept. 20, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the upstairs level of Crozet Hall.

For faculty, the international programs staff do all that they can to encourage them to develop their own study abroad programs, mostly by regular contact with department heads and individual faculty members.

Then, just before Thanksgiving furlough each year, faculty who are planning on leading study abroad programs the next summer stand up in Jackson Memorial Hall and give presentations to cadets on their offerings. This event is timed, Hall and Hardin, noted, so cadets can go home afterward and talk to their parents about the possibilities.

Starting the conversation early is critical to planning for study abroad, especially in the summer, because of the expense of the programs. A typical program runs about $5,500, Hall said, and when airfare and meals are included, that figures rises to approximately $7,000. The VMI Foundation provides a small amount of money for scholarships, but the amount is nowhere sufficient to meet the need. What’s more, the scholarship money must be split among all cadets planning to study abroad, whether for a semester or a summer.

There is a bit of time to pay the bill. Hardin and Hall explained that the bursar’s office allows interest-free installment payments up until May 1, at which time the cost of the trip must be paid in full.

Destinations, of course, vary quite a bit. This year, cadets on VMI-sponsored trips traveled all over Europe, including France, Germany, Spain, and Hungary, and also to China and Morocco. Those on third party-sponsored trips journeyed even more widely, with one visiting Australia and New Zealand, one Japan, and one Costa Rica, among other destinations.

Altogether, just under 60 cadets took advantage of VMI-led summer study abroad programs this year—a decrease from 2017, when 85 did so.

“It was a low year for us,” Hall said. He explained that financial concerns kept many cadets from traveling abroad this summer.

Both Hall and Hardin expressed the hope that more cadets will travel overseas next summer, when two new programs will be added and two more will be revived. Lt. Col. Valentina Dimitrova-Grajz, associate professor of economics and business, will lead a European study tour entitled, “Economics and Politics of the European Union,” while Dr. Dekuwmini Mornah, assistant professor of economics and business, will lead an entrepreneurship program in his native country of Ghana.

The programs that will be revived are a service learning opportunity in Guatemala, led by Maj. Paul Ackerman ’93, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and a marine biology excursion to Belize, led by Lt. Col. Paul Moosman Jr. ’98, associate professor of biology.

But no matter where cadets go, the end goal is the same: to come back with more knowledge of a world that is increasingly interdependent and interconnected.

“The world doesn’t stop at VMI or Virginia,” said Hardin. “That’s what you get out of VMI—those value-added programs. You come out of here a more well-rounded person.”

-Mary Price 

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