For student Eli Nichols, studying abroad at the Steger Center for International Scholarship this semester has provided really good practice “getting comfortable being uncomfortable” — whether with new people, new cultures, and new experiences.

What he didn’t count on, though, was having to get comfortable being center stage in front of the entire university.

Nichols, a human nutrition, foods, and exercise major, and political science major Emily Barcalow took part in a live interview from Switzerland with President Tim Sands during his annual State of the University Address on Feb. 7.

During his talk at the Moss Arts Center in Blacksburg, Sands focused on Virginia Tech’s global distinction, access, and affordability.

Before speaking with the two students, he described how experiences such as studying abroad are part of the broader educational opportunities that help Hokies “develop workplace skills and networks that are strong predictors of success after graduation.” He explained how the success of one of the university’s priorities, Virginia Tech Advantage, will be measured by an increase in students’ access to experiences such as studying abroad.

Barcalow and Nichols are both participating in the Presidential Global Scholars program, which encourages interdisciplinary and innovative plans of study to help students become global citizens. Even though they arrived at the Steger Center only three weeks ago, they were already able to share stories of growth, learning, and connection.

To underscore the importance of this type of experience and the reason the university has set goals to increase study abroad access, Sands invited Barcalow and Nichols to describe, in real time, the impact studying abroad was having on their education. The students spoke with the president remotely from the Olivio and Lucy Ferrari Library at the center.

“Going back to Blacksburg, I am going to be able to use these new skills in adaptability and communication that I’ve used in countries where I don’t know the language,” Barcalow told Sands.

After the address, Barcalow, who was traveling for the first time outside the U.S., said: “I wanted to gain skills in adaptability, and communication and wanted to learn more about other cultures. This experience has provided all that and more.”

She and Nichols described how earlier that same day they had taken a short train ride from Switzerland to Como, Italy, where they toured the city with Italian Professor Valentina Dodi as part of their regular Italian language class. It was Nichols’ first time in Italy, but, as he hinted during the interview, it wouldn’t be his last. He and his classmates are preparing to travel to Naples and Pompeii to see firsthand what they have been studying in class.

Eli Nichols smiling with a snowy mountain range behind him
Eli Nichols stops for a picture on the Stoos Ridge hiking trail in the Schwyz canton of central Switzerland. Photo courtesy of Eli Nichols.
Emily Barcalow standing in front of Lake Como in Italy.
Emily Barcalow poses in front of Lake Como in Italy. Photo courtesy of Emily Barcalow.

Both Barcalow and Nichols are recipients of scholarships that made it possible for them to study abroad. Sands underscored that Virginia Tech Advantage is one vehicle the university is using to increase students’ access to such scholarships.

“Having experiences that foster transferable skills is the heart of Virginia Tech Advantage,” said Sara Steinert Borella, executive director of the Steger Center. “We encourage all Virginia Tech students studying here to dive into the local experience, to share in community activities, to participate in all that the region has to offer. Take Italian, try it out as you travel, apply what you learn in the classroom in all that you do outside of the Steger Center, then take that with you as you move into graduate school and your professional life.”

Nichols said, “For me, the best part of this experience is meeting new people. A highlight for me has been talking with locals and having conversations with them. We always start in Italian and go from there.”

One of the Steger Center’s goals is to connect students with volunteer opportunities where they work side by side with local residents.

“We are volunteering this weekend at the children’s fair as part of Riva San Vitale’s carnival festivals,” Barcalow said. “We will learn the games in Italian before we start. Should be great fun!”

As the semester unfolds, they intend to also volunteer with an after-school program and at other town festivals.

Through this quick glimpse into Barcalow and Nichols’ semester in Switzerland, Sands’ message was made clear: Getting experiences that bridge academics and career preparedness is a critical part of every Hokie’s education.

At the department level, the Global Education Office, which manages study abroad scholarships, and the Steger Center are both working to increase access by expanding infrastructure and program offerings. The Global Education Office supports faculty members with its global learning course grants and new program development grants for the creation and renovation of study abroad programs designed with accessibility in mind.

The Steger Center soon will begin a renovation to add new areas for study, wellness and exercise, and experiential learning across disciplines. To support study abroad scholarships, consider giving to the Global Education Office during Giving Day. To help the Steger Center serve more students, support its facility expansion on Giving Day.

Both the Global Education Office and the Steger Center are part of Outreach and International Affairs.

President Tim Sands talks to two students via video connection during the state of the university speech.
President Tim Sands talks with Eli Nichols (at left) and Emily Barcalow, who are studying abroad this semester, during the 2024 State of the University speech on Feb. 7, 2024. Virginia Tech photo
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