Who, What, When
Forging a more global Skidmore Expanding international perspectives for every student
Here from afar Students with roots in other countries give, and get, new insights
Pencils and passports Even brief travel seminars can transform learning
To not forget CNN's Arwa Damon '99 reports from Iraq
Foreign postings Expat aumni share tips and tales
Here from afar
Mil doesn’t get home as often as most Skidmore students. The trip
to Swaziland takes too many hours on too many planes. He misses his family, but he focuses on preparing for law school. He says being at Skidmore is “a priceless opportunity to develop relationships with wonderful people whose stories and passions have edified me in a lot of ways.”
His own stories and passions have also edified plenty of home-grown students. And that’s the whole idea. All Skidmore graduates should be “accomplished at interacting with persons whose backgrounds differ from theirs,” states the college’s strategic plan. That means diversifying the student body, including geographically.
Welcoming foreign nationals, new immigrants, and first-generation Americans to Skidmore is the focus of international-student coordinator Darren Drabek. Among the newly graduated seniors were just four international students; the incoming freshman class has twenty-four. That growth, Drabek says, “reflects our rising academic profile, and also word of mouth that international students are well taken care of here and find a curriculum that’s attentive to their needs.” Among the favorite recruiting pools: the twelve United World Colleges around the world, where selected high-schoolers study in a mutinational environment expressly designed to promote global understanding. Starting in 2004, thanks to philanthropists Shelby and Gale Davis, each UWC grad could bring a $10,000 annual grant to attend any of eighty-eight American colleges; this year the grant rises to $20,000 at colleges enrolling at least five UWC grads. In 2007–08 Skidmore had twenty-one Davis UWC Scholars from sixteen countries.
Davis funding has been crucial for Skidmore, where, Drabek explains, “the policy had been not to offer financial aid to international applicants, since we already have more US applicants than we can provide for.” Skidmore aid available to foreign freshmen is typically limited to the Filene Music and Porter Science Scholarships and the Academic Opportunity Program. (Once they’re on campus, both foreign and US students can receive various named scholarships to complete their degrees.) Dovetailing nicely with Skidmore’s mission, the Davis program fosters “a more globally engaged undergraduate experience for everyone on campus.”
With more international students in residence, support systems are branching out beyond the financial. An “international family” program enlists college employees and other Saratogians to serve as liaisons or mentors, a Halloween pumpkin-carving party was a big hit, and the International Affairs Club has brought foreign and American students together for overseas volunteer projects.
Sayed is another student who can’t get home much. It’s even hard to connect by phone with his family in Afghanistan, where, he says quietly, “the political situation is quite fragile.” But he’s grateful to Skidmore and the Davis program, he says, “for giving me the right to learn, the opportunity to grow, and the power to change.”
Hager Youssef ’09 (above), political-economy and international-affairs major. Hometown: New York City. Came to the US: From Egypt, ten years ago. Here and there: Skidmore is a beautiful and welcoming community; I am humbled by everyone’s helpfulness. Alexandria is a beautiful and diverse coastal city; I am proud of everyone’s kindness to foreigners and each other. Cultural differences: In Egypt bargaining and personal commercial relationships are greatly emphasized, not like the alienated experience of malls and online stores here. When I was there last, I realized how bad I am at bargaining! Coping skills: Living in two different cultures is a privilege. It’s also confusing, stressful, promising, fun, enriching… My values are challenged and developed by the other side’s perspectives and criticism. Home cooking: My favorite foods are Indian, but for an Egyptian dish I would choose lentil soup, made from yellow lentils and flavored with cumin and garlic.
Nomvula “Kipsy” Ndwandwe ’08 (right), economics major. Hometown: Manzini, Swaziland. Came to the US: By way of a United World Colleges high school in Norway. Here and there: At home not a day goes by without seeing someone I know, and even if we don’t know someone well, we always say hello. Here, when the weather turns warm, people seem to get friendlier and more talkative; that’s harder when you’re very cold! Cultural differences: At home homosexuality was never talked about or accepted, but in Norway same-sex relationships were very open.
I was confused for awhile; I had to struggle with my beliefs and reach an understanding. Coping skills: Swazis look down on refugees from Mozambique. Now, after being a foreigner in several countries, I find myself defending the Mozambiquans—being foreign doesn’t make them less human. Home cooking: A favorite is incwancwa yemabele—porridge made of ground sorghum that’s fermented and boiled, and served with sugar.
Mlungisi “Mil” Ndwandwe ’09 (left), management and business major. Hometown: Manzini, Swaziland. Came to the US: To enroll at Methodist University; transferred to Skidmore in 2007. Here and there: Swaziland epitomizes the true spirit
of Africa: the people remain loving and kind, refusing to lose hope. America is a beacon
of light: from its successes and failures we can learn how to forge a bright future. Cultural
differences: It was hard to learn which detergent is for what use, and what the different kinds of milk are. The range
of choices is a bit extreme. Coping skills: Living in multiple societies has increased
my willingness to interrogate my own assumptions. But I miss my loved ones, the Swazi mountains, and the relative simplicity of life. Home cooking: I like emasi, which is grain, usually corn, that is ground and boiled into a thick porridge. It is served with soured milk, which may have a tart taste or a more subtle, creamy taste.
Durvena Surju ’10 (right), management and business major. Hometown: Schenectady, N.Y. Came to the US: From Guyana, ten years ago. Here and there: Guyanese culture is about being a close-knit community where everyone comes together in happiness and sadness. It takes religion and family very seriously. At Skidmore, people are more independent. Cultural differences: My first semester, my mom kept calling me to ask, “Did you eat enough today? What did you eat?” I always ate traditional food at home, so it took some adjusting to broaden my tastes here. Coping skills: In high school I used
to get angry when people assumed I was from South Asia, or when they judged me negatively. But I survived. I’ve learned how to keep a positive attitude and compete for equal opportunity. Home cooking: A dish I like is kheer—a boiled pudding with milk, rice, sugar, and ground cardamom seeds.
Wissam Serrot ’11 (left), international-affairs major, Italian minor. Hometown: Fallujah, Iraq. Came to the US: By way of a United World Colleges high school in Italy. Here and there: I lived in Fallujah through two years of the invasion; it’s messy there. Iraq is the place where the first nation on earth was created, and the first law and the first school, but it has been suffering from external pressure and occupation and from internal dictatorship. Saratoga and Skidmore are very peaceful and diverse. Cultural differences: Every aspect of life here is double the size I’m used to—more choice and opportunities. Coping skills: I’ve traveled around Europe and the Middle East, and also in the Northeast of the US, so my understanding of the different societies has become very rich. Home cooking: My favorite foods from home are kebab and falafel.
Editor's note: Back in the 1950s Anne-Marie Detourbet attended Skidmore from France. Click here to see her reminiscences and other “global Skidmore” features.