Meet Three of Trinity’s International Students
St. Augustine wrote ‘the World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.’ Today at Trinity, dozens of students from around the globe are writing their own stories, adding pages filled with adventure and new-found understanding. Some of these students hail from large cities, others from remote islands of civilization, but all have traveled thousands of miles to study at Trinity, and each has a fascinating tale to tell.
School of Professional Studies student Dimitar Vakadinov chose Trinity to prepare himself for a successful career in business. Raised in Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia, Dimitar saw a unique opportunity in his country’s recent admission to the European Union. E.U. membership is likely to rejuvenate Bulgaria’s struggling economy, which collapsed in 1996.
Although Sofia is now the 15th largest city in the E.U., Vakadinov admits that economic and technological progress is slower than in Western Europe and the United States. According to Vakadinov, business opportunities in the E.U. are located mostly in Western Europe, and he hopes to one day help Bulgarian companies expand into these newly-accessible markets.
To best represent his country as a businessman, Vakadinov realized that he would need the advantage of a global perspective. At just 24, he had already earned an undergraduate degree in economy of transportation, and was well on his way toward a graduate degree in economy of communication − a degree he intends to complete in the future. Vakadinov astutely decided to change the course of his graduate studies toward a degree that would help him capitalize on the window of opportunity presented by Bulgaria’s new E.U. membership.
To gain the international experience necessary for success in the E.U., Vakadinov chose to seek an education outside his native Bulgaria. He chose to come to the United States to get his master’s degree, having traveled to the U.S. in the summers of 2002 through 2005. During these trips Vakadinov worked in several locations throughout the Washington, D.C. area.
Interestingly, the U.S. capital was not Vakadinov’s planned destination on the first of these summer visits, and his story is a testament to the challenges facing college-age students who choose to travel to a foreign country with a different culture and language.
On his first trip to the U.S. in 2002, Vakadinov was part of a group of Bulgarian students who had each paid a significant amount of money for the opportunity to work for the summer at a chain of hotels in Atlanta, Georgia. Upon arriving in the U.S., the group was surprised to be stopped at JFK International Airport, and unexpectedly brought to a university campus in New York. There they were told that the promised jobs did not exist and that their travel contracts were invalid. Stranded in a strange country, the students frantically sought jobs that would allow them to stay, and would be possible for them to perform with their limited English skills.
Back in Sofia, parents grew increasingly concerned for the welfare of their children adrift in a distant land. ‘It was a big scandal in Bulgaria,’ according to Vakadinov. Unbelievably, the hotel chain in Atlanta had signed contracts to employ over six hundred Bulgarians, but now the students had nowhere to turn in an unfamiliar culture.
Fortunately, Vakadinov found work as a lifeguard in the national capital area, instead of Atlanta, for the summer, and has traveled to the U.S. each year since.
Vakadinov’s first trip to the U.S. was chaotic and scandal-ridden; strangely, this may explain why he chose Trinity when making another important decision about his international adventures and why he recommends Trinity to other foreign students. He cites the University’s superior support of international students and the efficiency of its admissions process among the reasons he chose Trinity, where he has been pursuing an M.B.A. in international business since October.
Vakadinov’s appreciation for Trinity’s outreach to international students is evident. ‘I feel I’m somebody here,’ at Trinity, he says. ‘When I go to see Deepa [Peppin, Trinity's director of international student services], she knows who I am.’
Trinity’s uniquely personal approach to education continues in the classroom, where Vakadinov is pleased by the small class size, saying, ‘there’s not fifty people…teachers know if I participate.” He hopes that his fellow students also benefit from this close interaction with Trinity’s international students. “We can come with a lot from our culture,” he says, “We have a different point of view…ideas that sometimes work better.”
Vakadinov whole-heartedly recommends international study to other students. “It’s a great experience for me to be here and study in English…I know it’s going to help my future development.”
Senior Sashini Perera comes to Trinity from the mountainous town of Matale in the island nation of Sri Lanka. Perera was inspired by her mother, a successful businesswoman who owns and oversees three restaurants, a spice estate, and a tea plantation. “Whenever I had the time I would help my mother with the family businesses – some day I want to have a shop of my own,” declares Perera.
Successfully following in her mother’s footsteps would require the dual advantages of education and experience, so after high school Perera sought a quality education in Sri Lanka. Hoping for a global perspective, she enrolled in a program offering a degree from an American university, but found conditions at her school to be very difficult. “There was no library, no internet on campus outside the classroom,” she recalls, “it is hard to learn without the proper resources.”
Using her family’s own internet connection, Perera searched for opportunities to transfer to a better school abroad, specifically in Washington, D.C., so that she could be close to her aunt and uncle who live nearby in Maryland. “When I found Trinity’s web site, I knew I wanted to come here,” she says, “I liked the women’s college aspect, and the size of the college – not too big.”
Sashini applied, and was accepted to Trinity’s College of Arts and Sciences as a transfer student, then set out to journey from Sri Lanka (off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent) nearly halfway around the globe to Washington, D.C. When she first arrived on campus – her first trip to the United States – she knew had made “the right choice.”
While studying for her undergraduate degree in business administration, Perera has made the beautiful Trinity campus her second home. For the past year, she has gained hands-on experience through Trinity’s work-study program, working on-campus as the department of public safety assistant. Knowing the value of a strong, female mentor, she credits Trinity’s director of public safety, Terri Stewart, as being a model of good leadership. In addition to administrative tasks, Stewart assigned Perera to work in ‘access control’ greeting campus visitors and ensuring that only authorized individuals are allowed on campus. “I learned that I want to work with people, not stuck behind a computer, or something like that,” she exclaims.
In addition to her studies and campus job, Perera is treasurer of the International Organization of Trinity and a member of the Green Leaders Association. She has faith that these experiences will give her the tools needed to open her own successful business when she returns to her tropical homeland. With all she does at Trinity, it is clear that Perera is having the experience of a lifetime.
Fortunately, she does find some time to relax; “I love to swim at the Trinity Center,” she reveals.
Senior Leonie Quinn first attended college at Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia. At Southern Cross she studied media arts and communication, but soon grew restless. “I guess I studied to get into university because it’s just what you did,” says Leonie. “But when I got there I really didn’t like it.”
Quinn decided to turn the page and left the university to travel. Taking advantage of her father’s British citizenship, she applied for, and received, a British passport, and set out on her international adventure.
During two trips to the U.S., Quinn worked at summer camps for at-risk children in Los Angeles, an experience she found surprising. “At every meal kids would steal food – I never considered that children might not have enough to eat,” she recalls. “I never considered that children would need to be checked each day for knives!”
Her eye-opening experience at the camps helped to shape her current career goal, to work with children – especially children in need. To that end, Quinn has studied for the past two years at Trinity, working toward her bachelor’s degree with a minor in education. At the same time, she works at a nonprofit after-school program for at-risk children as site coordinator. In this position, she works with about sixty children and gains teaching experience. “I liked the nonprofit aspect, without being stuck in a school system just yet,” says Quinn, “and it’s part time, which suits going to school.”
Quinn’s current job is not her first. After her camp experience in Los Angeles, she traveled to Europe, and wound up living in London for seven years as part of her continuing journey. “I was having fun,” she says, traveling in Europe and living in cosmopolitan London. However, the job she kept to sustain herself, working as a computer network administrator, “just wasn’t what I knew I should be doing.”
Seeking a change, Quinn moved to the U.S. After so many years, she is just weeks away from finishing her undergraduate studies: on Sunday, May 20, she will graduate with her Trinity classmates. Looking back on her travels, she sees many valuable experiences that have shaped her personal development. She recommends travel to other students, saying, “a lot of young American students should definitely do it. Travel will give them the opportunity to experience other cultures. It has helped me build a strong self-identity. Studying abroad helps you get to know a lot of the rest of the world as well, and builds tolerance, understanding, and patience.”