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Cassandra Garcia was a little nervous and a lot excited.
She had a lot to share but wasn’t sure about speaking to a group of 500 academics in a foreign country.
The West Virginia University graduate student was invited to share her international education experience with higher education officials from all over the world at the Project Directors Conference, sponsored by the higher education wing of the European Commission, earlier this year. The conference was held in Berlin.
“I was honored they asked me, and psyched to be able to share my experience,” said Garcia, of Fairmont.
In the end, she “more than held her own,” said her professor Robert Blobaum who confirmed that Garcia was the only current student who presented at the conference.
“Cassie shared the podium with the director-general of education and culture for the entire European Union and the European Union’s top international education officials,” Blobaum said. “She did an excellent job of representing our program.”
Garcia is a participant in WVU’s Atlantis Program. The program, also called the Transatlantic MA Program in East-Central European Studies, gives 12 students each year the chance to study at three universities all over the world: the University of Tartu in Estonia, Collegium Civitas in Warsaw, Poland and WVU.
In the end the students earn two master’s degrees – one from WVU and one from the University of Tartu or Collegium Civitas.
Garcia will graduate with a master’s degree in history from WVU in May, and she is preparing to defend her dissertation at the University of Tartu in the next couple of months. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in international studies and Slavic and Eastern European Studies from WVU in 2009.
At the conference, she shared her experience in the Atlantis Program. In particular, she was asked to talk about the difficulties and benefits of learning a language while also studying.
As part of the Atlantis Program, she was required to learn a new language each time she went to a new country. In Poland, she had to learn Polish, and in Estonia, Estonian.
“There are a lot of miscommunications when you are learning a language, not just between the faculty members and students but also in everyday life,” she said. “I talked about how I was interviewed by a friend for the Polish newspaper and when the article ran I was so excited, but it turned out what was printed was actually pretty negative. It was a big misunderstanding.
“It was great to share that funny anecdote at the conference, because it turns out a lot of other people were facing similar problems,” she said.
Sharing the positives about learning a language was easy for Garcia.
“The fact that I learned another language is a big deal in and of itself,” she said. “In the U.S. we don’t stress the foreign languages as much, and I think that is really a shame.
“In Europe people know three or four languages by the time they are 18; it is a very different situation. By learning another language you really learn a lot about the culture. It was good to show that our program is stressing the importance of learning languages.”
Overall the experience was something that Garcia will never forget.
“It was so big, it was nuts,” she said. “I met so many great people from all over the world.”
Garcia would ultimately like to be a professor, but first plans on obtaining her doctorates in Slavic literature and language.
For now, she is working in the Czech Republic as an English language teacher.
More information on the Atlantis Program is available online at http://atlantisprogram.wvu.edu/ .
By Colleen DeHart
WVU University Relations/News
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