February 26, 2017

At Home in the World

“When we’re comfortable, we tend to put ourselves into a little box and get used to traveling from our home to campus and back again, making that your whole world,” says Mariam Sarkessian, a native of Malvern, PA, about deciding to spend her junior year studying at the University of Nancy in Nancy, France.

With an adventurous attitude and financial support from the Phillip N. Stan, III and Andrea McHugh Study Abroad/Internship Professional Experience Grant, Sarkessisn enrolled in a nine-month program to earn a Bachelor of Business degree.

Sarkessian found things to adjust to from the day she arrived in France. “Right as we got there, the apartments where I was staying, along with several other students in the study abroad program, had a power outage. We were without power for the first two weeks,” says Sarkessian. “No computers, no Internet, no blow dryers, no refrigerator. None of the comforts many of us were used to.” 

Mariam Abroad

For Sarkessian, a business management major with a minor in music for voice, the real awakening was the classes. “The set up and structure of the classes was one of the biggest culture shocks. Everything was in one building, class schedules changed from week to week, the vacation schedule was entirely different, and each class was 3 hours long.” 

The French education system stresses organization, self-motivation, independence and collaboration.  Fortunately, her Bloomsburg business classes included many group projects. Each of her classes in France included two group projects, and in some, “that was the scope of the entire class,” she says. “We were given a group project and then that was it, we just had to complete that project for that class.”

Outside of school, Sarkessian lived like a local, shopping at neighborhood grocery stores and dining in neighborhood cafes. “It was a lot more relaxing pace and healthier lifestyle than life in the US,” Sarkessian says. “When we weren’t rushing to classes, we could walk to almost anywhere we wanted to go and nearly all the food was organic or locally grown.” 

Along with completing an accelerated bachelor’s degree program, the donor support she received made it possible for Sarkessian to travel to 36 cities in ten countries by train, plane, bus, and automobile. “Traveling by yourself in an unfamiliar place forces you to learn a lot about yourself pretty quickly,” she adds. “You discover more about your own strengths and weaknesses and how you will respond to challenges when they come up.”

At the recent Career Connections Expo held on BU’s campus as part of the Professional U initiative, Sarkessian updated her resume to include her study abroad experience. She asked employers if they offered opportunities in the areas of international business and project management.

“Through this entire experience, I was exposed to an amazing amount of different work styles and cultures,” says Sarkessian. “But after seeing how the work I might do would be applied in an actual international setting, I became much more confident about turning this into a career after college.”

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