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CESA in Switzerland - Virginia Tech

CESA in Switzerland - Virginia Tech

CESA in Switzerland - Virginia

CESA Leah Weisman in witzerl nd Students enjoy the outside spaces at CESA, the Center for European Studies and Architecture. Photo courtesy of Paul Knox Alex Kosnett, senior biochemistry major from Washington, D.C., smiles during a class activity. Leah Weisman Brittany Usiak – a junior in apparel, housing, and resource management from Bealeton, Va. – serves herself salad at lunch along with Maggie Lawson, a junior from Churchville, Va., majoring in agricultural and applied economics. When Virginia Tech students enter this academic learning community, they are housed with others from their discipline. They learn together, live together, eat together, explore together. “I remember when we really bonded was when we went to the Dachau concentration camp as a class,” says junior Jillian Harris, a native of Middleburg, Va. “When we walked into the old gas chambers … it was real. We cried together. Since then we’ve been like a family.” The CESA program is creating not only worldly Hokies, but also lifelong friends. “It’s funny that we had to travel, like, a thousand miles away from home just to become friends,” says senior Marissa Shauger of Randolph, N.J., who is majoring in human development. These lessons – cooperation, acceptance, and community – cannot easily be learned inside a workday-only classroom building; but the students are learning them here at CESA, 4,000 miles away from home. Virginia Tech’s Switzerland experience: unlocked doors and hearts By Leah Weisman The students here greet each other with a hug and walk arm-in-arm. They live, eat, and sleep – altogether in harmony. Is this group dynamic thanks to lucky chemistry or just the natural product of Virginia Tech’s Center for European Studies and Architecture (CESA) in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland “You cannot come to CESA and hide. If you have a problem, the whole group has to cope. It’s not like you are being scanned by everyone all the time, but there is a watchfulness of a community here,” says Daniela Doninelli, managing director of this academic learning community. The Villa Maderni is the main building, where some 48 students take meals and attend class. Twenty-eight students also live in the building, in rooms of twos or fours. The rest occupy apartments just yards from the villa. “Living in a community like this, you learn to give rather than take – give in the sense that there are ways in which you don’t impose on others – for the well-being of the community. The students have to understand how to abandon being selfish. If they do an action they’re not supposed to do, it could pain someone else,” Doninelli says. Doors are always open or unlocked. The hope is that the students will learn not only from their teachers but also from each other. Junior geography major and group fitness instructor Melissa Lyden, of Leesburg, Va., leads some of her classmates in Zumba. Senior Maureen McGonagale – a humanities, science, and environment major hailing from Arlington, Va. – demonstrates the yoga she learned from her semester in India. Senior biochemistry major Alex Kosnett from D.C. shares vegetarian recipes with his peers. The students help each other with their course work and explore together during downtimes. Sophomore and human development major Allie Still from Short Pump, Va., thinks about what she’s learned since coming to CESA. “Because of this living and learning environment, I had to learn how to become part of a community. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned,” she says. “It’s obviously radically different than the environment in Blacksburg where you see each other in class and you may not see each other again. And you see different people in different classes. Here, being thrown in with the same people again and again, seeing so much of them, it’s going to change the dynamic,” says sustainability Professor Richard Rich of the Department of Political Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Andrew Mertens, a senior from Bethesda, Md., majoring in history, remembers when he returned from Riva San Vitale in 2010. “It was tough to wake up the next morning and not go down to breakfast and chat with everyone. There are times where I stop and think how much I miss the place.” Continued on page 18 Rooftop view of Riva San Vitale Larry Hincker OutreachNOW 17

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