In 1994, I began my Niagara University experience. I had chosen Niagara for three reasons: to play NCAA Division I baseball, to begin my career in the financial services industry via the co-op program, and to see the world via the study-abroad program. Growing up as a child in Buffalo, N.Y., one of my older brothers would always tell me that when I got to college one day to be sure to take advantage of the study-abroad programs. When the time came, that’s just what I did.
In the summer of 1997, just before senior year, I set off to Niagara University’s partner school, Schiller International University, for a seven-week study-abroad experience. This school is located in the Swiss village of Engelberg, high up in the Swiss Alps. The town’s marketing slogan is, “Engelberg Titlis — It’s Heaven.” Mount Titlis is the highest peak in Switzerland at 10,623 feet. The views in Engelberg at 10,000 feet are absolutely breathtaking, unlike any other that I have experienced.
While attending Schiller, I lived in the dorms of the Hotel Bellevue and met many wonderful people from all over the world, some from as far away as London, India, Japan, and Sri Lanka. Because we were in such close quarters, I learned many of their cultures and vice versa.
The study-abroad program combined classroom studies with travel. At school, we learned a lot about the travel and tourism business in areas of Europe, and studied French, international marketing, Swiss hotel management, and oenology — the art of wine tasting, one of my favorite experiences. Each student paid $50 in Swiss francs to our professor (who was also the dean of the school), which he used to buy wine from the many different regions of Europe. I was so fortunate to have been able to taste the different wines, which were all amazing. Never again have I had such a unique experience.
During the weekends, a group of us would take excursions to different countries. We went to cities within Switzerland, as well as France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Amsterdam, and Ireland. Each country we visited had its own unique culture due to its physical location and the natural resources that can be found there. For example, in Engelberg, the Swiss monks are known for making very fine cheeses, as there is an abundance of cows on the mountains. (In fact, this past summer, my wife and I had one of the best cheeseburgers of all time at the Yucatan, which is the hotel bar/restaurant below the Hotel Bellevue.) Another example is the Italian Riviera, which is known for its pesto, unarguably the best pesto in the world. The region has an abundance of fresh basil, which grows along the many hills of the region.
We also swam in the Mediterranean Sea in Rome, Italy; Nice, France; and Barcelona, Spain. That summer, the water in the Mediterranean was as warm as bath water!
As a result of this study-abroad experience, my appreciation for food, wine and culture is forever changed. Imagine sitting outside a café, sipping an espresso, while overlooking the Roman Colosseum or St. Peter’s Cathedral. The Vatican Museum can be a mind-blowing experience. There are so many works of art that, in fact, if you looked at each piece for one minute it would take you five years to see them all! I have been there three times now and it will never get old. This, by the way, leads to the Sistine Chapel, another experience that will leave you speechless.
I always tell people this experience was a game changer. The reason I say it changed my life is because, without an opportunity like Niagara’s study-abroad program, it is highly unlikely I would have been able to travel to seven European countries within seven weeks. Because of study abroad, I was able to experience many different cultures, people, languages, food, and wine within a short period of time, an experience that is priceless. Before this trip, I had never been to Europe, but since then, I have been to Italy four times, Engelberg once again, and London, and I want to continue traveling throughout Europe because it is such a magical place. It has so much history, culture and beauty that it is something that everyone should do at least once.
When I left Switzerland as a student, I vowed to return one day with my future wife so we could relive this tremendous experience together, and that’s just what we did this past summer! My wife, Alex, and I went to Engelberg and visited the Italian Riviera. When we have children, we’ll highly recommend that they, too, study abroad, to have the same once-in-a-lifetime experience that I had. Besides, it’ll give us a reason to go back!