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FDU Student Spends Year Abroad in Great White North

“I gained knowledge beyond the classroom at Vancouver,” says Ryan Barth-Dwyer, a senior at FDU's College at Florham. “Now that I’m home, I can contact someone in almost every country.”

By Kenna Caprio

It’s not that cold in Vancouver. Really — insists Ryan Barth-Dwyer, a 21-year-old College at Florham student who just spent a year studying abroad there — it just rains frequently. Kind of like nearby Seattle, he says.

Even the weather on the East Coast of the United States is more comparable to the weather in Vancouver, save for all that extra rain, he says. Most of the traditionally cold Canadian weather usually steers clear of the city. While at FDU-Vancouver, Barth-Dwyer only encountered snow in the city once.

Of course, it snowed often in the mountains visible from the downtown. “When it’s raining in the city, it’s snowing in the mountains,” he explains. That weather phenomenon might have been just the thing that convinced Barth-Dwyer to study in Canada.

The avid snowboarder knew that he wanted to experience city life abroad, so that knocked the University’s Wroxton campus out of the running. Combine that with the chance to snowboard frequently, and Barth-Dwyer was sold.

So sold, in fact, on the international experience he enjoyed at FDU-Vancouver that he ended up working with Neil Mort, director of enrollment and student services for Vancouver, to extend his stay.

“Ryan was really involved in student government — a position became vacant and he ran for it. He was the social rep here at the campus,” says Mort. “It seemed like he wasn’t ready to leave yet.

"We recognized and fully supported that, so then it was just a question of getting the appropriate approvals from his program,” he continued.

Mort essentially facilitated the extended stay with help from Barth-Dwyer’s advisor at the College at Florham, Janet Rapisardi, an advising counselor for business students.

Barth-Dwyer is even considering returning to the Great White North for a third semester, perhaps in the spring 2013 to end his FDU career there.

“When you graduate from Vancouver, you get a three-year work visa,” he explains. Living in a foreign country for a few years certainly appeals to the Greenlawn, N.Y. native who roomed with students from Zimbabwe, El Salvador and Mexico. Often times, he was the only American in the bunch.

“I gained knowledge beyond the classroom at Vancouver,” says Barth-Dwyer. “You get to network so much. Now that I’m home, I can contact someone in almost every country.”

Eventually, post-graduation, the entrepreneurial studies major wants to open his own restaurant. Of course, he knows that he needs, “other capitol investments and money to be able to do that.”

So first, he’ll spend the summer lifeguarding at a pool and cooking in a restaurant. This August he also heads to Turkey, since he now has a few friends there to visit. Barth-Dwyer is also saving for a trip to El Salvador. His friends there all want him to come stay.

Mort attributes that desire to travel to the “Canadian mosaic.” There is no dominant culture in Vancouver, he contends, as the city is a hub for international residents, most under the age of 35.

“You get that international experience and a soft immersion (at FDU-Vancouver),” says Mort. “Studying in Vancouver is a good springboard to then do another international exchange.”

American and Canadian cultures are “very similar,” says Mort. “But they’re very different too. It’s subtle though.” Mainly, students just need to adjust to different government, social services and city life, he says. Luckily, because of how the study abroad option at FDU-Vancouver is structured, students can make what they will of the exchange.

“It’s a create-your-own-experience type of thing, with no weekend trips and little physical campus property. Students are in home stay or apartments,” says Brian Swanzey, Director of Study Abroad.

Once he got the lay of the land, Barth-Dwyer opted to move out of home stay — a housing option in which students live with a host family — and into the downtown area. He loved the instant access to campus. “I enjoyed being able to talk to the provost on a daily basis and my advisors,” he says. And, despite no formal schedule for day or weekend trips, Barth-Dwyer, along with classmates, took lots of trips.

“I traveled to Seattle and the Yukon and saw the Northern Lights. There were a few times where I was so happy that I was there in that moment,” Barth-Dwyer says. “Just being happy with where my life has come to — in one of the most beautiful places in the world with city, mountain, water.”

Smaller excursions included a boat ride in Loinsdale Quay in North Vancouver, a bungee-jumping adventure in Whistler and, of course, snowboarding there too.

“Ryan is a good example of how to make the most of an exchange program. If students want to learn something from him, it’s that when you come into a new environment, you have to work that much harder to get more,” says Mort. “The more they’re immersed and getting involved and are a participant, the richer and more enjoyable the experience.”

A rich and enjoyable experience is certainly what Barth-Dwyer had abroad. “Going there for school is beyond a blessing and a pleasure,” he says of Vancouver.

And so, even though they say it’s only sunny in Vancouver for three months of the year, the close-knit campus, flourishing city and stunning landscape is worth the trip. Perhaps you’ll even see residents “applaud the sunset when it happens,” says Barth-Dwyer. One can only hope.

For more details on how to study abroad in Vancouver, students can call Swanzey at 201-692-7218 or 973-443-8086.

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