His first journey to Vietnam started a different chapter of his life.
Chad Downs, a marketing major from Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, who was a senior in the spring, took part in the Troy Study Abroad program to Vietnam in the summer of 2012. That was where he met Yen Bui, a Vietnamese Troy student who is now his wife.
The diverse student population at Troy University poses a variety of opportunities for students to advance personally and professionally whether they stay on campus or travel.
Downs said his life has been impacted by what Troy has to offer — not only in the cultural knowledge he acquired but also in the relationships he developed.
He decided to study abroad because he had friends in Vietnam and a place to stay. Downs said he had visited the country the year before and had developed connections on Troy campuses there.
He learned more than he had expected.
“I would say the greatest difference is the difference between the individualistic culture of America and the communal culture of Vietnam,” he said. “When you visit an area that is so completely different than what you’re used to, the ability to be challenged and to learn more in a new environment is very high.
“You’re learning all the time and comparing to what you know at home. Everything from socializing to transportation to eating to everyday routines was basically new and different.”
When he came back to Troy’s home campus, Downs connected with other international students. He became the social media manager for Troy University International Student Cultural Organization.
According to Darlene Schmurr-Stewart, dean of international student services, the university served approximately 760 international students from 75 countries on its campus in Troy during the 2015 spring semester.
“I think the diversity that we bring to campus opens for American students the doors which may not normally be available to them in a small regional school in southern Alabama,” Schmurr-Stewart said.
She said meeting students from different cultures can encourage American students to consider traveling abroad themselves.
“Seeing the successful, capable international students, even though they may not speak the language perfectly, can inspire our American students to put themselves out there, exposed to other cultures,” Schmurr-Stewart said. “Exposure, friendships come first, then we can begin to work on our international problems, on the big picture.”
Schmurr-Stewart said the international office is working with other programs on campus such as the Leadership Scholars and the English as a Second Language Conversation Partners to introduce American students to the diversity that Troy offers.
Freshmen who have demonstrated leadership during their high school year can apply to the Leadership Scholars program through the admissions office.
Any American students can also sign up to take part in the Conversation Partners program. It helps form small groups of international students and American students as a casual platform for cross-cultural dialogues.
“It cannot be just programs,” Schmurr-Stewart said. “In some way freshmen will have to reach out and make friends at the school. The best way is for them to make international friends.”
“Troy is one of the most diverse place I have ever been,” said Cesar Jauregui, president of the International Student Cultural Organization and a broadcast journalism major from Pell City, with Mexican heritage, who was a senior in the spring.
Jauregui said the diverse opportunities in Troy have helped him grow as a person.
“The four years that I have been in Troy has opened up my eyes,” he said. “Global awareness is an important thing in our competitive job market. I feel like in (this day) and age, you have to understand the concept of a global village to enrich yourself as a professional.
“Once you appreciate the differences in the people around you, putting yourself in their positions, beautiful friendships can be made. I have seen best friends who are from the opposite sides of the world together, visiting each other’s home country.”
Downs said the diversity on the Troy campus influenced his perspectives in many ways.
“Troy is another great challenge domestically,” he said. “The lifestyles of people in this area vary greatly compared to Florida, where I’m from. It definitely took some getting used to when I first moved here from the beach.
“But again, the differences in the way the two areas operate culturally have been just another life lesson that has made me become an adaptive and experienced person professionally.”
The diversity that Troy offers has a lasting impact on students’ careers. Downs said he was launching a website combining his two professional passions: the music industry and international virtual marketing.
“I plan on translating certain types of websites into Vietnamese after I graduate. Hopefully I’ll get a bunch of hungry readers who have been wanting that.”
Troy Study Abroad offers exchange programs as well as programs with partnership institutions across the world. To learn more information about Troy Study Abroad, freshmen can visit its website or its office in Hawkins Hall.
Jauregui said students’ involvement in campus diversity should start as soon as they begin their college lives.
“It is important for freshmen to get involved, to get pushed out of their comfort zone,” he said.
“The sooner you get yourself out there, the more you will be comfortable with it. I have seen many students coming to ISCO in their junior, senior year and telling me they regretted not joining sooner.”
Besides the international flavors, Troy also boasts several opportunities for students to find a place for themselves in college.
According to Jana Wieser, an international relations graduate student from Bremen, Germany, and president of Troy University Spectrum Alliance, her organization provides a safe zone to the LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other gender or sexuality identities) community and its allies, without discrimination.
“We want to embrace everybody, to make them feel there is a place for them to go to,” Wieser said. “Our goal is to create awareness of the diversity of our student body. College won’t be a great experience without it.”