Globe-trotting graduates

Monday, June 27, 2011

The 1990 education-abroad experience that Marc Nordberg '93 shared with future wife Sharon (Russell) Nordberg '93 at England's Alnwick Castle launched a career and life adventure that has spanned three continents.

Marc returned to campus last fall to speak to classes about the choices and experiences that led to his life as a career globe-trotter with the U.S. State Department, a life he and Sharon aim to lead "until it stops being fun."

After the Alnwick semester that stoked their fascination with foreign travel, each went on to take part in multiple learning and teaching opportunities around the world. They married before Marc entered the exotic world of the U.S. Foreign Service that has taken him and Sharon to Israel, Belize, Belarus and Estonia. Son Evan joined them in 2004.

What the couple — he from Brooklyn Park and she from Rogers — discovered while living and studying in the Duke of Northumberland's home/fortress steeped in 900 years of high profile English history was the magic of being someplace far different.

St. Cloud State's British Studies program in northern England became a significant link to his State Department position, said Marc, who majored in political science and international relations."It was the first time I'd left the United States, and I didn't know what to expect. It was fantastic. That experience is what gave me and my wife the travel bug."

"I was living in a one-person room the size of a closet, it was freezing and when you turned on the gas heater it got so hot you had to turn it off, only to get cold again," Marc said of his castle stay. "But you didn't think twice about the inconveniences. Walking across the drawbridge and knocking on those massive double doors to have a gatekeeper let you inside the castle walls made up for it."

Marc and Sharon had extraordinary experiences during their Alnwick semester, including a trip to Berlin a year after the Wall that for 28 years had divided East and West Berlin was torn down. "We went to East Berlin and walked through Checkpoint Charlie ... it was great fun being in Europe at that point," Nordberg said. "Also, the Gulf War started when we were in Alnwick. It was a historic time."

The 1990 Alnwick class also had a "Hollywood" encounter while living in the castle that has been the setting for two Harry Potter movies, "Elizabeth," and many other films and television series. "Robin Hood Prince of Thieves" was filmed at the castle in 1990, and Marc met star Kevin Costner and secured an autograph for his grateful sister.

After Alnwick, history major Sharon took part in another study abroad semester in Ingolstadt, Germany, and eventually went into the Peace Corps, serving and studying in Poland for two years. After graduation Marc taught English for five months at Petroznavodsk in northern Russia, where he'd earlier put his St. Cloud State Russian studies to use during a five-week study-abroad. "It was a fantastic opportunity and it was not anything I would have done if I hadn't gone to Alnwick."

In 1998 Marc entered the U.S. Foreign Service, and after a year of training in Washington, D.C., he and Sharon were sent to their first assignment, Tel Aviv, Israel. "I had never been to that part of the world," Marc said. "We could go to a place where there was a Roman amphitheater next to a Crusader fortress next to an Arab village abandoned in 1948 — three very different sites of history in one place.

Next it was Belize for two years. "Neither of us had been in Central America," Marc said. "The work wasn't as interesting as in Israel, but it was a fantastic place to visit. The cruise ships started coming more frequently right before we left."

Their third overseas assignment was in Minsk, Belarus, part of the former Soviet Union and an "entirely different world politically," according to Marc, whose diplomatic skills were put to the test frequently. "The government there is strongly anti-American and tries to pass that feeling to its citizens. My largest task was simply trying to talk to average people — fielding questions about democracy and building ties. There were a lot of questions about whether I disagree with my country."

"If pressed I would say that Minsk might have been one of our best tours because the staff there was terrific to work with," said Sharon, who acknowledged that the government of Belarus is oppressive and less than fond of Americans.

Now the Nordbergs are in Tallinn, Estonia, where Marc is the political and economic counselor at the U.S. Embassy. It's another popular tourist attraction that he said has "far too much sunshine in the summer and far too little in winter."

While it's been a "terrific experience," Sharon admits there are downsides to their ongoing global adventure, especially now that son Evan is getting older and the gaps between visits home seem longer. "This part of living overseas is tough to be honest because we would like our son to know his aunts, uncles and grandparents," she said. "We don't get to take advantage of the family ties that most people can."

It's also next to impossible for spouses of foreign service officers to have a career, Sharon said. "Nonetheless, I think we all enjoy the experience of living overseas, and we are already speculating about where we might get to serve next. I for one hope for a sunny, warm country!"

Intern's dreams take her far

When Professor Linda Butenhoff advised global studies major Emilie Wardrip to "dream big," the Alexandria senior responded by landing a plumb internship with the East Asia/Pacific Bureau of the U.S. State Department.

For 10 weeks during fall semester Wardrip had a desk in a high-profile Washington, D.C. office, working alongside a public diplomacy officer to help draft official responses about events and issues involving U.S. relations with Japan and Korea. "I was fortunate," she said. "What I was working with was really exciting. I even helped draft speeches used by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton."

"She spoke some of the paragraphs we wrote word for word," Wardrip said, referring to the experience of having the U.S. Secretary of State incorporate her work into presentations such as the U.S.-hosted Trilateral Ministerial Meeting that took place after North Korea attacked a South Korean island Nov. 23. "It was amazing to hear her address issues I had directly worked with on the Korea desk team."

While she sometimes felt "out of her comfort zone" among the other interns — primarily from prestigious East and West Coast colleges — Wardrip had superior preparation for her internship. She had a year of study abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, where she lived one semester with a Korean family and the second with a 28-year-old single career woman who worked for a Korean shipping company. Her older brother Nathan, a St. Cloud State student veteran majoring in engineering, also was studying at Yonsei that year.

Wardrip's passion for East Asia had its roots at Winona State University, where her freshman roommate was an international student from Korea. Wardrip drastically changed directions in her education and transferred from studying composite materials engineering at Winona to pursuing a global education at St. Cloud State, which has an educational partnership with Yonsei.

The suggestion to pursue the internship came from Butenhoff, a professor of political science and director of global studies for St. Cloud State who inspires students by telling them it's important to aspire to bigger and better opportunities. Ann Radwan, associate vice president for academic affairs/international studies at St. Cloud State, helped Wardrip with her application essay. "She helped me clarify my ideas and goals."

"I wouldn't have been able to pursue this opportunity without their support," Wardrip said of the mentors at St. Cloud State.

Butenhoff, who is one of those mentors, said Wardrip deserves much of the credit for her internship accomplishment. "Emilie is an exceptional student for a number of reasons," Butenhoff said. "She's an academic superstar with a GPA of 3.73, and, while this is important, the U.S. Department of State is looking for students who also are well-rounded in their course work and life experiences. Emilie is a mature, thoughtful and well-liked individual who has extended herself by seeking out an education-abroad experience, electing to study Korean language, culture, history and politics in Korea and receiving a Gilman Scholarship to support her studies."

What does Wardrip consider the greatest benefit of her extraordinary internship? "Confidence," she said without hesitation. "I've learned to think about what's possible, not what's impossible."

What's next? "I've applied for a Boren Scholarship for overseas study," she said. "I plan to go back to Korea for my fifth year." After that Wardrip is considering a career in foreign service or global business.

In the meantime, Wardrip is finishing her courses and living in Lawrence Hall, St. Cloud State's residence hall dedicated to international students and students interested in global education. Her current roommate is an international student from Nigeria.

"The best thing about living in Lawrence is being able to meet more international students from Korea cooking, speaking Korean and watching Korean movies with them," Wardrip said. "Just being around them is really helping me gain back vocabulary that I have forgotten since returning to Minnesota from my year at Yonsei."

For Wardrip, a global education is essential. "The world looks to the United States and most U.S. citizens look inward," she said. "We're not always aware of what's going on in other countries. It's good to have that exposure and realize that everyone's watching you — even if you're not watching them."

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