CSI students Juan Cardona and Giovanni Rosa pose in front of the City University of Hong Kong.

The College of Staten Island’s Center for International Service has sent four undergraduate students to the City University of Hong Kong through its Exchange Ambassador Program for the 2013 spring semester.

These “CSI Exchange Ambassadors” will be taking courses with students from all over the world as they spend the semester exploring the culturally rich city. The basis of the Exchange Ambassador Program is twofold:  to provide CSI students with a core of knowledge and skills in the humanities and social sciences while enabling them to experience life in Hong Kong at the same tuition cost as a semester at CSI, and to provide its students with a “global perspective” that helps them to achieve career goals in an increasingly interdependent world.

Two of the students studying in Hong Kong, Juan Cardona and Giovanni Rosa, were awarded the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship to do so. Undergraduate PELL Grant recipients only may apply for Gilman awards to participate in study abroad programs worldwide. This highly competitive need-based scholarship opportunity awards grants of up to $5,000 toward study abroad for a semester, a year,  or for a four-week summer program.  The application deadline for summer and fall 2013 is March 5, 2013.  More information is available on the Gilman International Scholarship website.

Juan and Giovanni believe that their choice of studying in Hong Kong helped their chances of winning the Gilman award. “Most of the people who apply are traveling to Europe; Hong Kong is truly a unique [destination].”

Although it is unique, Russell Davis, China Programs Coordinator and Study Abroad Advisor, feels that these two students will fit right in. “Hong Kong is such a diverse [place]; these two New Yorkers will be able to have a great learning experience exploring…and using it as a base to explore beyond.”

Juan, who recruited Giovanni to come to study in Hong Kong with him, is aware of the pressures of being a CSI Exchange Ambassador, “We will be representing not only CSI, but New York, even the country,” he said of his role as an Exchange Ambassador.

“Juan and Giovanni will be serving as CSI ambassadors to all of Hong Kong,” reiterated Davis. While this sounds like a challenging responsibility for undergraduate students studying overseas for the first time, the reality is that the CSI Exchange Ambassador program is designed to give its students plenty of freedom while still making the transition from domestic student to international student as painless as possible. Students studying at the City University of Hong Kong are registered at CSI, pay CUNY tuition, and earn credit at CSI toward their college degree.

“CSI really made this as easy as possible,” said Cardona, who is studying second language acquisition, here at CSI.

While the majority of their time will be spent studying, like most undergraduates, Juan and Giovanni will have plenty of downtime to explore Hong Kong and its environs.

Juan, who will be studying Cantonese, as well as psychology and history, has placed the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta warriors in the city of Xianin in northwest China on his itinerary. He is also planning a trip to Thailand and the Philippines to do a little scuba diving.

Giovanni, who will be studying Mandarin and business communications, is an avid martial arts practitioner and is excited to have an opportunity to study kung fu in Hong Kong. “It has been one of my dreams to visit an actual monastery and just meditate,” said the practicing Daoist.

When explaining  just who are the best candidates to serve as exchange ambassadors, Davis explained “we look for more mature, self-directed students” because exchange students, as opposed to students on study abroad programs, take regular university classes with local students abroad.  “Exchange students exercise more freedom in making their schedule, both  in and out of class, and the entire exchange experience fosters a sense of self-reliance,” Davis said.

Or, as Juan put it, “it will be up to us.”

The Exchange Ambassador Program is a bilateral student exchange between CSI and City University of Hong Kong.  While CSI is sending students to Hong Kong this spring, CityU confirmed that they would send several students to CSI next year as visiting exchange students. “While our students are CSI ambassadors in Hong Kong, our entire campus acts as an ambassador when we receive visiting exchange students,” said Barbara Clark, Center for International Service Interim Executive Director.

Although the program has its practical benefits such as raising global awareness at CSI and preparing CSI students for an increasingly international workplace, it is perhaps the more intangible reasons for sending students to study overseas that have made it the popular program it has become. As Clark put it, “we want to increase diversity and make our students citizens of the world.”

Juan Cardona, a graduate of Staten Island Technical High School, majors in Psychology as a member of the CSTEP program.

Giovanni Rosa, also a Psychology major, graduated from Curtis High School.