FVCC’s ‘Big Night’ drives study-abroad program

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This year marks the 10th anniversary of Flathead Valley Community College’s study abroad program, which offers a handful of students the opportunity to spend a semester in Venice, Italy each year.

Though the FVCC Semester in Venice Program has thrived under the leadership of director Susan Guthrie for the last eight years, she said much of the program’s success relies on the college’s annual Big Night, an Italian themed feast that raises around $20,000 each year for student scholarships.

“The experience they get, for some of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever had a passport at age 18. They’ve never been out of the country, sometimes not even out of the state,” Guthrie said. “They learn how to be temporary citizens, as they are classified, when they’re in Venice.”

The semester in Venice has given students of all majors and ages the opportunity to spend 90 days immersed in a foreign culture, with all credits acquired transferring both to FVCC and other universities

At around $13,600 per student for a semester in Venice, Guthrie said the program offers the chance for students to study abroad for about half the price of larger universities.

That total includes the student’s travel expenses, housing, a food stipend, transportation, all the semester’s credits and all other expenses excluding spending money.

However, even at that cost, FVCC Foundation Director Colleen Unterreiner said the program is often cost prohibitive for many of the students.

That, she said, is where the partnership between the foundation and the art department comes in for the Big Night fundraiser.

About two years after the college launched the Semester in Venice Program, Unterreiner said the foundation’s board realized that in order for the program to maintain the numbers to be sustainable, students needed help with the cost.

The foundation decided to partner up with the program to create the Big Night fundraiser, which Unterreiner said has become one of the college’s most anticipated events.

“It’s become a wonderful tradition here. It’s become something people look forward to every year,” Unterreiner said. “I think over time we’ve developed this great support network and we just want to keep building it. This is a very unique wonderful thing.”

The evening features multiple stations full of authentic Italian food made by FVCC Chef Shannon Hayashi, a no-host bar with a variety of Italian wines available for purchase by the glass or bottle and an Italian-themed auction hosted by a live auctioneer.

All proceeds go straight into a scholarship fund.

Participants must put in their share of work in order to be accepted into the program, taking an intensive nine-week language course, attending informational meetings, going through and application and interview process and meeting all requirements before hopping on a plane.

According to Guthrie, though, most of the students who have come back from the trip said they found the experience worthwhile, often returning as donors to the program themselves.

“Before my eyes each week I see growth in the students, their confidence, their ability to step outside of themselves, and for some it takes longer, but it always happens,” Guthrie said. “I’m so proud of FVCC. It’s a big vision for a community college and we’re so lucky.”

Tickets for Big Night are $75 each and can be purchased at the door or in advance by calling 756-3632 or emailing www.fvcc.edu/bignight.

The event begins at 6 p.m. today at the Arts and Technology Building on campus.

For more information, contact Guthrie at 756-3896 or sguthrie@fvcc.edu.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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