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Environmental portrait of two girls sitting back to back on floor

Freshman anthropology major Lauren Agnello, left, and her sister, Rachael, a senior conflict analysis and resolution major, came to Mason, in part, because of its proximity to Washington, D.C. They say their international educational experiences have helped make them more well-rounded students and citizens.

International Background makes D.C.’s Connections a Draw

When discussing their educational trajectories, Rachael and Lauren Agnello—sisters from Pittsburgh and George Mason University Honors College students—kept coming back to this: “Our parents were always saying to think out of the box when it came to our education,” Rachael says. “They were encouraging us to learn the way we saw best.”

What was best, the sisters decided, was to get out of the country, experience other cultures and learn new languages.

Rachael, a senior majoring in economics and conflict analysis and resolution, spent 10th grade studying in Norway, and last year studying in Germany. Lauren, a freshman majoring in anthropology, spent 10th grade studying in Germany, and the summer before her senior year in high school learning Korean in South Korea.

“It makes you think globally rather than just small-scale,” Lauren says of the international excursions.

Mason encourages its students to engage in experiential learning, and it was Andy Hoefer, assistant dean of the Honors College, who laid the groundwork for Rachael’s year in Germany. That trip was through the Congress–Bundestag Youth Exchange and was funded by the U.S. Department of State. Her school year in Norway was funded through Rotary International.

Lauren’s trip to Germany was funded through Rotary International. Her trip to South Korea was through the National Security Language Initiative, also sponsored by the Department of State.

“The urge I have within me to do something out of the box has been nourished and encouraged at Mason.”

— Rachael Agnello

“After adapting to and thriving in those circumstances, they can handle the ups and downs of undergraduate life,” Hoefer said of the sisters, who as University Scholars attend Mason tuition-free. “Most importantly, they have a broader context in which they can interpret and understand ideas, knowledge and different perspectives.”

For Rachael, those perspectives were gained by experiencing Norway’s social welfare system of government. Her internship in Germany was at a large public relations firm in Frankfort, and she volunteered as a children’s art teacher at refugee homes in the town of Mainz.

Lauren, while in Germany, lived in a farming village outside Bremen.

Learning the languages was Job 1.

“My host family said as we got into the car on the way from the airport, ‘Okay, it’s time to speak German now,’ ” says Lauren. “It was kind of scary, but I remember a week in, I was recognizing a ton of words. It’s learning through immersion.”

Before Rachael began her internship and formal studies in Germany, she had two months of intensive language classes. Both sisters said their new languages have stuck with them.

“Being abroad has shaped me as a person,” Rachael says. “It’s taught me to be independent. It’s taught me to seek out other opportunities.”