SUNY Cortland senior Ashton Patalidis recently took another step toward his goal of becoming a diplomat by studying abroad in Australia, courtesy of a prestigious $5,000 scholarship managed by the U.S. Department of State.
“Personally, I was looking for growth, a good life experience,” said Patalidis, a sociology and criminology major who graduates next spring. “Education can only take you so far, and I enjoy dealing with challenges that arise.”
He was one of two SUNY Cortland winners of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship this year. Senior biomedical sciences Frank Denteh studied in India this past summer after earning the same scholarship.
There have been 16 SUNY Cortland Gilman scholars since the program was created in 2000 to help prepare college students to thrive in the global economy and to expand the number of Americans studying and interning abroad.
Patalidis spent the last semester as an international exchange student at the Sunshine Coast Campus of Griffith University in Australia, an institution with which SUNY Cortland has a longstanding exchange agreement.
“Since starting higher education in college, I’ve wanted to study abroad,” he said. “This opens the opportunity for a lot of networking with the other Gilman Scholars. Plus, the program is part of the U.S. Department of State, and I want to do diplomatic work when I’m older. It’s great that this will open some doors in the future.”
A lifelong U.S. citizen, Patalidis had an unusual childhood.
“I did most of my schooling in the U.S. Virgin Islands; that’s where I was born and raised,” said Patalidis, whose family moved to Huntington, N.Y., when he was 17.
Born on the island of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Patalidis enjoyed traveling with his family to an impressive array of U.S. and international locales including Puerto Rico, St. Kitt’s, St. Thomas, St. John, Tortuga, the Maldives, British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, France and England.
Upon enrolling at SUNY Cortland, the Cold Spring Harbor Jr. Sr. High School graduate’s appetite was whetted for a much more adventurous international travel experience.
Working closely with the university’s International Programs staff, he completed the application for the Gilman Scholarship and lined up his Fall 2023 semester at Griffith University.
Following the country’s different academic calendar, he left the U.S. on July 1 and returned to the U.S. on Nov. 2.
Patalidis took electives that he felt weren’t offered at home: Aboriginal Politics; Death, Grief and Culture; and a course combining business and history called Engaging Australia in the Asia Pacific. For his criminology major, he took Punishment, Justice and Reform.
“In the U.S., I had learned about different criminal justice systems, and it was very interesting to know more about Australia’s,” Patalidis said.
“I learned just how broken and backwards the U.S. prison system was compared to the rest of the world,” he said. “It could be so much better and help so many more people with their lives, if it could change to be more rehabilitative.
“For example, we have drug courts here in the U.S., and so does Australia,” Patalidis said. “But Australia’s drugs courts are more hands-on with rehabilitative programs built within the criminal justice system and on the outside with community service programs supporting the individuals who struggle with addiction. Rehabilitation, if constructed right, can be much cheaper and more effective compared to our current system, where you simply get locked up for an extensive amount of time.”
Outside the classroom, Patalidis explored the country’s vast and exotic outdoors, including Spring Brook National Park and Waterfalls. He and some 30 classmates tried skydiving.
“I love nature, hiking, and that was the best, just exploring there,” said Patalidis, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) badly two months before the trip, but boarded the jet to Australia anyway.
“My doctor said I couldn’t do too much hiking there,” he said. But that didn’t stop him. “This was a one-time opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up.”
While there, Patalidis observed a rare and protected species of glowworm. Once, he and his friends almost got left overnight atop a mountain while waiting in vain for a taxi. They finally flagged a ride from another park visitor.
“A fun and scary experience,” he said.
Back home, he is recovering from the delayed knee surgery, but has no regrets.
“I noticed how everyone’s so nice and friendly there,” Patalidis said. “In their society they care more about each other and making a living for everyone, unlike the U.S. where it’s like a free-for-all.
“It helped me grow as a person, have confidence in myself.”
Patalidis’ travel also was supported by two SUNY Cortland scholarships, the Willi A. Uschald Scholarship for study abroad and an Overseas Academic Program Scholarship. The Uschald Scholarship is an endowed award named in honor of the late professor emeritus of foreign languages and director emeritus of International Programs.
Patalidis also benefitted from an Exchange Award for Griffith University, commonly offered to SUNY Cortland students through a partnership with that university, which saved him close to $7,000 In trip expenses.
“Exchange awards can be a great opportunity for a very affordable experience abroad,” said Kayla DeCoste, assistant director of study abroad at SUNY Cortland.
SUNY Cortland has exchange program partnerships with several other universities abroad, DeCoste said.