Undergraduates embrace global education

The second undergraduate research conference “Embracing Global Engagement: Internships, Service- and Experiential Learning in BGSU Education-Abroad Programs” on Oct. 7 was an opportunity to hear from BGSU students who “chose last year to leave their linguistic and cultural comfort zones here in Ohio in order to take advantage of BGSU’s education abroad programs,” said Dr. Christina Guenther, a faculty member in German, in her introduction.

The 19 presenters studied in ithe U.K., New Zealand and countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. During the daylong conference, about 175 attendees listened and engaged with the presenters as they told about their often transformative and surprising experiences. Four students were chosen to receive original glass awards created by BGSU alumnus Austin Littenberg.

President Mary Ellen Mazey presented them at a Nov. 6 ceremony attended by faculty, friends and family.

In congratulating the students on their accomplishments, the president said, “What makes BGSU so special is that the faculty are always there along with the students, coaching them, mentoring them and making sure they get the most out of their education at this great university.”

“It’s the University’s job to provide opportunities for students to broaden their learning through experiences like study abroad, and it’s the students’ responsibility to take those opportunities and run with them,” said Dr. Cordula Mora, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, which hosts the conference.

The four students who won the awards certainly did that.

Andrea Haas, a bachelor of fine arts major with a concentration in photography and a minor in German, combined her two skills teaching art to 15- and 16-year-olds in an Austrian high school, or “gymnasium.” Even though she’s quite fluent in German, the specific vocabulary of art was new to her, which made her improve her own language skills.

“I had never planned to be a teacher, I’ve always been a student,” she said. Being on the other side of the classroom, “I never realized how much went into teaching,” she said. By chance, the high school was wrapping up a long unit on global culture in which students worked with people from seven countries, further enhancing her international experience. Since English was the common language, she was often put in the role of translator for the group, and as a young person, “I think I was seen as more approachable by the students.”

With a new appreciation for teaching, Haas said she now plans to return to live and work in Germany.

Andrew Menich, a junior majoring in adolescent to young adult social studies education, followed his fascination for British politics to the University of Keele, in England. Menich became excited about the topic after taking a political science class with Dr. Neal Jesse, who has studied the British electoral system. His timing was also fortuitous in that England was in the midst of a general election and he got to observe the process firsthand. His presentation, “Democracy and the Future of British Politics,” detailed his research. “I learned a lot and I’m still learning,” he said.

Menich is also a Hoskins Global Scholar, which provided funding for him to extend his stay in England another month, and as part of the scholarship, “my research didn’t end there. It’s still ongoing. Also I’m much more globally aware now and I follow the news more closely.”

Along with opening him to the joys of travel, he expects that his study abroad will inform and enhance his teaching. “I’ll teach history and politics and having traveled, I can provide more of a cool educational experience for my students,” he said. “The stories teachers tell in class are always so much more memorable for students.”

Morgan Tucker, a telecommunications major, stumbled upon her international experience almost by accident. “I attended the Study Abroad Fair and walked up to the Thailand table, and it was so fascinating that it just took off from there,” she said.

She met Dr. Gabriel Matney, School of Teaching and Learning, who teaches math education and has a longtime affiliation with math educators in Thailand, where teaching methods are very different from those in the U.S.

Tucker went to Thailand with Matney and other students. “I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to get out of it, but I just let the experience guide me,” she said. Struck by the religious aspect of Thai education, she filmed everything she saw and eventually created a documentary of the experience.

Her presentation, “Enlightenment in Education: Buddhist Influences of Kindness in Thai Education,” captured the conflicts and contradictions as well as the positive aspects of that system, said Matney and Dr. Clayton Rosati, telecommunications and Tucker’s Honors thesis adviser.

“Morgan was able to be behind the camera but also thinking very deeply about what she was seeing,” Matney said. “She was even open to hearing me talk about higher-order math skills and really try to grasp it,” he added humorously.

Jonathan Yoo, a senior from West Palm Beach, Fla., majoring in international studies and Chinese, traveled to Shanghai and Beijing to do a “Comparative Study of the Educational System with the Migrant Families in China and the Immigrants in the United States.”

“In China, most migrants are people moving from the rural areas to the more urban areas in search of better jobs and better opportunities for their children,” he said. “But because of the ‘hukou’ system, or family registration system, they sometimes have to wait up to two years to get the permits they need to be able to live in a new area, and students’ education is interrupted.

“It becomes a social class issue as well as a human rights issue.”

Yoo interviewed teenagers and young adults in learning the cultural aspects of the social system in China.

He plans to apply his education to work for a human rights organization such as Amnesty International, with a focus in East Asia. “My step-by-step goal is to improve my Chinese and continue working toward this,” he said. A former biology major, he is also interested in energy sustainability and is writing a research paper on alternative energy possibilities in China.

Yoo , who is of Korean ancestry, credits his family, and especially his mother, for emphasizing the importance of education and the role of the young in making lives better.

“Clearly, we all agree that universities have a national obligation to produce graduates who understand the world, know that their professions will evolve in a globalized world, and understand the importance of communicating and collaborating across social and cultural borders,” Guenther said at the October symposium.  In addition, returning students and international students at BGSU enrich the rest of the student population by sharing their intercultural perspective, she said.

Dr. Bob Midden, associate vice provost for experiential and innovative learning, in his address to the conferees, pointed out the broader value of embracing other cultures, that of promoting peace by gaining true empathy for others. “Conflict is inevitable,” Midden said. “Competition for food and resources will occur, but we can also collaborate to meet our needs and have much more together than we can as individuals.”

Every project counts, no matter how small, he told the students, and reaching out to gain deeper understanding and empathy for others will always be the best way to reduce conflict and violence in the world.