Mark – Singapore

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During the Winter 2015 semester, I had the opportunity to study abroad as an exchangestudent at the National University of Singapore with the support of the Barger Leadership Institute. This experience proved to be extremely rewarding and transformative, as I learned more about culture, leadership, and myself than I ever could have had I stayed in Ann Arbor.

Simply being away from my family and friends back home helped me grow more independent and mature. Having lived in Michigan all my life, to have the opportunity to study abroad as an exchange-student where I was completely integrated in the college life challenged me considerably. Prior to studying abroad, I had never had the opportunity to travel outside of the United States except for when I visited Venezuela, where my mom immigrated from, as a child. While studying abroad in Singapore, however, I was finally able to travel to other countries and interact with other cultures directly. As Singapore is optimally located in the center of Southeast Asia, I was able to affordably travel to Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

To the extent that I had not fully realized prior to coming to Singapore, travel can be a deeply educational experience. My understandings of identity, nationality, race, democracy, authoritarianism, colonialism, governance, public policy, development, and life in general were all challenged and furthered. Moreover, through my travels, I was able to develop my cultural competencies and leadership skills. I feel as though I have become more globally aware, interculturally competent, and can look at issues from varying perspectives.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that most of my friend group consisted of non-Americans. My closest friends were Korean, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Norwegian, Dutch, and Canadian. I learned so much from their different backgrounds and we often had discussions about different cultural values and policy issues. This, I believe, helped me build my listening and communication skills, as well as allowed me to engage in dialogues across cultures.

I learned so much from their different backgrounds and we often had discussions about different cultural values and policy issues. As a public policy major, I am particularly interested in discussions such as these. Through these discussions, I came to realize that public policy is simply but a reflection of cultural values and priorities.

Through my coursework, I had the opportunity to build practical skills and develop myself as a leader. In my class “Managing Nonprofit Organizations”, I developed a proposal to start a global nonprofit organization along with a culturally diverse team through a semester-long applied project. Through this course, I was able to develop presentation  kills, entrepreneurial skills, and managerial/project-management skills. Moreover, by working with 3 Singaporeans and a German, I learned how to work in a culturally diverse team and leverage each person’s different experiences and insights for the benefit of our project. At times, it was very difficult to work together since we all had different interests and wanted to serve different communities, but in the end we incorporated everyone’s insights so that we each had a stake in the organization’s success. Inclusive leadership, I learned, is incredibly important to effective teamwork and team cohesiveness.

Though smaller in scale, I also had a group project in my “Comparative Study of Development” course. Through this experience, I learned most about how effective leaders are able to delegate work accordingly given the strengths of weaknesses of the team. For example, I leveraged my presentation and communication skills, while my teammates used their statistical and computer modeling skills. More importantly, this group project manifested into strong friendships with local Singaporeans, where I had the opportunity to learn more about Singaporean life and not just engage with other exchange students.

By the end of the semester, I truly felt like I had become a more effective leader. While I
am everyday contemplating whether I would like to work in business, politics, nonprofits,
government, or social enterprise, I learned that ultimately what drives me is a desire to lead and to have a positive social impact.

I sincerely appreciate the Barger Leadership Institute’s support in fostering my personal growth and leadership development. If you would like to learn more about my study abroad experience, please feel free to check out the blog I had managed. There are 18 posts in total, from January to May, and the link is markgoestosingapore.blogspot.com.

Alternative Break – Burton, TX

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Our group had the opportunity to volunteer at Camp For All (CFA), which is a camp in Burton, Texas for kids and adults with physical and mental disabilities. Throughout the 5 days that we spent at CFA, we learned both from each other and the campers.

The first few days of service, we worked on maintenance around the camp, because the campers weren’t coming until the 4th day. One of the key values of ASB is “no task is too small”, meaning that our purpose is to do anything that the site needs of us. As site leaders, we were super proud of our participants for upholding these values. We helped CFA get the cabins ready for the kids that were arriving later in the week.

The morning that the campers arrived, we greeted the kids and helped unload their luggage off of the buses. Over the next two days with the kids we were able to run carnival games, serve lunch and dinner, help at a bonfire and throw a dance. We were lucky to be given the chance to interact with such lively campers, all of whom enlightened us on the harm that the stigma on physical disabilities holds. The kids taught us that a physical disability does not impede one’s ability to accomplish tasks.

Our work at Camp For All helped us to see the harm that exists in limiting a child just because of a physical disability. We learned that there is no right way or wrong way to do something, but it is instead an alternative way.

The $200 that we were awarded through Barger went towards our petty cash fund. Over the course of the trip, we used petty cash in order to relieve some of the financial stress on our participants. For example, our budget given to us from the ASB Lead Team did not cover meals on the road. In turn, the BLI Small Grant gave us the ability to pay for some of the meals on the road. We were able to fully subsidize a group lunch at a B-B-Q joint in Texas. In addition, we had to make the majority of our own meals while we were at camp. This required us to buy a substantial amount of groceries, given that we had to make meals for a group of 13. Not only did the grant help us to buy these groceries, but also it provided the opportunity to bond over team meal making. As a group, we also fundraised an additional $300 in order to reach our maximum petty cash fund amount. Thank you so much for helping us monetarily. Please let us know if there is anything we can do for the BLI community in the future!

Emily – Whakatiwai, New Zealand

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EcoQuest, a New Zealand-based ecology and environmental studies program, was a rare and exciting chance for me to learn about the natural environment in a small, hands-on setting. In our community space, we had numerous opportunities to discover and pursue our interests, meet environmental leaders, and become leaders ourselves.

The program had only 26 students and most learning occurring outdoors in ecological settings directly applicable to course concepts. For example, if we were learning about marine ecology, we were being lectured on a boat in a marine reserve and then went snorkeling to observe sea life. When we learned about extractive industries, we were given talks by guest speakers on the outskirts of an open-pit gold mine. This individualized attention and direct experience in what we were studying made learning an effortless but exciting task.

Through EcoQuest connections, I also had to opportunity to personally meet many frontrunners in environmentally-related fields. These leaders told their stories of how pursuing their passions helped them to the positions they are in, not the other way around. Their talks have inspired me to fully pursue my passions, mainly in restoration ecology, and let my excitement in the field lead me to the right position.

With these exemplary leaders in mind, I was then able to test my own leadership skills as I strived to help create a successful learning community. As a small group of students, all living in learning in the same limited space, we had to be inclusive and considerate of each other while still adding our own talents and personalities into the space. As I think one of the most important leadership skills is leading by example, I hope that I was able to exemplify aspects of considerateness and acceptance so that others around me, if they were not already, would do the same.

In addition to creating a positive community setting within our small student group, our interactions with the broader community also had leadership implications. We, as a group, had to lead by example with our community lifestyle choices, such as reducing our waste, keeping our surroundings well cared-for, and choosing to use our time productively. We had a special chance to showcase these choices as we presented our research at the local Mauri, or the gathering place of the local Maori people. There, we told the community about our environmental field work and research results, as well as their wider implications, in hope that our interest and example would inspire the community to take action on important environmental issues.

EcoQuest was the best learning experience I have had in my life. I have gained invaluable skills, motivation, and outlook from my time in New Zealand and from those who I was able to spend time with and learn from. This experience has driven me to pursue more travel-related experiences in the hope of further peaking my curiosity about the world and to gain the necessary skills to help me pursue my passions in the natural environment. I would like to thank the Barger Leadership Institute for helping fund my experience and for helping inspire these outcomes.