OffMarket – Detroit, Michigan

After interning in the City of Detroit for the last two summers, I knew that I wanted to pursue an idea that allowed me to continue similar work in the City, the Barger Leadership Institute (BLI) Small Grant has allowed my group and I to do just this.


Our project, OffMarket, centered around building software that would scrape data off of the internet to identify distressed properties in the City of Detroit that may be attractive to either non-profit or for profit entities. Our hope is that these entities would then use the software to acquire and redevelop these distressed properties to increase positive property density in Detroit.


The experience BLI helped to facilitate effected my view of leadership by creating new ideas such as leadership is a multifaceted platform where there can be multiple leaders. For example, our project team consisted of two other University of Michigan students, we had to agree upon decisions and come to mutual agreements on how to successfully proceed. Through this open communication channel, we knew regardless of who made the end decision, we could always share our thoughts.


This is experience helped me grow as a leader in numerous ways. One of these ways was interacting with different stakeholders for our project. To progress on our project, we hired a Computer Science Engineer at UM. We had to diligently work with him during our weekly meetings. I was able to grow as a leader because I learned new ways to communicate successfully with people who were part of the project, and also effectively lead others to have a successful outcome.


Leadership and teamwork go hand in hand. It does not matter if there is one project leader and many participants, or the group has all project leaders, everyone must always work together. This was a common theme throughout our summer project. We constantly stressed teamwork. We did this by always having an open channel of communication to share any idea, creating a sense of community/teamwork for our contractor, and also understanding everyone’s responsibilities.


Our group is thankful for the opportunity the Barger Leadership Institute awarded us and plan to continue pursuing projects in the City of Detroit.

Pantanal Partnership Solar Team – Mato Grosso, Brazil

Pantanal’s Solar Project





Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world, where Pantanal Partnership travels to implement sustainable technology.

Shift in Leadership Perspective



Many families live along the rivers in the Pantanal. We chose this family along the river to install the solar-powered refrigerator.

While in Brazil I learned that culture plays a big part on roles, especially in terms of gender. In the community where we installed the solar powered refrigerator, women were in charge of cleaning and cooking, whereas the men were responsible for protecting, constructing, and providing for the household. This did not affect who or could not be a leader but where someone could take a leadership role.

Therefore, when installing the solar-powered refrigerator system the men of the community helped construct the platform for mounting the solar panels and maintaining the technology system. Whereas, the women filled and organized the refrigerator to their liking since they were responsible for cooking all the meals.

In addition, their culture affected who they perceived as the leader of our team. Rianna was the technical leader of the team. However, when any of the community members had quest27440444215_44cdf2c27c_mions about the system, they would ask Guillermo. Guillermo could usually not answer the questions without consulting Rianna first. Rianna and Susan (another technical leader of our team) would even try to explain the system with the men of the community. However, the men tended to trust the men on our team more. This is because it is more common for men to be more technically knowledgeable than women in their culture. Thus, it is hard to be a technical as a woman in their culture without taking great leaps of earning their trust and respect.
In the future, I will keep in mind the gender roles in a community where I plan on implementing technological systems. I can strategize ways to gain members trust and maybe encourage the men on my team to encourage the community members to trust the women leaders on the team.

Leadership Growth

27406314536_c01b806a1b_mAs a leader I tend to want to help with everything. It is not because I want to do everything but because I want everything done correctly. However, micromanaging is not a quality of a great leader. Therefore, during this project I have learned to trust my team members. This not only made my job easier but encouraged others to take the lead.

When we decided to install florescent lights for the community, I let Guillermo lead the community members in the installation. He would ask the technical leaders for help when he needed but for the most part guided the community members on his own. This allowed Guillermo to grow as a leader in terms of communication and management.

Additionally, as a leader, I was able to instill confidence into my team via trust and letting them lead parts of the project by themselves. Eventually, they will not need my guidance and will able to be leaders of future Pantanal Partnership projects.

Bridge between Leadership and Teamwork


Susan Rusinowski plays with orphans at the Nazare Orphanage in Brazil after testing the solar technology system.

Leadership evolves when teams are formed. Teams naturally have members that have varying strengths that are constantly evolving. A team member will become a leader when the strength plays a key role in the accomplishment of a task.

Susan had a brilliant idea of making the solar lanterns more user-friendly. She gathered the team together along with the necessary supplies to make the adjustment. After explaining her idea, the team was able to provide further input and work together to make the technology easier to use and maintain for the communities.

Teams are useless without a leader and leaders are useless without a team. However, not one person needs to be a leader at all times. Any member should feel free to leverage their strengths or ideas to take the lead.

Romina – UBELONG (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

This past May, I taught English in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for four weeks through a non-profit called UBELONG. This was my second time volunteering through UBELONG because I sincerely ascribe to its service philosophy, with its deep commitment to long term initiatives, for a lasting impact that is achieved through a sustained stream of temporary volunteers collaborating with local agencies, in full respect of the local cultures. In addition, I value education, cultural exchange and opportunities to practice leadership, which is what led me to experience them in a new context. I had learned about Cambodia’s recent dark history during the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal rule before, but we also learned about it again during the volunteer orientation. As a foreigner, it felt necessary and even humbling to learn about the history that has affected everyone in Cambodia and has left lingering effects on the country’s economy, healthcare and education. I felt I was interacting with a vulnerable population but I was happy to learn from my students and allow them to interact with someone unlike themselves. It taught me the importance of having context when getting involved with something I am unfamiliar with so I can better understand what my role should be.  Therefore, humility was an important trait for me to have while I interacted with the local population, in addition to having compassion and empathy for those I interacted with.


The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, more commonly known as S-21, used to be a high school but was converted into a secret prison where (usually innocent) prisoners were tortured and killed during the Khmer Rouge. Out of an estimated 17,000 people imprisoned here, there were only seven known survivors. The plaque reads “Never will we forget the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime.”


The Khmer Rouge would take prisoners and innocent civilians to the Killing Fields to execute them. Collectively, over a million people were killed between 1975 and 1979. On the outskirts of Phnom Penh, this monument at Choeung Ek is filled with 5,000 skulls of the Khmer Rouge’s victims.


















I was the primary English teacher at a family and church-run school where I taught for two hours in the morning where I had a multiage class of 15 students—ages 6 through 12—and two hours in the afternoon with five more advanced students.

img_5491   img_5503

I was responsible for planning and executing my own lessons each day. In between the classes during the lunch break, I would either play with the family’s children and other children who did not go home during the break, or help set up for lunch. I volunteered in a poor neighborhood and the family ran their small school and free lunch program for the local children in need. I look back on my own childhood and feel privileged for the services and resources I had access to in comparison to my students who live in run-down homes, often came to school in the same clothes, and have poor health and few toys.  Having said that, the people were some of the friendliest and most grateful people I have ever met, showing me the power of a welcoming culture. Cambodians call those who are close to them “brothers” and “sisters” and I felt special and included in this larger idea of family. In the future, I will strive to make others feel as welcomed or needed as I felt with the local community.

img_5540 img_4880 img_4863  img_5493
The biggest challenge overall was the language barrier since it made keeping the attention and respect of my students in class difficult. The second was realizing that my students did not know the alphabet and due to the large age range, students had varying ability in English. This encouraged me to have engaging lesson plans that would familiarize them with the content and cater towards their energy levels. I eventually learned what realistic goals were for my younger students and how to challenge the older ones. However, in addition to humility and creativity, adaptability and patience were the two most important traits to have while being a leader and teacher abroad. Classroom dynamics would change on a day-to-day basis so even if I had a schedule planned, I would have to adapt a lesson on the spot; with the communication challenges and challenges my students had learning the language, I learned to be adaptable and patient in order to remain calm in stressful or aggravating situations. I was exhausted at the end of the day and have a whole new appreciation for teachers and their dedication to their work. It takes an incredible amount of time, energy and passion to be a good teacher and I believe I lived up to those standards during my time in Phnom Penh.

My students loved dancing to the Macarena so we’d often end the day with it. This video makes me miss them so much!



Also, I cannot leave out that I definitely took advantage of exploring the country on the weekends. Some other volunteers and I visited Sihanoukville, a beautiful beach town, Siem Reap, a touristy but culturally rich city where you can see the famous temples like Angkor Wat, and Mondulkiri, which was in the peaceful country side.

img_4742 img_4749img_4971 img_5066 img_5148 img_5174 img_5473 img_5438

Yazmyn – Oaxaca, Mexico

Hi everyone! My name is Yazmyn and I’m a Junior studying Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience with a minor in Community Action and Social Change. This past Spring I was given the opportunity to study abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico with the Spanish for Health Professionals Program through the UM School of Nursing for a month.

Going abroad to a foreign country for a month left me with mixed feelings before and after. All the time before I departed I did my best to prepare, reading blogs, quadruple checking my packing list, as well as talking to any and everyone who has left for an abroad trip. At the time, I thought I knew everything I needed to know, and still felt prepared, but little did I know what I was in for. Being dropped in any foreign country for a long period of time is nothing you can ever prepare yourself enough for. When I landed, under all my excitement was an underlying fear of the unknown. I was in a country where I was obviously the minority, (which really opened my eyes to how truly America is a melting pot) as well as I barely knew the language. Even the most trivial things we’re challenging.

Last day of Classes with our Maestros

Communication is something that is very key in any situation, and me not being fluent made it very difficult. Through out my time I learned to communicate in different ways with the locals as well as with my fellow participants. Being forced to fabricate different ways to get your point across, really helped me when it came to solving problems, as well as everyday conversation.

Overall as a leader I grew in a plentiful amount of ways. Lastly, the way I think I improved most would be my overall confidence. Being around people I am not comfortable with makes it hard to open up. And within the month I felt more comfortable and my confidence increased tremendously. Through this experience it empowered me to take control of the situation and always be confident in myself. Confidence is a key trait to being an effective leader, because people don’t like to follow uncertainty. And I’m glad I was able to be challenged and in the end over come.

Tacos con Quesillo

During this time I was able to experience all different parts of Oaxaca. Oaxaca is known as the food capital of Mexico, and during the time I took advantage of trying all the different types of cuisines. Including their delicacy Chapulines, which we know as cooked grasshoppers. All through out the markets people sell different types of Chapulines, tiny to giant, seasoned with different spices to no spice, and either grilled, fried, or broiled. It was common to just snack on (like Sunflower seeds to us), or use as an ingredient in cooking (adds a little crunch). Being the food capital comes with so much more than cooked grasshoppers. My favorite was the Oaxacan cheese (Quesillo) , it was put on top of most dishes as you can see on the left. But other foods Oaxaca was known for include Mole, Tlayudas, Chocolate, Tamales, to start.

During the week when I wasn’t enjoying all the delicious food Oaxaca had to offer, I was at class at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca (ICO). Anyone is able to enroll in there classes and programs, and because it we had very diverse classes. ICO is where we took all our classes, left for our cultural excursions, and more. A typical day for the first 2 weeks consisted of an intensive Spanish Class for 3 hours then conversation hour in which we spoke with our group about any topic as long as it was all in Spanish. Then we would have 2 hours for lunch, in which I got to try all the cuisine, and sometimes take a nap. Next we had Intercambio where we were assigned a local, who was trying to learn English. We would then split the time up, half speaking English, and the other half speaking Spanish. And lastly we would spend the last 2 hours of our day in Medical Spanish course where we covered all different aspects of Medicine in Mexico (from traditional medicine, type of health facilities, and more).

After classes, we would eat and explore the town. Since we all stayed in homestays, we learned from our Oaxacan families where the safest places to go were. My go to spot would have to be the centro, Zócalo, which was a market full of food, handi

Church of Santo Domingo

crafts, and clothing just to name a few. Outside of the centro of Oaxaca, many people live in the surrounding villages where their indigenous culture were still maintained. It was common for people to travel daily to these markets in order to sell their craft, and make the money needed for them to provide for their families. In the centro there were also more store fronts, restaurants, and beautiful churches. On the right is the famous Church of Santo Domingo and a glimpse of a customary wedding ceremony.

Last day volunteering at Cuidando Ángeles

Cuidando Ángeles

For the second half of the month instead of going to intensive Spanish in the morning, we volunteered. My volunteer sight was Cuidando Ángeles (Caring for Angels), which was a physical therapy facility which specialized in children with cerebral palsy. Through this experience I got to utilize my Spanish skills, as well as help and engage with the children at the center. While there, we would help the kids with the the activities everyday, from dancing, to painting, to stretching and sense stimulation.

On the weekends we went on excursions to different cultural sites. And during this time I think I grew the most in my leadership skills. Being in an unfamiliar environment with out structure provided ample room for growth, and I am so glad I got the opportunity to participate in this program. Wherever you go, Go Blue!

‘Block M’ on the step of the Mitla Ruins

Julia Snider – Copenhagen, Denmark; Amsterdam, the Netherlands

With the help of the BLI Global Scholarship, I was able to spend six weeks of this past summer studying abroad–five of those weeks were in Copenhagen, plus a week-long class field trip to Amsterdam, the Netherlands. This was my first time in the Eastern Hemisphere, and I’m happy to say I returned home with an increased sense of self-confidence and willingness to try new things as well as a more nuanced understanding of perspective, morality and compromise, both of which will continue to contribute to my success as a leader.

Getting off the plane at Copenhagen Airport, I was both nervous and excited. I knew I was going to be living in an apartment with 11 other girls (and one Danish Student Resident Advisor), but I didn’t know who any of them were. I knew I would be taking two classes that counted toward my majors in Psychology and Women’s Studies–Psychology of Human Sexuality and Prostitution and the Sex Trade–but I didn’t know much about these classes or about the cities they took place in.

Luckily, Copenhagen is easy to love. With its colorful canals and narrow streets filled with way more bikes than cars, it feels comfortably small for a capital city. Here are just a few of my favorite canal-and-bike-related Copenhagen snapshots:


Check out those views! I realized early on that although my school work was important, the most valuable thing I could do for myself on my study abroad trip was to go out an explore the world around me. However, such adventures take a level of self-confidence that doesn’t always come naturally to me, especially considering my peers were a group of girls I had never met before and who were all from different schools than I was. Being away from my friends and family at home wasn’t always easy, but I’m delighted to say that in my time with these girls, I went on a number of adventures that I might not have gone on alone. Best of all, this trip challenged my self-concept and brought me to realize just how closely self-confidence, enthusiasm, and leadership are intertwined. I now think more deliberately about how closely connected my confidence of my own abilities is with others’ confidence of my abilities, and I know the risk of looking foolish can easily be overshadowed by a good sense of humor and some enthusiasm. This self-reflection and self-confidence will undoubtedly enhance my leadership abilities.

Here are some pictures of some of my post-class adventures!


pictured: Tivoli Gardens (the inspiration for Disney World!)


pictured: Island’s Brygge (kind of like a beach, but without sand and in a canal?); a small child whom I do not know (blue trunks) pushed me off of this platform (funnier than it was scary)

img_20160807_184809     img_20160619_015205

Finally, these two were taken on a weekend trip to Mons Clint, Denmark–just a (two hour) train ride from Copenhagen!

Inside the classroom, my biggest learning moments came at times when my morality was challenged. For instance, in Psychology of Human Sexuality, I was challenged to think critically about a number of controversial issues, such as the difference between pedophilia (as a mental disorder) and child molestation (as a crime). Then, the fifth week of my study abroad program was spent with my Prostitution and the Sex Trade class in Amsterdam. There, we attended a number of presentations, each involving some aspect of sex work in Amsterdam. Presenters included a former prostitute, representatives of NGOs, and even a sex buyer. I said on my first day of Prostitution and the Sex Trade that I wanted to decide once and for all what my opinion on prostitution was and what policies were best for a country to implement; instead, I left the class with a much more nuanced understanding of a social, moral, and political issue and of the ways that it can effect different individuals and groups. To my surprise, this mission to expand my perspective (especially morally) was furthered when I read a book that none other than the sex buyer recommended to my class: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. Between the moral challenges of these classes and the insight I’ve gained from Haidt’s book, I can genuinely say that I’ve come away from this summer realizing that not only does everyone have their own truth, but also that the best way to reach compromise in a world of differing–and sometimes conflicting–truths is to lower your intuitive defenses and genuinely make an effort to hear and understand the opinions of others–even if you find them offensive or morally wrong. I expect this purposeful effort to relate to others’ views will not only help me to make forward progress in personal relationships, but in group conflicts as well.

Plus, we took a canal tour! What a cool canal!


Once the program was over, and it was the night before I left my apartment in Copenhagen for the airport, I wrote in a small book for future study abroad students that they should “get ready to fall in love with [their] own lives.” It’s SUPER cheesy, and I knew that while writing it, but I also meant it. Studying abroad plopped me down in an inherently challenging, new environment, and the insights that I gained while there have positively affected me as a person and as a leader.

Brian – Institute for Economics and Peace (Sydney, Australia)


I was interning for the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). They are a not for profit think tank that tries to measure peace in the world by developing a global peace index. In the organization, I was doing some in-house consulting for a philanthropist that wanted to measure the cost-effectiveness of peacebuilding activities around the world. Initially it was a very research intensive project. I must’ve read over 500 pages of literature on the subject and ended up creating a literature review of the highlights and how we can move forward from here. We next moved onto the methodology stage where we compared the different methodologies against each other. By the time I left, we had not finished the project, but I am hoping to keep working with them until the project closes.

My main reason for going abroad was to look for places to potentially live and work after graduating from college. As an international student, it is not always up to me to decide where I want to work. Getting sponsored is a hard and you’re pretty much going wherever the world will take you. I think that living and working in Sydney has greatly informed me on the conditions I need to work here. There was not too much of a culture shock but I’ve grown quite fond of this place. I’ve come to learn that there are so many places that one can live and work and Sydney is among my top.


I am part of a consulting group at the University of Michigan called 180 Degrees Consulting. It is the largest consultancy for non-profits and social enterprises. Through my internship I was able to acquire the organization as a client for my consulting group. We will be working together on the project that I had started and hopefully will be able to finish it together. I’m studying development within the international studies major at UM and this project is directly in-line with the field, as peacebuilding activities often overlap with development activities. I hope that through this joint initiative, I will be able to produce literature on the subject and methodology to measure whether or not peacebuilding activities are cost-effective.


During my time abroad I was able to reaffirm my determination to work for development. I was originally assigned to work in the finance department of one of the fortune 500 companies in Sydney. I went in with an open mind to the internship, thinking maybe I would like it and it would teach me more than I would think. However, after 1 week at the internship I realized that I was not doing what I wanted to do, that I was working with a purpose that was not aligned with mine. I decided to resign from the company and look for another internship. Thankfully, I was able to find my current internship through help of a third party. I didn’t learn anything new about myself, but my resignation was a good reminder of what I believed in.


My experience abroad has definitely instilled a sense of wanderlust in me. I’ve always had a little bit of wanderlust but this internship want me to pursue a career in which I am relocated every few years to be able to experience a new culture and work in a different place. If I could’ve done anything differently, it would be to properly account for all the personal expenses I would have living here. I had many excursions into different cities and countries from Sydney and I think properly accounting for that and preparing for it financially would’ve benefited in the long run. Not that it would’ve saved me a large amount of costs, but better prepare me for what was to come.

Lastly, this internship abroad has definitely allowed me to practice some leadership skills. To me, being a leader partially means being able to recognize an opportunity and capitilizing on it. I knew that the non-profit I was working for was doing good work and I really believe in their mission statement to try and quantify peace. I thought it would be a good idea to try and create a partnership between IEP and my pro-bono consulting group back at Michigan, 180 Degrees Consulting. I was able to acquire them as a client this upcoming semester and now I’m going to be the project manager in charge of leading a team to help consult with IEP. Through this opportunity, I was able to hone and develop my leadership skills abroad.

Kate – Squirrel Financial Wellbeing (London, England)

This summer I was an employer engagement intern at a financial technology startup company called Squirrel in London, England for two months. The team consisted of about 10 people which was very unique in that I had direct contact with every ‘department’ of the company within one room. I was given large responsibility from the CEO to brainstorm, plan, and execute new plans on the marketing and sales fronts. My professional skills were tested in each of these areas for projects I worked on for the company. I was able to successfully bring on new customers and companies to the platform through my growth plans. The environment of my internship was conducive to my ideas and projects and I’m grateful for the experience to be able to play such a crucial role in a company at my age. My leadership skills expanded much more that I could have imagined as well. From holding company meetings to present my projects and reporting on my research of competitors and growth strategies, I have matured and am confident in my abilities to conduct myself appropriately in a professional setting.

I learned so much at Squirrel in the fast paced environment of the financial technology startup world. My team was knowledgeable and welcoming that it motivated me to push myself to produce the highest quality of work for the company. I have grown tremendously professionally and personally through the experience of immersing myself in a completely new city, home, job, and culture.

I lived in west London with two roommates who both attend different colleges across the US. When I arrived on the first day, I was slightly nervous to meet the friends I’d be living with for two months. It was a very unsettling feeling to know I’d be in a city, essentially alone, unless I made friends and made the most of my time and internship. Not only was I able to adapt to the cultural aspects of London, but I was able to explore beyond this city to different countries nearby. 

Through this experience of going abroad to intern at a fintech startup company, I have gained more knowledge about the world I live in. I have gained a sense of independence knowing I am able to live on my own and thrive in a completely new environment and country. I have also become more socially and culturally aware. I have learned how to research different cultures and be appropriate in conversations and professional situations. I have learned to adapt and keep an open mind in new situations that I was immersed in almost every single day. 

Being so far away from family, friends, and home it was difficult to adjust at times, but I have learned a lot about being independent and self-sufficient across the world.

Through having constant access to the CEO to bounce ideas off of and innovate new growth practices, I was able to see his critical thinking as the leader of Squirrel. By observing and interacting in this environment, I was able to see how to motivate people to do better.  Successfully delegating tasks, handling multiple personalities, applauding work, and criticizing practices in an approachable are examples of leadership skills I observed. Working under great leadership taught me skills I want to emulate as a leader.

The personal and professional experience I gained from this summer is priceless. I am extremely grateful to have earned this opportunity and am proud to bring my skills back to the University of Michigan.

Wimbledon Tennis Championships

My visit to the Wimbledon Tennis Championships!

Enjoying some traditional British tea!

Enjoying some traditional British tea!

Exploring the sights in London.

Exploring the sights in London.

Aries – Kampala, Uganda


My name is Aries Rutledge and I am a sophomore in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. This spring, I studied abroad in Uganda with the Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates (GIEU) Program. As I began this experience, I knew very little about Uganda, the language, customs, and what was to come during the (4) weeks I would be there.  I was both nervous and excited to embark an intercultural experience in which I could learn from being an active member of the community, as opposed to reading textbooks and observing from the outside like in a traditional classroom setting.

A picture I snapped in Kampala while doing a bus tour of the city!

Kampala, Uganda

Uganda is one of the most beautiful and underrated countries in world. The program was located in the city of Kampala, which is the biggest city in Uganda and known as the city built on seven large hills.  Kampala is also known for being rich in history and contains some of the most diverse cultures in the world. To my surprise, Uganda did not fit the typical depiction of Africa that I have always seen in media. While the country maintains the rich natural beauty of Uganda, it still has some modern attributes that resemble many American cities. Kampala, known for its crazy taxipark, was full of heavy traffic jams and people zooming by in “bouda boudas” (which are like dirt bikes).  One noticeable difference that took me by surprise was seeing monkeys running around the lawn instead of squirrels! The local markets are outdoors and very busy with people selling many items including clothing, fruits, and live chickens.

Pushing our van back on the road during the safari!

Pushing our van back on the road during the safari!

One of my favorite moments during this experience was when our group visited the Murchison Falls National Park. We went on several game tours, which allowed us to drive through the safari and get up close and personal to the animals. At one point, our tour guide’s truck got stuck in a ditch and several of us had to get out and push it (right after a lion walked by)! It was astonishing to see all of the animals in their natural habitats, as opposed to behind the enclosed gates at a zoo. Additionally, we took a boat tour on the Nile River and saw one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls!


My host mom Miriam and I!

Through the program, I had the great fortune of living with a host family.  I was anxious to learn as much as I could about the Ugandan culture to have a better understanding, but I also didn’t want to appear too intrusive or ask a question that would offend my host family.  To my surprise, they were equally interested in learning more about living in America, so it turned into a mutual learning experience.  Everyone understood that the questions derived from our lack of knowledge of each other’s culture.  In addition, living in my host family’s home was my first time living with someone other than my own family, so at times I felt uncomfortable, but I learned that being a leader is all about being able to take on roles you are unfamiliar with and making the most out of them.

Views from Watoto - Suubi campus, where we worked and lived for the majority of our stay.

Views from Watoto – Suubi campus, where we worked and lived for the majority of our stay.

While in Kampala, my peers and I volunteered at Watoto’s Village of Hope, which is an organization that aims to decrease the number of abandoned children in Uganda and give them a place to call home and the skills to become future leaders. Our role in the community was to work in the Baby’s Home, which consisted of children from newborn to 2 years old. On my very first day, I quickly realized I didn’t even know how to change a diaper! Throughout the day, I faced several obstacles while caring for the babies, including getting puked on! Although I was inexperienced in caring for babies, I would not let frustration get the best of me and knew I had to overcome this challenge. This experience has taught me the value of patience and persistence because over time, I became much more comfortable in my new role. During our free time, we often took walks around the neighborhood and visited the playgrounds and basketball court to play with some of the older children in Watoto. Interacting with the children and mothers of Watoto taught me about the effortless joy of life and they showed me how to take advantage of opportunities to create stronger bonds with the people around me.

Taking some of the babies we connected with to church!

Taking some of the babies we connected with to church!

In the past, I have had the pleasure of touring several countries; however, those experiences simply do not compare to the extent of learning I gained through living as a Ugandan. Through this wonderful opportunity, I feel like I came back as a new person and gained valuable lessons on leadership that have a lasting impact on my life.  I learned about being comfortable with the uncomfortable and pushing myself to learn outside of my comfort zone. For the first time in my life, I experienced true feelings of gratefulness and realized how very fortunate I am. Above all, my time in Kampala has been a life changing experience and has shown me how gratifying it is to give back.

Darian Razdar – Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, Japan

Hello everyone,

Early this summer (well, technically spring), I had the opportunity to travel to four of the largest cities in the nation of Japan.  Specifically: Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto and Hiroshima.  During the month of May, I traveled between these cities with a class from the University of Michigan, investigating postwar cultures of Japan.  The course during the winter semester looked at histories, literature, film, and studio arts produced during the years and decades prior to the end of the Pacific War.

Elaborating upon our lengthy academic knowledge of these cultures, my class traveled to Japan to delve into different topics—those we could only explore through touch, sight, personal relation, and immersion.  For three and half weeks I learned about cultures of urban development and war memory in the hearts of Japan’s major cities.  

Picture from Senso-ji, in Tokyo's Asakusa neighborhood.

Senso-ji, in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood, is a large Buddhist temple and site of many community events and a shopping area.

Now even though this course was strictly academic, I pursued the study abroad portion because its syllabus clearly reflected my major passions, namely local-global struggles for social justice and peace.  As we made our way through Japan, we continued to come face-to-face with legacies of the war.  Those which most interested me, which we fortunately spent a majority of our time studying, were legacies working themselves out on the political-economic-cultural field of Japan’s urban landscape.  

In Yokohama, the 2nd largest city in Japan and neighbor to the larger Tokyo, we met up with a group of University students from Wako University with their professor—a professor of politics and English who has been involved in radical leftist politics for the past few decades.  In Yokohama, we were given a tour through an urban terrain that expresses dichotomies that we are far too familiar with in the United States.

 Yokohama is populated with massive buildings that denote the wealth concentrated in its downtown.

Yokohama is populated with massive buildings that denote the wealth concentrated in its downtown.

The Wako professor guided us between the downtown populated by massive skyscrapers and well-developed harbor promenade, ‘slums’ home to historically Chinese populations, a touristy Chinatown, and a gentrified boutique district eerily similar to Brooklyn streets I’ve spent time on. This professor educated us on what most tourist, and even students abroad, don’t have the opportunity to engage with. He and his students spoke of the changing nature of the neighborhoods and parks we saw—painting a fluid, rather than stagnate, portrait of the city.  Here, in a city I hadn’t heard of before departing for Japan, I found connections to dynamics with which I have become familiar in college.  The gentrification going on in US cities must be tied to what’s going on in Yokohama.  There must be a common cause.  The trends toward globalization here and in this city, too, must be related.  As someone intent on engaging with issues of capitalism, I found this experience enlightening, to say the least.

As far as Yokohama led me to make connections regarding global capital and common struggles for equity, our time in Hiroshima stoked my interest in global efforts for peace.  Arriving in this beautiful city, tucked between mountains and sea, I could not help to think, “The worst event ever experienced by humanity happened here.”  Civil and military experts expected no organic life to grow in the city for 75 years after the A-Bombing.  However, visiting the city 71 years after the bomb dropped, I was astounded by the vitality of Hiroshima.  Over 1 million people populate it still, and it’s full of plant life despite what experts predicted.

Hiroshima's Peace Park. A photo looking across the memorial park from the museum toward the Atomic Bomb Dome.

Hiroshima’s Peace Park. A photo looking across the memorial park from the museum toward the Atomic Bomb Dome.

In Hiroshima our group was lucky enough to stay in the World Friendship Center, a pacifist co-op which formed in the years directly after 1945 with the intent of providing housing and peace-based education to visitors, and English language courses to Hiroshima residents.  Here our class discussed the re-building and branding of Hiroshima and its famous Peace Park.  Importantly, we spent time learning about legacies of grassroots anti-nuclear and pacifist activism in Hiroshima since the bombing.  Thanks to the World Friendship Center we were given a tour of the Peace Park by city residents and met with a survivor of the attack.  I think of this as a cultural and political exchange where our class and the Japanese volunteers shared our experiences learning about the A-bombing and aspirations for future realities.  Hearing from the A-bomb survivor—hibakusha in Japanese—placed what happened there in human terms.  There are still people alive who experienced this attack.  There is potential that nuclear fallout will occur in the future.  Peace, though, I believe, is still attainable.  If this woman—a hibakusha—can believe peace is possible, then why shouldn’t I?

Learning in these cities, from and among their residents, was an experience that certainly grew my leadership skills and added to my interest in local-global struggles for equity and peace.  In the Barger Leadership Institute, we learned how to hone our leadership goals and sharpen our understanding of what it means to be a ‘leader’ on campus and in the world.  The word ‘leader’, in all honesty, is pretty null—a buzzword usually.  BLI worked to give back meaning to this role, and my experience in Japan—and my drive to truly have both an academic and leadership experience—revealed to me more of what I consider leadership to be about.  Leadership, I think, is a process of knowing the world (or some of its parts) and working with others to solve problems that arise with acquiring that knowledge.  Certainly, I was faced with political and ethical problems in Japan: nuclear proliferation and gentrification, for example.  Back at school, now, it’s my job to put the pieces back together so that I can begin to affect that change.

A post from Hiroshima's world Friendship Center. "May Peace Prevail On Earth" is written in several languages on its sides.

A post from Hiroshima’s world Friendship Center. “May Peace Prevail On Earth” is written in several languages on its sides.

Sabrina – Novotech (Sydney, Australia)

This past summer, I was given the opportunity to study and intern abroad in Sydney, Australia for almost 11 weeks through the Ross Global Initiatives program. With the help of the BLI Global Internship Award, I was able to experience one of the best summers, immersing myself into a new environment where I learned to adapt and broaden both my educational and global horizon.

During my time in Sydney, I had a two-week course at the University of Technology Sydney learning about Australia’s economy and exporting sector. Prior to this study abroad and internship program, I was nervous because the rest of the 40 U of M students who were going on this trip were all people I have never met before. However during this short course, I was challenged to reach out of my comfort zone to meet my new classmates and work together in many small group projects and assignments. Despite the difference in age gaps or majors, we were able to find a common ground in which we could all relate to and were able to pull from our individual strengths in order to produce the best outcome for the projects we were assigned to. In just a span of two weeks, I felt comfortable around my classmates and developed many new friendships.

After studying for two weeks, I began my internship at Novotech, working with the accounting and finance team. Because our company’s year-end audits are on the 30th of June, I came at the perfect time to help Novotech prepare the financial statements for the FY 2016 for its auditors- Grant Thorton. For Novotech, this time of year is the busiest because all the accounts on file must be cleared or closed so the finance team has many projects and assignments to complete. As a student who has only taken two basic accounting classes, I felt unprepared dealing with actual financial statements and accounts for the company. I was constantly assigned to projects before my other projects were even completed, but I learned to become organized with the work that was assigned to me, pace myself and find every opportunity to ask questions. Though I felt like a burden toward my managers and my team when I interrupted their work to ask them questions, I have learned to find more interest in the projects that I am working on when I understand the process and purpose behind the tasks that I do. On the other hand, my coworkers or managers who explain the projects or concepts are always so willing to spend the time, whether it takes them 30 minutes or 3 hours to fully explain the process. Although I have gained much exposure toward the accounting field from working on the projects, I have also developed personal relationships with my team, whether it is my boss, managers, or other coworkers. I have learned to appreciate the amount of time they invested into me regardless of their busy schedule or strict deadlines that they need to meet.

After living in Australia for almost 11 weeks, I have noticed a difference in the work life culture compared to the US. Even though my company is currently in a busy season, my coworkers learn to take everything one at a time and not get too overwhelmed by the hard deadlines. My boss understands not to overwork his employees and creates a decentralized working environment, making it more stress-free and easy for all employees to approach him. I really appreciate the friendly working environment that Australia encourages and that is something that I will want to look for in a company.

Overall, I absolutely loved my summer experience in Australia. I will always remember the examples my coworkers set for me- mentoring and guiding me throughout my time at Novotech. I will treasure the memories I have made throughout the trip as I continue my journey through college and into my future career. Thanks again to the generous donation, which provided me the privilege to study and intern abroad in Sydney, Australia, a summer that I will never forget.

Our class partnered with a non-profit organization and we volunteered at one of their pop-up shops for a day.

Our class partnered with a non-profit organization and we volunteered at one of their pop-up shops for a day.

A few of us went to the Vivid Lights Show and took a picture at the Opera House.

A few of us went to the Vivid Lights Show and took a picture at the Opera House.