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.

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.

Faith-Santiago de Compostela, Spain

I cannot fully express my gratitude for the opportunity I had to study abroad in Santiago de Compostela, Spain this spring. Though those six weeks flew by more quickly than I could have imagined, I learned much more in that time than I could have in a classroom at home.

Santiago de Compostela is a wonderful town. With a population of 100,000 it was the perfect size to feel safe and be able to comfortably navigate the city (once I deciphered the maze-like streets of Zona Vieja) while still having plenty of concerts, festivals, museums, coffee shops and parks to explore.


A girl wrapped in the Galician nationalist flag during Letras Galegas

One event that I remember particularly fondly as a genuine intercultural experience was attending Letras Galegas, a celebration of, and demonstration in support of Galician language. School was cancelled, businesses were closed, and everyone got a day off to flock to Santiago, the capitol of Galicia. Displaying nationalist flags and political banners, the whole town marched through Zona Vieja and gathered in a plaza of the cathedral to hear poems recited, songs sung, and a speech given, all in Galician. I enjoyed Letras Galegas because being surrounded by a language I haven’t studied reminded me of how much I enjoy learning languages and the passionate expression of Galician identity and nationalist sentiments reminded me of the complexity of cultural and social identities. I believe an awareness of such complexity is necessary to be a leader in the diverse communities I hope to learn, live and work in.


My host family: Suso, Miguel, Josefa, myself and María

Reflecting on my experience in Santiago, I would undoubtedly say the most valuable part of the program was living with a host family. I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know the wonderful family that I did while living with them in Spain. We had countless interesting conversations during sobremesa that covered subjects ranging from family, to music, to politics. After six weeks of unforgettable memories we tearfully exchanged gifts and hugged goodbye. Without Josefa, Suso, Miguel, María and their willingness to share so much with me, my time in Santiago would not have been nearly as valuable as it was.


A group photo during our excursion to Finisterre

My UM classmates that I traveled with and studied with in Santiago were also wonderful. Our group was large with many exciting, interesting people to spend time with. I had countless conversations in Tia Vincenta (our favorite cafebar), along El Camino (the pilgrimage route we studied and hiked a portion of), and in albergues (hostels along El Camino) from which I learned a lot about the life experiences of my fellow study abroad-ers. From these conversations I learned how important it is to listen. Although we often do, you can never assume to know the reality of someone else’s experiences. From the conversations I had with my diverse, intelligent, inspired classmates I learned the importance of listening. For a leader who hopes to foster a creative, progressive community in which the experiences and skills of their coworkers are used to their full potential, the skill of listening and thereby knowing the limitations of one’s own experiences is necessary.

My entire study abroad experience was an array of lessons and exercises in getting to know a nation, a community, and individuals in all their complexities. I was constantly reminded that there is always more to learn; a humbling fact I hope to keep in mind in every leadership position that I work in.

I have many people to thank for the lessons I learned and the wonderful memories that I now cherish from my time in Spain: my parents, for always encouraging me to broaden my horizons and for fueling my curiosity about the world; my professors at the University of Michigan for helping me improve my Spanish skills and for inspiring a passion for language; the program coordinators in the CGIS office and at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela for their logistical work behind the scenes; the generous organizations that provided funding making an otherwise extremely costly experience accessible; my wonderful classmates that I now call friends for making the experience one to remember; and, of course, my host family for welcoming me into their home and sharing so much with me. ¡Gracias a todos por las experiencias y los buenos recuerdos!

Sarah – Amsterdam, Netherlands and Berlin, Germany

This past summer, thanks to Barger Leadership Institute, I was awarded Summer 2015 Global Scholarship for my Global Course Connections trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands and Berlin Germany. With fellow students from diverse backgrounds and academic interests, I was able to explore ways in which organizations and agents in various countries engage community residents in social and political acts. This experience exposed me to various narratives, provided me many opportunities to get to know others, and helped me foresee my future goals as a scholar and a leader.

In both countries, I had many opportunities to engage in conversations with various people and learn more about the countries through different narratives. In both Amsterdam and Berlin, gentrification is rampant. Areas where immigrants and people of lower socioeconomic status used to reside were being transformed into newly painted houses and fancy coffee shops. Every corner I turned I saw a battle against the poor ­ the people who really do need a community dedicated to themselves were being wiped out in the names of creativity, innovations, and money. Erasing the graffitis on the wall meant erasing the narratives of the marginalized.

Acts of gentrification in Amsterdam and Berlin are very similar to what is happening in Detroit; masked by the word “revitalization”, Detroit is currently being exploited by young, creative individuals who are seeking to make a lot of money. However, when a community is being revamped and turned into a cooler, more “hip” place, housing prices go up and the residents of such communities can no longer afford to pay rent. They are being displaced.
Gentrification not only leads to physical displacement but also “cultural displacement”, which Meagan Elliott, an urban planner and Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, describes as “a loss of a sense of place and community and [your] right to [create] the vision for that community’s future”. Even if the people are still able to live in the area, cultural
displacement strikes an imbalance between community representatives, leading them to lose their attachment to their communities.

When I saw gentrification with my own two eyes in Amsterdam and Berlin, I began to question people and their underlying motives: Why is it okay for some to change other people’s communities without meeting eye to eye, without considering their positions? Is everyone so blinded by their own gains that they do not see the pain reflected in others? Are we that selfish?

Then a voice in my head asked me quietly. Am I that selfish?

As someone who loves to explore and visit new places, I too may partake in gentrification. I can’t say that these creative processes are always bad or unwelcomed; people always crave the “next best thing”. Moreover, new businesses can sometimes also help stabilize the city’s tax base, which means more money for the city for essential services like garbage pickup, cops, and firefighters. But the working­class and low­income residents who are outcompeted by newcomers almost always end up falling through the crack. Prison­industrial complex (overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems) and the overall disproportionate impact on minorities become more and more noticeable. So the real question is, how can we continue to make money to sustain the community without kicking out the original community members? How can we benefit everyone and make sure we are listening to everyone’s voice?

On this trip, we were encouraged and pushed to analyze how various countries use different approaches to mobilize people for collective action, challenge oppressive structures, and build cohesive communities. Disruptions in the communities due to international flows of labor and education were especially analyzed to address concerns regarding globalization and immigration. Engaging in such conversations lead me to realize that it’s everyone’s job to help a community sustain itself on its own account. People have their own cultural upbringing and history, and that shapes who you are as a community member. Therefore, outsiders should not infiltrate that space. When others try to disrupt that space, no matter how well­meaning they are, the place is no longer the same. As an aspiring community social worker and leader, I was reminded to always value people’s individual identities and narratives, no matter how beneficial my work may seem. As a leader who wants change, I need to take a step back first and ask: Am I here to help or to intrude? Are my actions invited or disapproved?

Hear people’s voices. Respect their existence. This is a lesson I can apply to any part of my life, in any relationship, and I am thankful to have been selected as one of the students to learn such important message.

Mandy – Beijing, China

For three weeks in May, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and travel across the globe to China, a country I never thought I would experience. When I registered for the GCC Course Psych 457: Research Methods in Educational Settings, I knew I was getting closer to completing my psychology major, but I didn’t quite realize that I was also getting closer to embarking on the most influential trip of my life. In the course, we conducted cross-cultural educational research and looked at how cultural differences influenced child development. At Beijing Normal University in China, there was a group of students taking a similar course, and the trip in May allowed us to collaborate with them in the analysis of our comparative data. Through this trip, I learned a great deal about research, but I learned even more about myself as a leader.

In a world undergoing rapid globalization, today’s leaders need to be even more adept at understanding multiple perspectives and communicating effectively across cultures. They can’t fear that which is different, they must embrace it and enjoy it. They must face every situation with a positive and open mindset, excited by the idea of diversity and change. They must listen to others to understand and make no judgments. In the end, leaders know that inclusion means everyone has a voice and something important to contribute. During my time in China, I developed such skills to propel my own leadership journey.

I’ll admit that when I first found out I was accepted to the abroad portion of the course, I was a bit nervous. What little I knew about China was that the culture was quite different and that it was often spoken about with negative connotation. I was worried about whether I would be able to adapt and fully immerse myself. What I found was that Chinese culture isn’t all that different, and that those who speak negatively about it probably haven’t had the chance to experience what I did this summer.

For the time I was there, I stayed on the campus of Beijing Normal University, a college much like the University of Michigan, thriving with ambitious students who take many courses, join many clubs, and have a lot of fun. I interacted with the psychology students we were collaborating with and formed unbelievable friendships. We learned so much from each other, and the language barrier was no stopper. We had meaningful conversations about our lives and how they were similar yet also quite different. We traveled to historic cultural sites together and ate lots of good food together. At the end of trip, we presented our research together to an audience made up of Beijing Normal University professors and other students. I even had the chance to visit a family and help cook a traditional Chinese dinner. I was completely immersed and welcomed into the Chinese culture and I appreciated it even more as a result.

I went into my abroad trip with some reluctance and reservation, and came out of it with excitement and inspiration to be a better leader. I want to be the kind of leader who faces new situations with enthusiasm and determination, with open-mindedness and sensitivity, and my China experience was just the beginning of my journey to becoming that leader.

Anna – Chiapas, Mexico

Being a leader in research can look different in a lot of ways. For me, being a leader means taking responsibility for my work while also helping others to reach their full ability. While in Mexico this past summer, I was able to put that idea to the test when I began conducting interviews with Central American migrants for my honors thesis in anthropology. I was there with a group of other students in the Undocumented Migration Project field school trying to understand the complexities of migration through an ethnographic lens. It was the first time any of us had conducted semi-formal interviews before so the prospect seemed daunting. I was scared at first because even though I am a good conversationalist in English, improvising questions or probing an interviewee in Spanish was a challenge. My first interview was a little rocky but after a few stumbles and flubs, I was soon conducting lengthy interviews regularly. I am proud of the connections I made with people and the data I was able to collect in those meaningful interviews.

For all of these interviews though, I still saw other students struggling to break over the hurdle of interviewing another person. I spent a lot of time with others informally debriefing about the difficulties of working in the fields. Through discussion, we unpacked a lot of the invisible power dynamics pertaining to race and nationality that prevented them from feeling comfortable asking for interviews. Many people, including myself, felt guilty or exploitive by asking people to share intimate stories about their lives in interviews. I shared tips and my experience approaching migrants about interviews with other students who felt this way. Quickly I be came a proponent of the idea that sharing and recording stories in themselves was a valuable aid for migrants because it provides them a platform to be heard and listened to, which rarely happens while migrating. This idea kept me going and centered my work. By sharing it with others, the idea was solidified and many others took comfort in it as well. Leading these discussions helped me and others formulate our research in a more productive way.

I also plan to make my research relevant in the current discussion on migration policy. This project has the potential to shape our understanding of migration on a large scale and I hope to be a leader in that as well. What became clear to me from studying in Mexico was that there are multiple levels of structural violence acting on migrants to prevent them from crossing safely, seeking justice should crimes occur, and keeping them in a liminal space without state protection. It is this transient space that poses the biggest threat to migrants because it means they cannot access typical safely measures, such as a police force, which a citizen would have. Understanding their position is key to creating policy reform to help them and I plan on this research being used to enhance our collective understanding of migration.

Mark – Singapore

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.

Emily – Whakatiwai, New Zealand

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.

Jessica – Amristar, India

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to go to India to learn from such amazing people and the inspiring institution that Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) is. I am indebted to the Temple for all of the knowledge that I acquired while there. I did not know that working with hundreds of other people to cook a meal for thousands of people could be so cohesive and easygoing. Stress and chaos is nonexistent in the Temple even though they are accomplishing near-impossible tasks daily. This taught me that there really never is reason to stress out because it only inhibits one from performing at his or her best level.

The Golden Temple is the best example of sustainability that I have ever seen and I am enthusiastic to implement what I learned from being there. They have nearly zero food waste because what is served there is considered to be “God’s food” so it is shameful to throw any of it away. Viewing all food as holy would be a great way to help curb waste here in the United States. Additionally, the only utensil that is used at the Temple is a spoon. Here in the U.S. we usually provide forks, knives, spoons, and napkins without making the effort to think about if they are necessary or not. I am definitely going to incorporate this thinking when I make decisions about planning events with food.

Something that really surprised me is that Hindus consider the Harmandir Sahib their second home. Many poor Hindus slept at the Temple for up to a few months and it is not common in American culture to feel so welcomed in a religious place that is not of your own faith. One thing that I really wish I could explain to my family and friends is that all religious facilities here should be as open and welcoming to those of other faiths are in India. The poor would be much better off if free community meals were not contingent upon being a part of the religion or hearing a sermon. Recognizing everyone as a child of God and treating them accordingly is an aspect of most world religions, yet practice of this idea in Western religious spaces is shaky.