Renata Forste became director of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies in January 2017. Forste received a BS and an MS in sociology from BYU and a PhD in sociology with an emphasis in demography and statistics from the University of Chicago. She taught at Western Washington University for three years and has been teaching at BYU for twenty-two years. Forste and her husband, Mike, will celebrate thirty-two years of marriage in August. They are the parents of three daughters. The oldest is married and has a little girl, the second works in Salt Lake City, and the third is an illustration major at BYU. The two oldest are both BYU alumnae.
How did your international interest begin?
I served a mission in Argentina. That is when I got a passport and traveled outside of the United States. I was hooked; I loved it. I came back and took a world religions class from Spencer Palmer. He was taking a group of students to Korea on a spring term study abroad.
It was very cheap at that time. I had enjoyed the world religions class, so I talked my dad into helping me with the funding. We went to Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong. It was such a different experience. I had been in Latin America, but now I could see Asia and better understand that part of the world. I went to high school in St. Louis, and I didn’t understand the history of and the differences between the U.S. and China, Japan, and Korea. That study abroad broadened my view. After I got married, we went on a study abroad to Vienna. This was back when we could do a rotation and tour all around Europe. Then, as a faculty member, I went to London three times.
It all started with my mission experience, when I realized there was a whole world out there and another way of seeing things. Yet people are the same. As a demographer, I’m interested in universal human experiences. Everybody is born, everybody dies, everybody has family, and most everybody moves. But how we do those things—and the cultural expectations and norms surrounding birth and death—are different. That’s what is really interesting.