Thanks to the Kennedy Center’s most recent initiative, Provo Parity, and donors who gave to the program, six students received a Global Opportunity Scholarship in 2015, allowing them to have an international experience that they otherwise couldn’t have had. Here are two of their stories.
Pursuing the Impossible
Going on a study abroad was a long shot in Chris Hales’s mind. So he wrote it off. His father had passed away, and money was tight. “[Studying abroad] seemed like such a distant thing,” he says. But something gave Hales hope and opened the door to an international adventure: a scholarship from the Kennedy Center’s Global Opportunity program. “The scholarship gave me the ability to do something I don’t think I would have been able to do later,” he says. “It was perfect timing.”
In May 2015 Hales, a precommunications major, headed to Sweden, where he lived in the outskirts of Stockholm and traveled on a commuter train into the city every day. While there he explored the country’s culture and aesthetic design values and noticed how modern art merged with folk art. He ultimately gained an international perspective on beauty—“what it is and how other cultures value beauty and to be able to compare that to myself and understand the world more,” he says. Toward the end of the study abroad, he and his cohort visited Copenhagen and Helsinki. “It was interesting to see the Finnish perspective compared to the Swedish perspective,” he notes, “and how [Finland’s] design aesthetic is very different [from Sweden’s] and a lot sharper in some ways.”
Along with knowledge of Scandinavian design, Hales gained confidence. “I was so nervous to travel abroad for my first time, to go to Europe and to [be in] a different culture with a different language,” he says. “But it turned out so well, and there’s a point where you realize that you really can do these things even though they seem big—[something] is reachable if you pursue it. I’m so thankful to the donors and to everyone who helped me accomplish this goal.”
Unlocking the Iron Gate
Deep in the rainforests of Ecuador, Sydney Jensen’s eyes were opened. As Jensen interacted with indigenous peoples, watching them survive off the land and communicating with them, she realized that the world was much bigger than herself. “I’ve heard before that we’re blocked by the iron gate of our own experience,” she says. “To be able to get out of Provo and see the issues that are involved in other people’s lives allows us to be more universal in our thinking, to be able to really see two sides to every story.”
A linguistics major, Jensen embarked on the Ecuador Linguistics Study Abroad in summer 2015. There she learned Quichua and studied how hand gestures supplement verbal language. She also discovered that language isn’t always necessary to connect with others. One day while talking with a local woman named Luisa, Jensen said the wrong word and couldn’t find the right one. Finally she gave up, and Luisa responded by giving Jensen a hug and telling her that it was okay. Jensen says, “To see how welcoming she was to us and how open she was and to have that human connection with someone I can barely communicate with was a really neat experience.”
THE MONEY IS WELL SPENT; IT’S WORTH EVERY DOLLAR THAT’S GIVEN. THIS OPPORTUNITY REALLY MEANS SO MUCH TO ME.
Jensen is quick to note that her experience wouldn’t have been possible without the Kennedy Center’s Global Opportunity program. Before her study abroad she was working as many as four jobs each semester—nannying, tutoring, teaching violin, and doing some other odd jobs—and was barely making ends meet after paying for school and rent. “I was watching my emails for scholarship information, and one day there was an email about how the Kennedy Center had an available scholarship for this program,” she says. So she applied for the assistance. “Everything fell into place.”
Now finishing up her last classes at BYU, Jensen is working at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and teaching violin lessons on the weekends. But her perspective has changed. “I absolutely think that study abroad is more than a luxury; I feel like it’s more like a necessity,” she says. “I have the tools I need to go into the future. But it’s worth even more—to have that hands-on experience in another country is invaluable.”