It’s easy to imagine that most BYU students participate in educational programs abroad. After all, “the world is our campus”—at least it’s been on the sign that has welcomed everyone to BYU since the 1960s—and becoming globally competent seems to be a shared goal. Most students have heard about programs open to anyone in any major that offer a semester or term abroad in places such as Paris, Madrid, Siena, or the BYU London Centre. More departments and faculty members than ever are creating major-specific programs, such as International Industrial Design Studies in Europe and China Student Teaching in Guangzhou. The value of the programs, cited by the thousands of students who have studied abroad, is impossible to ignore. And BYU’s top-twenty-five ranking from the Institute of International Education just about confirms the university’s international focus.
The numbers tell another side of the story. The fact that last year about 1,800 students participated in study abroad programs, internships, field schools, and direct enrollments in more than twenty-seven countries on 127 different faculty-directed programs is impressive. And yet nearly two-thirds of all BYU students don’t participate at all in an international study program.
“I really wanted to go on the Ecuador study abroad program, but I’m barely making ends meet with tuition and rent and everything. I’ve worked as many as four jobs during a semester. The gap between paying for school and a study abroad is several thousand dollars that I just don’t have without help.”
—Sydney Jensen, Linguistics
The Global Opportunity Plan
Across various international, educational, and professional organizations, discussions regularly address the socioeconomic challenges that face students—from the high cost of undergraduate tuition to study abroad programs that can reach the higher end of $30,000 per semester!
To increase the number of BYU students who participate and, more important, to change the culture so that every BYU student has a financial pathway to go abroad, the Kennedy Center is trying something new. Created in 2015, the Global Opportunity Initiative identifies students from all majors and colleges for whom finances are a primary obstacle to participating in a BYU international study program. Faculty directors nominate candidates, ensuring that the students are qualified. This nomination process is effective because faculty members are usually more aware of the financial challenges that face those who apply for their study abroad, internship, field school, or direct enrollment program. Then a Kennedy Center representative interviews the nominated students and explores their needs and their desire to participate. So far the results have been impressive.
Reaping the Benefits: A Student’s Perspective
Coming from a lower income family in Robinson, Illinois, Joey Tirado-Grundvig reached a major milestone when he was accepted to college. “Childhood was pretty intense,” he remembered. “We didn’t have a lot of money, so I’m used to living without things like electricity, water, and gas.” It wasn’t easy for him to come from that environment to BYU, where growing up with social capital is easily taken for granted. Joey had to worry about attending school without a safety net to fall back on.
“Ever since I was young I have always loved the idea of going somewhere else—anywhere else,” Joey said. “And for someone who grew up in a small, isolated area, I never had an opportunity to travel.” So when a friend told him about the London study abroad program, Joey assumed it wasn’t possible. After working additional hours, taking a higher-paying summer job in Alaska, and applying for department and college scholarships, Joey was still unable to participate. But his faculty director, Professor Renata Forste, nominated him for a Global Opportunity Scholarship, and he could go.
The immediate benefits for Joey were similar to those experienced by many other students: immersion in the culture, credit for general education coursework, new perspectives on careers and life, and opportunities to serve and interact with Latter-day Saints in London. “I was a Sunday School teacher for the youth ages twelve to seventeen,” Joey recalled, “which was a huge blessing and one of my favorite experiences.”
After Joey returned to Provo, his experience in London regularly came up in job interviews, which led to two separate offers in human resources, his preferred area of work after graduation. “[The study abroad] has changed how I look at life and how I view what I want,” Joey recognized. “All of that has increased my confidence.”
Ask most students and they will tell you that going to college requires hard work—including paid work. Going abroad costs even more than a normal semester, which means that money is a major barrier to international student experiences. Faculty members report that sometimes students will apply and cancel several times as they try to piece together the thousands of dollars required. In the end, students frequently comment, “I’m not the kind of person who studies abroad.” But if a BYU student is not that kind of person, then who is?
By the Numbers
Joey is just one of a small but growing coterie of students who have studied abroad with the help of a Global Opportunity Scholarship. In three years, a total of $192,561 has been awarded through sixty-three scholarships. Recipients represent more than forty-six programs from forty majors from nearly every college. And word is just getting out across campus.
2015: 6 students
2016: 11 students
2017: 46 students
Before the study abroad, I didn’t think I had as much potential as somebody else because of my situation. The whole experience changed who I am.
—Marlene Cornia, Political Science
A small group of supporters helped launch the Global Opportunity Scholarships, with contributions ranging from a small, monthly online donation to a significant investment in the program, funding dozens of students. More support will be needed in 2017 and in coming years.
Last summer BYU president Kevin J Worthen announced an initiative for what he called “inspiring learning.” He said:
While traveling in a foreign country can be a life-changing experience, through careful and thoughtful planning, the impact of the experience can be magnified severalfold. Similarly, internships provide insights into the skills required to succeed in an occupation, but increased planning and foresight can make the experience considerably more meaningful by ensuring that certain kinds of activities occur and that there is adequate opportunity for reflection. I challenge all involved in such activities to make sure we are maximizing the amount of good that can result from them. [“Inspiring Learning,” BYU university conference, 22 August 2016]
This overarching effort complements and guides the Global Opportunity Initiative. In fact, three of the six students spotlighted by President Worthen in his address were scholarship recipients in 2016, and with more than forty students studying internationally on Global Opportunity Scholarships during the spring 2017 term, the stories are pouring in about how an experience abroad is more than simply travel and study. The students are developing new talents, finding new ways to serve, and gaining new perspectives they previously had not imagined.
It doesn’t take much to make a difference. Whether large or small, regular donations are valuable to the Kennedy Center’s efforts to send students abroad. Donations may be made online at kennedy.byu.edu/donate.
Learn more about Sydney Jensen’s Ecuador study abroad experience: vimeo.com/154757784.
Hear four of the first Global Opportunity students say thanks: vimeo.com/154755096.