Study Abroad Experiences Open Students’ Eyes to World Diversity

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The University of Olivet doesn’t just preach global awareness and diversity — they live it. Through a multitude of study abroad trips each year, students have the opportunity to explore new cultures and expand their knowledge outside the classroom.
An Irreplaceable Experience
For two years, Tom Humphreys, CPCU, CLU, ChFC, CIC, insurance and risk management program director and assistant professor of insurance and risk management, has led a group of insurance and risk management students on a trip to London, Paris and Dublin to visit global insurance companies. Humphreys has formed relationships with many agencies overseas, including the famous Lloyd’s of London, one of the oldest insurance companies in the world, and, according to Humphreys, “a mecca for insurance geeks.”
“Students experience insurance that they’ve never been exposed to,” Humphreys said. “It’s an opportunity for them to explore the world and different cultures and different ideas other than what they get to experience at Olivet. While we try to bring those experiences here, being able to go out and experience that firsthand is an irreplaceable experience.”
In addition to the unique cultural experience, junior Jason Moehlman cherishes the life lessons he picked up along the way.
“I took away from this experience that you should always do your best to make a great first impression and put your all into everything because you never know where that can take you in life,” he said.
A Taste of Adventure
Kirk Hendershott-Kraetzer, Ph.D., professor of humanities, leads Intensive Learning Term (ILT) trips to both England and Ireland. Students practice their writing skills, but they also learn how to relate to people of different cultures.
“Meeting people from different parts of the world who have such different things going on in their lives was incredible,” LeeAnne Wonser ’16 said. “I got to be part of a truly magical place for a little while, and now I feel like I’m always part of it. We have a general fascination for each other and the lives we live. Ireland was a taste of adventure, a good first step to getting out and seeing the world.”
In addition to the ILT trips, Hendershott-Kraetzer coordinates a University of Oxford experience. He stresses that the differences in the Oxford education force students to leave their comfort zones.
“It’s easy to be safe here,” he said. “You can be the star of a program, the best student in a class, and that’s not nothing. But students’ chance to connect and measure themselves against others with same or different interests can be insular here, especially when you get to the higher levels. At Oxford, students are with people who are all functioning at a high level. The pool they’re playing in is a lot bigger so they get a bigger idea of the complexity of the world and its nuance. You won’t really get good at something until you take that leap.
“Students learn what their capabilities really are. They don’t know how capable they are until the net is taken away. At Oxford, the net doesn’t exist and they’re there by themselves. They tend to think that they couldn’t do something, but they find out they can.”
Living Diversity
Students of all majors are welcome to attend a trip to Antigua with Mike Oyster ’77, chair of the Business Administration Department and assistant professor of business administration. Oyster stresses that the skills students learn span across all fields.
“Everybody is going to have a career with cross-cultural interactions,” Oyster said. “It applies to every student there. Some students are trying to figure out what they want to do, and these business leaders help them sort out whatever that is. We customize the experience for students. The focus isn’t so much on business as it is on leadership and career development.
“You can keep climbing that ladder to success, but are you leaning it against the right building? Is it the right foundation? Students don’t know what they can achieve. We have to build their confidence. They have to experience it; you can’t just tell them.”
Prominent business leaders speak about what success looks like and what the students need to do to achieve their dreams. But Oyster’s trip often doesn’t follow a set structure. Along with scheduled activities, the group experiences the environment spontaneously to get a sense of Antigua’s true culture.
“There’s learning all over,” Oyster said. “They can interact with people from other cultures in a positive way that will impact their lives forever. The world is a bigger place than Olivet, than Michigan, than the United States. Young people can and must interact with confidence with people in order to accept others. It’s not the words they keep hearing. It’s living it. They’re living the real diversity.”
Senior Sydnie Weller has studied abroad three times during her time at Olivet, and she’s not stopping there. She plans to travel to Antigua again in December and Israel this spring. Each adventure is more than the opportunity to travel; it’s an opportunity to grow.
“I have rebuilt roofs in Puerto Rico, learned about marketing in Antigua and experienced the insurance industry in Europe,” she said. “Each country has a very different culture and makes me very thankful for what I have in the United States. I’ve learned to not take things for granted and how different places around the world use their natural resources in their everyday lives. I feel that I have a better understanding of the world because I have been able to study abroad.”


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