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The Best of All Worlds

Study Abroad

As part of its mission to be a leading multicultural institution that serves, interacts with, and learns from people around the world, North Park University is nurturing the growth of its International Office, through new classes and forms of support. Staff and students running and participating in international study programs shared their plans and stories, and we hope these will inspire the future globe-trotters and explorers of North Park to broaden their education and experience.

Building Culture Bridges and Supporting Visiting Students

Emmanuel Thontwa, a biology major from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, proposed to the International Office last semester the formation of a group to provide support to international students studying at North Park. He and his sister Sarah, who graduated with a degree in business and economics in 2009, both came to North Park seeking opportunities beyond those offered within the borders of their home country. Sarah now works for HOPE International, a Christian faith-based, nonprofit organization working to alleviate poverty through microenterprise development.

“She wanted to expand the possibilities for herself,” says Thontwa, “and coming to North Park helped her do that. My hope with the international student buddy program is that it will help students build relationships, open themselves to other cultures, and take advantage of the diverse community at this University.”

The international student buddy program pairs North Park students with international students in similar areas of study, and they spend at least an hour each week participating in activities such as attending chapel, collegelife, and lectures, having coffee or dinner, and seeing the sights of Chicago. This semester, the program will connect more than 65 pairs of students.

Preparing Students for International Studies

The North Park International Office initiated the Pre-Study Abroad Seminar in Spring 2010 to help students prepare—academically and emotionally—for studying abroad. Students had been asking for more concrete resources on working through culture shock, wanted to spend more time with peers who would be having a similar experience, and needed to tie the study abroad experience into their North Park education more intentionally. This course was designed to meet those needs, and more.

Jennifer Pope, Director of the International Office, teaches the course and has three main expectations. First, students will spend some time reflecting on culture—their own and that of the host country—so as to deal more appropriately with culture shock. Even the most mature, outgoing, and intelligent students are likely to experience some level of culture shock when studying abroad, or when returning home. This class provides some tools for anticipating the emotional realities of transition and dealing with cross-cultural conflicts.

Second, students will do some research on their host country so that they can be respectful visitors in, as well as incorporate more smoothly into, the new context. Students in the upcoming class will be encouraged to learn about their host countries using resources in the city of Chicago. Students may attend the Latino Film Festival or visit the Polish Museum of America. Others might choose to listen to a Ghanaian music broadcast on Chicago Public Radio or visit Alliance Française, Chicago’s French Cultural Center. Still others might attend a Norwegian church service or check out a book on Korean art from the Chicago Public Library.

Third, students will develop strategies for staying safe and healthy while abroad. While North Park is careful to send students to locations that are safe and have stable governments, the 9/11 attacks and recent natural disasters remind us that no region of the world is completely immune from crises. Studies have shown that students are better able to respond to such events when they have thought through responses on their own, rather than being told in an orientation session how to respond.

Ultimately, this course situates the study abroad experience within the context of a North Park education. The questions students encounter in the course are essentially those of the Dialogue curriculum:

  • Who am I as a student studying outside of my homeland?
  • Why should I be ethical in dealing with cultures other than my own?
  • Who is my neighbor and why is it important that I learn about my global neighbors before living among them?
  • What is community in a global perspective?
  • What is truth in light of different cultural values? Who is God and how might I experience God differently in a different part of the world?

North Park Students Around the World

Name: Danielle Paventi
Major: Business, Economics, Accounting, and Finance
Destination: Université de Savoie; Chambéry, France
Reflection: “The experience was amazing! It was great to be in a small city in France because we were forced to use our French. It was wonderful to live in France—to go to the market in town every Tuesday morning before school, to watch the World Cup in a local bar with people screaming and going crazy for their team, to go to historic sites like the Bastille in Grenoble. I’ve learned more about adapting to other cultures and interacting with people who are different. One thing is for sure: back in America, whenever I talk to someone who clearly doesn’t speak English as their first language, I make a conscious effort to speak more slowly!”

Name: Ben Bruckner
Major: History
Destination: Sichuan University; Chengdu, China
Reflection: “I have learned that many people know very little about China besides the stereotypes, and I look forward to learning and sharing about it when I come back.”

Name: Katie Jesurun
Major: Global Studies
Destination: Martinique
Reflection: “Studying abroad was certainly very challenging, but in the end was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. As a tourist, you might be able to see the big sights and have great adventures, but the unique thing about studying abroad is that you are there for long enough to really build relationships with people and learn about the culture from the inside out.”

Name: Christian Gieseke
Major: Nursing
Destination: Södra Vätterbygdens Folkhögskola (SVF); Jönköping, Sweden
Reflection: “I like that I get to go another country, connect with 15 Swedes, learn about their culture, and then bring them back second semester and share our culture with them.”

Name: Andrew Johnson
Major: Physics
Destination: Massey University; Palmerston North, New Zealand
Reflection: “I was motivated to study abroad because I felt as though I needed to see the world. When I was a sophomore in high school, I had the opportunity to go to Guatemala and live with a family there for a couple weeks, and that opened my eyes to the fact that the world was a lot larger than what we know if we only stay within our own culture. In the beginning, all of the international students stuck together. But the best times I’ve had here in New Zealand have been when I have been on activities surrounded by mostly Kiwis.