Humanize the World

Kelsey Wong ’15 expected to make friends, sample delicious cuisine, and become fluent in French during her semester last spring in the south of France. And so she did. But the changes went beyond the predictable. “Going to France was the most significant thing that ever happened to me,” said Wong, a bubbly International Studies major from Sacramento. In fact, she said, immersion in another culture changed her life.

One of the 60 to 70 Saint Mary’s students who study outside the United States each semester in an SMC or affiliate international program, Wong thoroughly enjoyed living with a host family in Aix-en-Provence while taking classes at IAU College. But the benefits weren’t just academic. “It’s important to realize that everything is a teaching moment you can grow from,” she said. For example, “I had a lot of people coming up to me and making random comments about me being Chinese or squinting their eyes,” said Wong, who is Chinese-American.

Wong returned to the United States with her zeal for travel undiminished (she’s since journeyed to Sri Lanka, and looks forward to trips to South America and England), and a brand-new “passion to pursue Asian-American social justice and really just change the way people see racism.” Now she serves as lead peer mentor for study abroad students, and is an enthusiastic advocate for students of color traveling to other countries.

“Our study abroad program is aligned with the SMC mission in terms of educating the student as a whole,” said Maria Flores, associate director of the Center for International Programs, who said stories like Wong’s illustrate why experiencing other cultures is so valuable. “They’re learning another set of life skills that allows them to really humanize the world.”

To encourage international study, Saint Mary’s charges the same tuition for a semester abroad as it does for a semester on campus. But for students who live at home or hold steady jobs, leaving the country still may not be a financially viable option. More scholarship funding, Flores said, “would make a huge difference.”

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