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The best stories are personal. Keep it short, and add pictures or videos if you can. Be inspired and add your story.

Your stories bring to life the real-world value of international education, help us drive the national debate, and encourage newcomers to join Connecting Our World.

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Christine Moore

I learned the language, learned from the people whom I had met (those from Spain and many others from around the world), learned that things which once seemed impossible are not all that out of reach, and most importantly learned about my potential. Continue reading…

I dreamt of far-off places; there were no limits to my imagination, only in my means to arrive at these destinations (at least, that is what I thought at one point in my life). It was not exactly negativity holding me back, just my concept of my ability to overcome the financial obstacles related to traveling abroad. You see, I am a first-generation college student from the lands of Appalachia. The idea of attending college was somewhat far-fetched early in life, much less crossing international borders. Fortunately though, with hard work, determination, and a few gracious people, I was accepted into a university.

It was mid-way through my college career that I met some amazing people from Spain, one who actually lived in the same dorm as me. That first semester with them flew by and the thought of having to say good-bye did not sit well with me. We all knew that we wanted to see each other again someday; we just were not sure about the details: the when or the where. That “where” stuck in my mind. Through much encouragement from my friends and teachers, I decided to take a chance and apply to study in Spain.

christine_torres.jpgTo be honest I never thought that I would be chosen, but luckily there were some people who did believe. One year ago, in August 2009, I set out on my journey to Castellon, Spain. I spent a short four months there, but that was all that I needed to change my life. During that time, I learned the language, learned from the people whom I had met (those from Spain and many others from around the world), learned that things which once seemed impossible are not all that out of reach, and most importantly learned about my potential.

Months have passed since my return to the States; I have told my stories to anyone willing to know more, especially to my students in the UBMS program who are potentially first-generation students like myself. I try to encourage others to take that chance, no matter how scary or impossible it seems, and to study abroad at some point in their lifetime. What you have to gain from experiencing life abroad will outweigh any of those fears or misconceptions. You have the ability to learn and to grow in ways you never even imagined.

Adria Baker

I really don’t know who was more enthusiastic. . .the international students, who had a spectacular US cultural experience, or the football players and coaches, who got to meet and learn from the fantastic students from all over the world! This was one of the best cross-cultural experiences I’ve seen! Continue reading…

A Cross-Cultural Experience at the Stadium

Have you ever experienced an instance where time just seems to stand still? This happened to me, and the pause gave me time to step back and take in all what was happening in the moment.

adria_baker02.jpgOur football Head Coach Bailiff, wanted to do something special to make the international students on our campus feel welcome, since so many come from so far away. He invited up to 250 of our students to sign up for a welcome tailgate party / football clinic. On their arrival to the event, the students, representing about 40 countries in total that evening, were very excited. Most had never even been to a stadium before (even though some had been in the USA for a few years already). They were greeted by the head coach, the uniformed football team, cheerleaders, other coaches and members of the football program. A welcome video was made by fellow international student athletes who greeted them in their native language. Even the wife of the Rice University President, born in China, did an official welcome in Chinese!

As the football players served the meal and talked to the students, there was an immediate energy that filled the stadium. The cross-cultural interactions were fantastic!

The international students were taught by the football players (and fellow students) to simulate plays, basic rules of the game, what tailgating means, the spirit of football, the fight song, etc. The football players then took the students on a tour of the football training and locker rooms and then proceeded through the hall where the international students all ran out on the field with the team. On the field, under the fantastic stadium lights, the team taught football skills and drills to all the international students. Everyone was interacting, talking, laughing and having a wonderful time!

I really don’t know who was more enthusiastic. . .the international students, who had a spectacular US cultural experience, or the football players and coaches, who got to meet and learn from the fantastic students from all over the world! This was one of the best cross-cultural experiences I’ve seen!

This dynamic and unforgettable first annual event was graciously initiated, invited, and lead by Head Coach Bailiff. That night was so rich in opening two worlds – the football team and the international community – to one another that most of us began the countdown to next year. . . . only 364 more days until we get to see this intercultural delight happen again!

On a side note: My husband warmly questioned on the way home from that evening, “I wonder how many international bridges were built tonight, and how many conflicts were averted as a result of so many people from different worlds meeting and interacting one another?” I thought to myself that this is the core value of international education exchange, and why what we do is so rewarding.

Adria Baker, Ed.D.

Rice University

Executive Director

Office of International Students & Scholars

Jennifer Creamer

I truly know how an experience abroad can change the course of your life, because that one summer in Japan with my special Japanese roommate, had changed mine. I now work with American and International students to facilitate their international educational experiences and couldn’t have picked a more rewarding profession. Continue reading…

When I was 17, I spent the summer living with a Japanese host family through Youth for Understanding (YFU). I remember being picked up by my host mother and brother on that hot, sticky night, riding a very crowded train from Tokyo to Samukawa, a small town in Kanagawa Prefecture, where I would spend the next two months. When we arrived home, I was told by my host brother, the one in the family who spoke the most English, that I would be sharing a room with Obāchan, his grandmother.

jennifercreamer_obachan.jpgObāchan was in her late sixties, her jet black hair was swept up in a bun, and when she smiled, I noticed that her front teeth were rimmed in gold. Obāchan didn’t speak any English, and I didn’t speak any Japanese, yet we had no problems communicating. We became fast friends- we watched Tokyo Giants games together, enjoying our favorite snack, Mitsuya Cider (kind of like Sprite) and spicy rice crackers. Obāchan would tell me jokes, hit me on the back and say “Ne, Jennifa-chan,” “isn’t that right, Jennifer.” She liked to sing enka, Japanese ballads, at a karaoke studio. She took me shopping and I could tell when she was talking to her friends about me. She took me to an Onsen (hot spring) resort. We enjoyed the baths, the meals, and evening walks around the grounds. Obāchan cried when I left that summer, and I was determined to go back to Japan and speak to her in Japanese.

I chose my college because I could major in East Asian Studies and spend my junior year studying in Japan. It was a great feeling to finally speak with Obāchan in Japanese. I returned to Japan after college to teach English, in graduate school to study Japanese again, and to do research for my doctorate in anthropology. I truly know how an experience abroad can change the course of your life, because that one summer in Japan with my special Japanese roommate, had changed mine. I now work with American and International students to facilitate their international educational experiences and couldn’t have picked a more rewarding profession.

Jennifer Creamer

Dean, International Studies

Lock Haven University

Lock Haven, Pennsylvania

Girish Ballolla

I came to the U.S. as an international student from India almost 19 years ago to become a pharmacist. I was 18, fearless and had $150 dollars on me. I knew that higher education in the U.S. was a sure way of building a great future for me and my family…In this global economy, no one can afford to not have a truly global educational experience. Continue reading…

I came to the U.S. as an international student from India almost 19 years ago to become a pharmacist. I was 18, fearless and had $150 dollars on me. I knew that higher education in the U.S. was a sure way of building a great future for me and my family. Well, I wasn’t disappointed. After a wonderful college career at the University of Kansas, where I eventually ended up with a Master’s in Higher Education Administration, I worked briefly for the University of Minnesota. I left Higher Ed in pursuit of a glorious corporate life and spent the next 9 years working in a variety of environments from a Fortune 500 to a start-up.

girish_ballolla.jpgEventually, a little over a year ago, I decided to re-commit myself to the field of International Education – a passion I’ve always had. So I founded a company called Gen Next Education, Inc. Our mission is to enhance the quality of and access to education for people around the world. Being from India, I’m primarily focused on helping develop the higher education system in that country – a much needed effort.

In this global economy, no one can afford to not have a truly global educational experience. Universities are trying to internationalize their campuses so they can graduate a globally competent student. But it can’t be accomplished without creating significant opportunities in the emerging markets like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey etc.

So now I find myself in an uniquely qualified position to help U.S. universities reach out to the rest of the world. I am fortunate to be a product of the U.S. higher education system and now it’s my turn to expand its reach internationally. I am excited about partnering with international educators around the world to make it happen.

I agree with IIE that “As technology opens borders, educational and professional exchanges open minds.” I’m calling out to everyone out there who would like to help us accomplish our mission and prepare the next generation of leaders. Visit us at http://www.gennexteducation.com

Sincerely

Girish Ballolla

CEO

Gen Next Education, Inc.

Najib Niazi

I want to go back to Afghanistan to help make the world a better place, And if given the chance, I will one day run for president of my country. Continue reading…

Utah Valley University has been known for its ethnic diversity. Students from across the globe flood the campus hoping to receive a top rate education. However, Najib Niazi, an international business major, is the first to make it here from Afghanistan.

Born in Kabul and raised in Mazar-isharif, Niazi faced unimaginable hardships.

najib_niazi_321w.jpg“When people ask me about Afghanistan and my life there I don’t know what to say,” Niazi explained. “There were so many bad things that happened, but there were also sweet things.”

At the age of 19 Niazi met an American by the name of Scott Carrier. Carrier, now a professor at UVU, was in Afghanistan writing about the struggles of the country and its people; Niazi became his interpreter.

The time Niazi spent with Carrier was no more than 20 days, and although it helped Carrier write a successful article, it put Niazi’s life in danger. An Afghani warlord put a hit out on him for helping the American reporter. To escape this danger he moved to Kabul and got a job at the United Nations office.

Niazi worked in the office until his past caught up with him then decided to flee the country. It was then he thought of Carrier and asked for help.

“He was in a dead end [in Afghanistan],” Carrier said. “Either way, I wanted to get him out. I can’t say for sure he would have been killed if he stayed, but it seemed like a definite possibility.”

Carrier got help from Bill Cobb, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at UVU, along with Integrated Studies director Scott Abbott, and in December of 2006 Niazi landed safely in Salt Lake City. Since that time he has been studying and working at UVU.

Niazi now speaks five languages and is working on his sixth. He enjoys soccer, tennis and driving at night with the stereo blaring. He aspires to master the art of cooking and feels at home in Utah.

“Salt Lake City looks like my country. It has four seasons, the same mountains full of snow,” he said. “I like it here.”

At first Niazi didn’t want to go back to Afghanistan, but he said he’s decided now that he will return, after completing his bachelor’s degree at UVU and a master’s degree in the U.S.

“I want to go back to Afghanistan to help make the world a better place,” Niazi said. “And if given the chance, I will one day run for president of my country.”

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