Northwestern students who have studied abroad or served in missions in other countries know firsthand what it means to be “engaged in the world.”
Vice President for Global Initiatives Alford Ottley, Ph.D., met with Sarah Slegh (’12), Nick Wilson (’10), Chris Vang (’11) and Carolyn Smellie (’11) to discuss their experiences.
DR. OTTLEY: What was it that made you decide to seek out this sort of experience?
CAROLYN (went to Uganda): God put Africa on my heart…I knew that’s where God wanted me. In chapel, Vernon Brewer of World Help presented on the children in Uganda and the civil war. At the end he said World Help was taking a missions trip the following summer. I just knew that was the trip I was supposed to go on.
NICK (studied in Israel): My mom worked for Northwest Airlines, so one of the perks was travel. Growing up I realized that North America wasn’t at the center of the map! So thanks to my mom’s job, my eyes have been opened to see and experience different cultures. That was a huge contributing factor towards wanting to study abroad.
DR. OTTLEY: In this country, half of our population never leaves the state they were born in. How can we get more people to travel to see more of the world?
SARAH (worked in Belize for a summer): From my experience, just going even when it was for a week on a mission trip, you build such great relationships with people. It changes you.
CAROLYN: Remembering that God created this world full of beautiful people and cultures…you can’t even imagine all the amazing sights to see. As you travel and get to experience that, you might figure out God has a bigger plan for your life.
DR. OTTLEY: What can you tell people in terms of truly engaging in the world? What’s it going to do for them?
SARAH: My whole mindset changed. I saw the Lord transform me, in that it’s not about me individually. The world doesn’t revolve around me, but there are all these other people that have stories.
NICK: The experiences have opened my eyes to the need for the Gospel in a lot of different places, especially places that haven’t really been transformed by Christianity.
CAROLYN: When I went to Uganda, that was a transformational experience. Interacting with the people on such a deep level opened my heart and my mind to realize these people are children of God—my brothers and sisters.
CHRIS (travelled to Asia): When you’re in your comfort zone and you’re taken out of it, your eyes are truly opened to how much Jesus Christ is needed in places like Thailand—a place that really touched my heart.
DR. OTTLEY: What was something that surprised you?
CAROLYN: Just how generous the [Ugandan] people were. Some of them have literally nothing; it almost made me feel guilty how generous they were and how much they wanted to make us comfortable. That challenged me. How can someone with so little give so much?
NICK: The first time I was in Israel we were doing mission work in a Palestinian village. They had been preparing food for us. The kind of resources that were required to make that food for us could have fed their family for a week! I was blown away.
DR. OTTLEY: We are now building opportunities not only for students here to study abroad and to do exchange in other countries but also for other countries’ students to be represented here in Northwestern’s community.
All of you have said that you went into an international environment where they were the majority, you were the minority, and you were made to feel very welcome. How do we replicate that here at Northwestern College? What do we need to do to make our international students feel welcome?
CHRIS: Be truly genuine about getting to know those students. Spend the time to engage in conversation and not small talk but really get to know who they are. That’s what I really learned from the Thai people. When they sat down to talk with you they really ask real questions about your life and not just to make conversation. Take the initiative.
SARAH: That’s a heart thing for each individual—to purposefully be inviting and welcoming. Make them a meal or something! Food brings people together. We have to encourage students to get out of their group and just be intentional.
Chris asked Dr. Ottley a question about how Northwestern could prepare for more international students on campus.
DR. OTTLEY: That’s exactly what we’re looking to you students to do to assist us! It’s got to come from community and community is really at the student level.
I really encourage you to engage with our international students and don’t be afraid to go up to them and say, “Hey, I saw you on campus, I’m just curious to know where you’re from and what brought you to Northwestern.” And that’ll start a world of a conversation and an understanding of cultures.