Lisle, Illinois ~ Nearly 70 percent of Americans don’t have passports – meaning few citizens will have the chance to immerse themselves in a culture outside of their own.
Students at Benedictine University don’t fall into this category.
They are encouraged to defy boundaries so that they can grow personally and professionally while developing a greater understanding of a variety of cultures and perspectives, helping them to become better employers and world citizens.
In the four years Lombard native Ismail Dogar has spent working toward a double major in International Business and Economics and Health Science at Benedictine, he has traveled to Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Germany, Sweden, China and Cuba.
With the help of several scholarships and awards, Dogar spent four months studying business at Copenhagen Business School and attended a Model United Nations Conference in Xian, China, where he was able to visit the famous Terra-Cotta Warriors, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, at minimal expense.
“I am so fortunate to have participated in so many programs during my undergraduate career,” Dogar said. “It has made me more aware of so many cultural elements, and I believe it has given me a unique perspective that I can bring to my professional career.”
He has also experienced something that few Americans have in the last half century – he’s been to Cuba.
“The (Cuban) program was one of the most eye-opening experiences that I have had,” Dogar said. “It showed me a society that has been largely excluded from the world, but is still optimistic and innovative.”
In addition to defying physical boundaries, students like Christina Dister, a sophomore International Business and Economics major from Naperville, are defying language barriers. Dister is currently adding Chinese to her foreign language repertoire of Spanish, French and Japanese in a yearlong academic program at Zhejiang University of Science and Technology in Xiaoheshan, China.
“I believe that everyone in the world has something worth saying – something worth sharing and knowing,” Dister said. “The language barrier that divides people from communicating prevents us from knowing each other and realizing how much we can learn from one another.”
The study abroad trip will help Dister advance her goals of pursuing a career in international business, in which she hopes one day to bring different cultures together to develop corporations overseas.
“I have come away with a deeper understanding and respect for the way to carry on business than I would have had if I never left the United States,” Dister said. “I plan on continuing to study abroad to further my understanding of culture and business so that one day I can successfully maintain a truly international business that many global partners will actively want to be a part of.”
Students also travel outside the country to help others through service trips to such places as Sucre, Bolivia, where they volunteer in day care centers, hospitals and clinics, and on mission trips to repair or build homes in the Philippines.
The trips often have a profound effect on students who return home with new insights into the world and renewed focus on what they want to accomplish in life.
“It is one thing to hear about developing countries and children starving and struggling, but you do not really understand it until you see and experience it,” said Jessica Clodi, a sophomore from Kankakee majoring in English Language and Literature. “We have a tendency to forget about our brothers and sisters and focus only on ourselves, and I think that was something that I definitely did before I went on these trips.”
After staying in a Philippine village where many children must walk for miles through debris and contaminated water without proper shoes, Zack Oesterreicher, a sophomore Chemistry major from Plainfield, returned to Benedictine to initiate a shoe drive.
“We are collecting shoes because the conditions in which they live are very unsanitary, and wearing something on their feet can help prevent illness, parasitic infection and many other injuries,” Oesterreicher said. “I’m thankful Benedictine provided me with these opportunities and helped open up the world to me.”
While traveling internationally is an important experience for undergraduates, so is interacting with students from abroad who study here.
International students from 17 countries broaden the learning experience for U.S.-based students, giving them an opportunity to interact and learn about different cultures and viewpoints on Benedictine’s main campus in Lisle, Ill.
Defying boundaries isn’t always about the physical ones – sometimes they are personal ones as well. Encouraging students to meet, communicate and live with people from foreign countries allows them to break down their own personal preconceived notions of others, helping them grow into more well-rounded people who are ready to succeed in a global world.
Special programs such as the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) give Benedictine students the opportunity to hear what their peers in countries such as Libya and Iraq think about a variety of issues that are affecting these visitors’ communities. Benedictine University was one of only six U.S. universities to host this program in 2012. The University’s House of Benedict offers students a unique opportunity to not only live alongside students from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds in apartments on campus, but to participate in activities and events that bring people of different cultures and experiences together for mutual understanding, improved communication and lifelong friendship.
“MEPI is one of the best programs students can participate in,” Dogar said. “It is unique in the sense that this is a study abroad program the other way around, and I have seen a lot of people’s opinions change for the better in regard to Arab/Muslim culture and society.”
Exploring other countries and cultures is just one of many experiences that can enhance students’ academic careers at Benedictine, providing them the opportunity to defy boundaries and helping them to grow into the global thinkers necessary in today’s world.
Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois and Mesa, Arizona. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 55 undergraduate majors and 15 graduate and four doctoral programs. Benedictine University is ranked No. 1 among the country's fastest-growing campuses between 2002-2012 in The Chronicle of Higher Education's list of private nonprofit doctoral institutions, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the fourth consecutive year in 2014. Benedictine University's Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain's Chicago Business as the sixth largest in the Chicago area in 2014.