For many students, study abroad is simply an opportunity to travel, take in history, indulge in regional cuisine, and visit historical landmarks. But for others, it’s much deeper than that. Going abroad can be an experience of total immersion in pursuit of social justice through community as a means to world peace. It’s a transformation of body, mind, and spirit as you become a global citizen.
One college where you can find such travel opportunities is Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. Founded by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, Saint Mary’s shares a campus and mission with these passionate women. The College’s core values of learning, community, faith/spirituality, and justice are embraced from the classrooms to the residence halls, but often students’ experiences outside Notre Dame are the ones that truly open their hearts and minds forever.
This shared mission, along with the fundamental principles of Catholic Social Teaching, compels students to travel abroad as an essential part of their education. In fact, over half of all Saint Mary’s students go abroad. These students embrace diversity, empower communities, and create unity. They make a difference no matter the destination.
During a summer trip to China, Saint Mary's students partnered with China Women’s University, the All-China Women’s Federation, and women entrepreneurs to gain an understanding of China’s gender equity goals. These entrepreneurship initiatives teach women how to answer social issues with business solutions.
“Women’s systematic exclusion from business and business management has occurred globally. China’s response to this inequity through women’s entrepreneurship initiatives is perhaps one solution to empowering women globally,” says Katie O’Brien ’17. Reflecting on her time in China, Katie says she “learned that when women work together, we can accomplish more than as individuals. Most importantly, I learned that working together internationally for women’s empowerment is necessary.”
At Saint Mary’s, Nursing students have the opportunity to travel to Uganda each summer. Working alongside the sisters at Holy Cross Health Center in Kyambogo, these students provide immunizations and conduct lab tests, applying what they’ve learned in the classroom and clinicals. However, this international experience allows them to transform from Nursing students to true caregivers.
“Nursing care in Uganda is very different. It's a land without HIPAA and a place without enough resources. This taught me to be very creative,” explains Jovita Lledo Munoz ’18. “This trip taught me to be more independent, trust my instincts, not be afraid to ask questions, and slow down and get to know my patients in my career as a nurse.”
In a place like Honduras, a popular destination for mission trips and service groups, Saint Mary’s students have reservations about how their desire for community will be received. “Hondurans are more than likely used to seeing [missionaries] come and go, being part of their lives for mere weeks or days,” says Mia Van Nostrand Gorrell ’11.
When Intercultural Studies, Justice Education, and Political Science students travel to Honduras, they gain an understanding of political and social realities local families face in one of the poorest Latin American countries. They spend time at Hogar Diamante, a home for boys who became involved in petty crime and gangs. By getting to know the boys and understanding the challenges they face, students learn how to respond in effective and empowering ways through various approaches, unlike what locals typically experience with groups who travel to Honduras to build homes.
Through meaningful conversations, students discover that building homes for families does not give them a sense of pride or ensure safety and security. However, supplying locals with needed materials empowers these communities, allows the community towork together and form unbreakable bonds with one another, and leaves them with a sense of accomplishment. “I learned how important it is to make people realize they are capable and strong and not helpless people who need handouts from others,” says Katie Ciresi O’Brien ’12.
Each year, five students at Saint Mary’s make a pilgrimage to Peru through the College’s Campus Ministry Office. While abroad, the group stays with the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Their mission is to strengthen their faith through solidarity. For all who embracethe pilgrimage, it’s a true experience of conversion. It’s an opportunity to be one with the poor, an experience of communion that outlasts the pilgrimage itself.
“Our solidarity consisted in a true sharing of life, a breaking of bread together as we celebrated the Eucharist and found His presence in each person we met,” Julie Weilbaker ’18 reflects. What can be accomplished insolitude is limited, but what can beaccomplished in harmony is immeasurable. Adds Gladis Pina ’20, “My purpose is not to fulfill my own dreams but instead be an instrument for others to have their own.”
International travel is an eye-opening experience. And with a greater mission in mind, college students receive an education of the mind and heart, respond to the needs of the time, and make the world a better place. However, be warned: this worldwide search for deeper meaning is highly addictive. You may revisit special places or find inspiration in new faces, but as global citizens, you’ll never stop exploring.
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