By Stephen Snow
In a world of global markets and multicultural societies, BYU students who have returned from missions to foreign countries have a clear advantage over graduates from other universities.
Across the nation university administrators seek to give their students similar overseas experiences as had by missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Internships abroad are the wave of the future,” said Caroline Patrick, program director for summer programs and development at the University of Arizona.
Patrick, the former director for study abroad programs at Utah State University, hopes to assist students at the U of A to have the same experiences as the LDS missionaries she observed in Utah.
“Returned missionaries are just more mature than the average college students,” Patrick said. “They already know the value of an international experience.”
With Patrick”s help, the study abroad program at the U of A is ranked fourth in the nation, offering its students 45 different programs.
“Our most popular programs are most definitely Spain, Russia and England,” Patrick said.
“Most people prefer Spain because they speak a little bit of Spanish, yet want to go farther away than Mexico,” she said.
Kirk Simmons, executive director for the University of Arizona”s division of international affairs, said he fully supports Patrick in her crusade to promote the study abroad program.
“Understanding global issues and markets is fundamental to today”s educated graduate,” Simmons said.
Simmons said being a global citizen means “understanding the rest of the world and its cultures, learning to communicate in other languages, developing the know-how to conduct business effectively in other countries and improving intercultural skills in an increasingly diverse U.S. workplace.”
To students at BYU, serving a foreign mission has given them the confidence to interact in the ever-expanding global market.
“My mission opened my eyes to what”s out there in the rest of the world,” said Matt Durham, a senior majoring in communications studies. “I feel that because they have learned to adapt to a different culture, it is now easer for returned missionaries to continue to adapt to many other cultures, as well.”
Patrick tries to teach study abroad students about the differences in the cultural systems before they leave for their new overseas homes.
“Students will experience culture shock wherever they go.” Patrick said. “Students need to expect the unexpected.”
She said that, just like LDS missionaries, study abroad students undergo a rigorous series of developmental stages.
Patrick said study abroad students and missionaries all must undergo the same 4-step process.
“These students here are like new missionaries,” she said. “They are giddy, they are scared and they don”t know what to expect.”
“At first they”re euphoric; then they go through the doldrums. Next, they hit a plateau, and finally, they wish they could stay longer,” Patrick said.
With over 1,000 students in the study abroad program last year, the University of Arizona sends many more students abroad than does BYU.
The reason for this trend, Patrick said, is a matter of funding. Many LDS parents have already paid thousands of dollars for their children to have a foreign experience.
“Many LDS parents simply do not have the desire to spend money sending their children abroad twice,” she explained.
On the other hand, for most U of A students, study abroad is their fist extended overseas experience and many parents are willing to assist in paying the fees.
Patrick said perspective is the greatest part of an international experience.
“You are continually having to justify yourself, your culture, your family, your country, everything,” she said. “Always having to evaluate these things gives you incredible insight.”