Expatriates experience a whole new world at BYU


Some students come to BYU, waiting to experience “the world is our campus.” For others, the world has been their campus long before they arrived here.

Expatriates, known as “expats,” are those who have been uprooted from the country of their citizenship and live in a different country and culture. Expats typically move because of a job, whether they work for a multinational corporation or for the State Department. In other cases, some who live overseas for a few years move because their parents are mission presidents or work for the military.

Sarah May, a freshman majoring in psychology, lived in Santiago, Chile, for three years as her father presided over the Santiago North Mission. She said living and going to school there was a stark contrast from the experience she would have had going to high school in Orem.

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Michelle Bywater, an expatriate at BYU, white-water rafts with friends in New Zealand.
“The Catholic religion was very strong,” May said. “Most of [the students]were international, but only 20 percent were American. There were 1,600 kids from 53 different countries.”

May said the culture was different. Kids would party every weekend and parents would actually buy alcohol for their children. Drugs were also prevalent.

“I had a really close friend overdose on cocaine,” she said. “I would go to the grocery store with my mom and there would be kids from my school who had vodka in their carts.”

May said going to school and hanging out with her friends was different from her home life. As a mission president’s daughter, conversations at home centered around religion.

“I would come home and it would be religion submersion,” she said. “They would always talk about it, and I would have to tell them to change the topic sometimes. But, as soon as I left the house, there would be people swearing left, right and center.”

May said moving back to the United States was a lot harder than moving to Chile, which was not what she expected.

“The culture, what I had remembered and what I came back to, was different — along with friends and relationships,” she said. “I felt that the relationships I developed overseas were a lot stronger, and the people there are a lot more accepting and non-judgmental.”

Michelle Bywater, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, lived in Singapore for 14 years. For sports, her away games were in other countries, from Thailand to Malaysia and even Taiwan.

Bywater played varsity soccer, basketball and softball. She said people at international schools can be more tolerant of other peoples’ faiths and beliefs.

“They had an away game once where they played on a Sunday,” Bywater said. “I was captain of the soccer team and it was the tournament, but I sat out and my teacher understood that.”

Bywater said the different religions she learned about have helped her be more tolerant. She said while everyone here generally has the same religious Christian viewpoints, in Singapore you have people who practice Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism.

“It helps me personally be more tolerant of other people’s views, and it was very enlightening to be able to see how the different religions were similar to my own,” she said.

Bryan Dukes, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, moved to Hong Kong when he was 10, and over the next eight years also lived in Beijing and Azerbaijan.

Like May, Dukes also had a hard time transitioning back to living in the States, especially with the school system.

“It wasn’t just culturally, but also schoolwork,” Dukes said. “The International Baccalaureate program was completely different. It’s geared toward this final exam so you don’t waste time doing meaningless homework, so you just learn the concepts.”

He said part of living overseas is learning to keep up with the world, because when something is happening in another country, it affects you.

“It actually affected me, because my friend’s dad was an official in the Egyptian government when the revolution happened,” Dukes said. “It makes the world a lot smaller.”

Dukes said he gained a completely different outlook of the people around him.

“Racism is a lot less prevalent, especially in international schools,” Dukes said. “You can’t be racist, because not matter what race you are, you are a minority in the school.”

Joseph Sorensen, a junior who plans to major in advertising, doesn’t call any specific place home. He grew up in various continents because of his father’s job in the State Department.

As a child, the family moved to the Congo for two years. When he was 10 years old, they lived in Uganda for three years. After a year in Virginia, where his dad learned Russian, they moved to Russia where they lived for three years, Kazakhstan for three and finished his last two years of school in Azerbaijan.

Sorensen said coming back to the States for summers was hard, because people treated him like an alien.

“Utah was particularly insular,” he said. “They would be fine to you until they found out you were living overseas, then they wouldn’t talk to you because they had no idea what to talk to you about.”

Sorensen had different experiences in Africa. They left the Congo early because of the civil war that erupted while they were stationed there. But, Uganda was one of his favorite places to live.

“The cool thing about Africa, in general, is that everything you do is exciting,” Sorensen said. “There, the only market places were outdoors, with people selling fruit on the ground, a shopkeeper chasing someone who had stolen an item, there was always something fun.”

One of the harder questions for Sorensen to answer is one that normally doesn’t pose a problem for most people.

“When people ask where I’m from, I ask them if they want the short or long answer,” he said. “I either get that’s super cool, tell me more, or silence. Then the person changes the subject.”

Tracee Tibbitts, a junior majoring in English language, lived in Doha, Qatar, for five and a half years, when her dad worked for ExxonMobil. While moving from Houston to Doha wasn’t hard, coming back to the States for college was really hard.

“I went from having all my friends from different countries to super Mormon and not really understanding where I was coming from,” she said. “Everyone wanted to watch Disney movies and I was like ‘what?'”

She said one of the most important lessons she learned was being able to understand a lot of different religions and accepting others’ differences, and not trying to change other people’s views .

“I think I’m more accepting that people are different and don’t judge them,” she said. “Everyone is my friend.”

Dukes said he definitely wants to live overseas again. He said while there are pros to growing up and living in the States, people also miss out on other cultures, customs, languages and ways of living.

“I feel like there is so much beauty in the world, and if you limit yourself to one location you are unable to experience the world has to offer,” he said.

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