Scholarship helps students travel abroad

Losa Smith, a senior studying sociology, poses for a photo during the Asian Pacific Business study abroad last summer. Smith could attend because of the Global Opportunity Scholarship offered by the Kennedy Center. (Losa Smith)

A recently created scholarship funded by donors eases the financial strains of going on a study abroad or international internship for BYU students.

BYU’s David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies created the Global Opportunity Scholarship in 2014 after noticing many students chose not to study abroad because of financial reasons, Kennedy Center Assistant Director Cory Leonard said.

The Institute for International Education ranked BYU in the top 20 universities nationally for the number of study abroad programs offered to students in their annual Open Doors report for 2018, Leonard said.

“There are lots of opportunities for students, but what we don’t have is a way for students to be able to afford to go,” Leonard said.

Leonard, along with other Kennedy Center staff members, looked at what BYU students were paying on average for tuition each semester as they calculated a possible scholarship amount. The number they came up with was $5,000. They raised $25,000 for the scholarship’s first year, which allowed them to send five students, Leonard said.

The money is collected through an LDS Philanthropies representative who connects alumni wanting to donate to study abroad programs with the Kennedy Center. Leonard and his staff also contact Kennedy Center alumni and former BYU study abroad program students, Leonard said.

Since the scholarship began, the number of students who benefit from the funds has increased. This year, 79 students traveled abroad who normally would have been hindered by the cost of the programs, according to Leonard.

Students apply after being nominated by a faculty member. Once nominated, students meet with Kennedy Center staff who review their financial options like federal student aid and academic scholarships, which can go toward the study abroad cost. Students are also encouraged to seek financial support from their family and major, Leonard said.

“If the student says, ‘Here’s why I need $5,000,’ they get $5,000. As they go through this whole process, what happens is they (realize they) need less and because we’re raising this money year after year, that means more students can go,” Leonard said. “Our goal is to have the most students each year going.”

Recently, some nominated students were ultimately denied the scholarship. Leonard explained students get denied for reasons like not meeting with Kennedy Center staff after being nominated or being unwilling to explore all their financial options.  

“This is what we call a scholarship of last resorts. You have to have done everything you possibly can do,” Leonard said.

To help spread the word about the scholarship, Leonard and his staff created videos in which they interviewed the students who received funds.

“Every student has a different story and a different way that it fits into their career and how it helps them,” Leonard said.

One such student was Losa Smith, a senior from Austin, Texas, studying sociology. Smith participated in the Asia Pacific Business study abroad during Summer 2018. Without the scholarship, Smith said there was no way she could have funded her study abroad without taking out a loan.

Smith said through her study abroad she traveled around Asia to countries like China, Vietnam and Thailand where she met people from cultures vastly different from her own.

The feeling of unity that came from realizing that I had more in common than I anticipated with (these) people inspired me to believe that not only are all humans children of God but all humans are worth my time, attention and maybe even love,” Smith said. “How much money is that kind of enlightenment worth?”

The Kennedy Center is working to spread the word about the Global Opportunity Scholarship.

Posters can be found around campus advertising the scholarship to both students and faculty. The scholarship also has a booth at the Kennedy Center’s Study Abroad Fair which takes place annually during the fall.

Juan Camargo, a senior studying economics from Bucaramanga, Colombia, said he never thought going abroad as a student was a possibility for him until he happened to enter the study abroad fair while passing through the Wilkinson Student Center.

BYU senior Juan Camargo visits Paris, France, while attending the Global Finance Internship in Europe. Camargo could attend because of the Global Opportunities Scholarship. (Juan Camargo)

After learning about the scholarship, Camargo started researching and looking into various programs. A few months later he was traveling to Amsterdam to participate in the Global Finance Internship Europe, which he described as “the experience of a lifetime.”

“I think the price tag of many programs may discourage students like me from even looking at the opportunities there are abroad,” Camargo said. “However, I can confidently say that through the Kennedy Center’s Global Opportunity Scholarship and BYU’s experiential learning funds studying abroad has never been easier.”

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