BYU’s international relations open doors

BYU Capstone engineering students travel to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to implement a project of retrofitting existing Gers with insulation and building a new structure to help with heat efficiency. (Nate Edwards)

BYU is no stranger to international relations. It doesn’t reside on a coast and Provo isn’t an international hub, but BYU has a surprisingly large international campus in terms of language and international experience.

Jeffrey R. Ringer, director of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, said BYU is one of the most internationally connected campuses in North America outside of New York and California.

According to a 2019 BYU report, BYU has 206 study abroad programs available in 75 countries, and almost 50% of all BYU students have lived outside of the United States. Approximately 258 ambassadors from 104 countries have spoken on campus since 1996.

The report also says that more than 65% of students at BYU speak a second language, and 128 languages are spoken on campus with 62 taught regularly. There are also more than 1,500 international students representing 105 countries at BYU.

The university has a longstanding objective and deep history of inspiring learning, represented by BYU’s motto, “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” Since becoming president of BYU, President Kevin J Worthen has greatly emphasized this objective and pushed BYU to progress on that path.

BYU School of Communications students interview BYU President Kevin J Worthen on the Great Wall of China on May 23, 2019. (Steve Fidel)

“(Inspiring learning) means to not only learn things in a classroom but also by faith and especially through experience,” President Worthen said as he spoke in China while touring with BYU performers this spring. “The Great Wall of China is a perfect example. You can see it. You can understand it. But when you’re here, it’s a different feeling — it’s a different kind of experience.”

Trips that students and faculty take to China and other countries across the globe are possible because of the international ties BYU has created and strengthened throughout the years.

Ringer said the most important reason for BYU to make and maintain international relations is to benefit students and faculty. This, he said, is why BYU engages in international commitments.

He said opportunities arise for students to study abroad, intern and pursue graduate and undergraduate degrees abroad because of these strong international ties, which increases experiential learning outside of the classroom. Faculty also have the chance to build research relationships and gain access to resources that will help them excel.

Ringer explained that universities can sign paper agreements with other countries to officially create international relationships, but BYU doesn’t often enter into such agreements because it simply makes for a nice press release rather than signaling a true commitment.

“We are not interested in entering those just to say we have 412 agreements,” Ringer said. “We are pretty selective about entering into agreements. It may look like we’re reluctant, but we are very heavily involved.”

Ed Adams, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications, said many of the international commitments within his department have been created through collaborations with universities in other countries.

Adams said the college has collaborated and exchanged with universities in Europe, Southeast Asia and South America. BYU Chamber Orchestra hosted four Chinese guests in March — composers Jia Guoping and Dai Bo, conductor Lin Tao and pipa soloist Lan Weiwei.

A Chinese performer embraces BYU folk dancer Kierica McPherson after the collaboration session between their universities ended. (Jaren Wilkey)

In May, BYU sent 160 performers to China to tour for two weeks to celebrate 40 years of friendship with China. During this tour, groups such as the BYU Chamber Orchestra and the BYU International Folk Dance Ensemble performed in Beijing, Xian and Shanghai.

Ringer said BYU held the tour and engaged in the collaborations to fortify the existing ties with both the older and newer generations.

He said that when BYU began planning the tour two years ago, they had no way of anticipating the deterioration of relations between the U.S. and China. Despite not knowing how things would pan out, BYU still went and performed.

“I realize that it may have played out in positive ways that I didn’t see at the time,” Ringer said. “We had more than several remark to us how important it was for us to be there, especially during a time of tension in bilateral relations. It reinforced the notion that even when things aren’t great, BYU is committed to its China activities.”

Adams said these relationships and commitments help break down cultural barriers and allow people the chance to get to know what BYU is and represents.

BYU’s dedication to international relations has allowed the university to continually give opportunities to its students and faculty to experience inspiring learning on an international level.

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