Changing the World: Lessons Learned at the 2016 University Student Leaders Symposium | Thomas De Maio

There is educational value in learning from a variety of perspectives. One of the most advantageous ways to expand your horizons is to travel abroad. There are countless opportunities for students to see the world, including enrolling in an intensive two-week course in South America or studying abroad in Europe for a year. Higher education institutions around the world open their doors to people across the globe who seek to diversify their educational and cultural experiences. These opportunities are not limited to undergraduate students; in fact, there are a plethora of chances for graduate and professional students to learn abroad. As the world becomes more and more interconnected, it has become increasingly crucial for students to expand their learning beyond their current institution’s walls. As a Higher Education Leadership M.Ed. student at Florida Atlantic University, I had the great privilege of attending the 7th annual – 2016 University Student Leaders Symposium in Hanoi, Vietnam. Events like the University Student Leaders Symposium take participants outside of their comfort zone and allow them to learn about the real life educational and humanitarian needs that exist around the world. The purpose of this article is to share the lessons I learned by attending the 2016 University Leaders Symposium in hopes of motivating other students (including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students) to seek opportunities to study, volunteer, and/or travel abroad.

Written by Thomas De Maio of Florida Atlantic University.

 

The Experience

One of the most valuable things that attending the conference taught me is how privileged we are in the United States to not only have the ability to obtain a higher education, but also the fact that our universities are staffed with academic advisors and student affairs professionals whose job it is to help students succeed. One of the Symposium’s speaker, Dr. Angelina Yeun, Vice President of Hong Kong Polytechnic University discussed the cultural factors and challenges that they face in Chinese society.  For example, Dr. Yuen (2016) noted that in many Eastern cultures people are less likely to engage in community service and/or charity events focused on helping people other than their immediate family or friends. Without the sense of societal benevolence, there tends to be increased poverty and inequality within pockets of Eastern society. As an antidote to this problem, Dr. Yuen emphasized the importance of servant leadership. She noted that the concept of servant leadership already started to positively impact the city of Hong Kong. She also mentioned that in Eastern countries, such as China, higher education institutions do not have a student affairs staff. However, she did mention that demand is increasing for her higher education Master’s degree courses to learn more about leadership styles and the benefits of student affairs within higher education.

Implementing leadership styles and strategies that are taught in our higher education classes can help positively impact the world. One issue that higher education students and professionals can address is the impact of education on individuals, families, and countries. In Asia, a large percentage of women still do not have access to any formal education. If we can help educate and advocate for the rights of all people to have access to formal education, we can prepare people across the globe to address the challenges they face.

Some of the most memorable moments of my time in Vietnam were the multiple learning journeys that allowed attendees to volunteer their services. For example, attendees donated thousands of books to a local school and we helped build small bamboo bridges across a local river so villagers could traverse them on their way to school and work (HumanitarianAffairs, 2016). One of the most life-changing experiences on my trip to Vietnam was having the opportunity to visit Duong Lam, an ancient village. At Duong Lam we met with the villagers and learned firsthand about their ancient culture, religion, and traditions. My fellow humanitarians and I rolled up our sleeves and stepped outside of our comfort zones to assist the villagers with their daily chores, such as plowing and watering the fields, as well as prepping and cooking traditional Vietnamese dishes that have been made for centuries by these villagers and their ancestors. The work was difficult at first because of the hot sun and lack of clean drinking water or air conditioning. Although as the day wore on, the experience made me appreciate even more the daily tasks that these villagers complete to keep their village running.

Conclusion

Higher education graduate students are vested with a great privilege: the opportunity to obtain a high quality education in which the individual is equipped with the knowledge of making a positive impact in the world. The potential is there for us to not only impact students at our institutions, but to also enact change throughout the world. I encourage you to pursue opportunities that will allow you to study abroad through formal programs and/or by attending conferences like the University Student Leaders Symposium. We can, and I would argue are morally obligated to make the world a better place. In doing so, we make ourselves even better student affairs administrators and human beings.

 

 

References

HumanitarianAffairs (2016, Aug 7). 7th USLS 2016 . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_n3FfC-yEE

Yuen, A. (2016, September 12). Angelina Yuen at the 7th USLS 2016 . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvZup5nOwd0

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