The International Scholars Program encourages thoughtful travelers
In Beijing for her junior year, Wendy Simon-Pearson ’12 had eye-opening experiences typical of students abroad: visits to exotic landmarks, strange encounters on trains, language hurdles. But, as a participant in the UMass Amherst International Scholars Program, Simon-Pearson also made deep connections on her trip. “I was better prepared to have real conversations with Chinese people as a result of my studies,” she says, explaining how she learned to empathize with people who might accept living in an undemocratic system or agree with China’s one-child policy.
The International Scholars Program, run jointly by Commonwealth Honors College and the International Programs Office, allows students like Simon-Pearson to integrate international studies coursework and study abroad during their undergraduate years. The selective program accepts 15 to 20 students per year. It includes two sophomore-year courses that prepare students to study abroad during their junior year and a seminar that helps seniors process their experiences and complete a related research project.
Program Director Tim Lang, who teaches all three courses, explains that the International Scholars Program aims to take study abroad from the margins of a student’s academic experience and pull it to the center. Students’ senior projects link their study abroad experience to their class work. For example, a student who worked with micro-loans in Senegal studied the economics and sociology of micro-loans to determine why a lending program that succeeded in Bangladesh was failing in West Africa. This year’s seniors have brought their fresh global insights on such topics as France’s burqa ban and the challenges of international aid to the seminar.
Many International Scholars pursue global careers. Alexandra Sprague ’11 received a Fulbright scholarship and is now in Mongolia researching mobile garden design. Simon-Pearson will return to China after graduation to direct a Model United Nations program. “We all hear Professor Lang in our heads,” says Simon-Pearson, “constantly reminding us to look at international issues from both sides.”