By Rebecca Esparza ’99 BBA & ’03 MBA
When Katie Young ’11 BA started her freshman year at UIW, she had no idea what she wanted to study. But she did know one thing: she wanted to make a special impact on the lives of others.
“I was ready to study anything and everything,” she said. “I knew I wanted to make a difference.”
Born at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base in North Carolina and raised in Abilene, Young grew up with many family members in the teaching profession. When she was younger, she thought perhaps that’s where her future would take her someday.
Eventually deciding on a major of religious studies at UIW, she recalled her four years of religion classes had one significant recurring theme: social justice. Young took the message to heart and wasn’t content to merely listen passively.
“We would talk about the struggles of others and how as Christians and human beings we are called to help by any means possible,” Young said.
She decided to participate in the study abroad program at UIW and chose the Dominican Republic. Young said she realized her choice may have seemed rather random, but she wanted to learn Spanish and study in a country she didn’t know much about.
“I love meeting new people and going to different places,” she noted. “I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. I learned a lot about myself and how interconnected our world really is.”
Alanna Taylor, study abroad coordinator at the university, said she recalled Young’s enthusiasm for learning different cultures.
“Katie was so open-minded. She was comfortable working with different people and open to learning, especially when you consider she willingly chose the Dominican Republic. Not many students choose to study in a developing country. Most automatically choose Europe,” Taylor said. “I recall she was also heavily involved in campus ministry activities, which seemed to make her an ideal match for the study abroad program.”
The university has 123 sister schools in 40 countries around the world. In addition to Young, a handful of other former study abroad program students are still currently working overseas, including one teaching English in Thailand and three teaching English in Korea.
Students meet with an advisor to ensure classes taken abroad transfer back to UIW seamlessly. Summer sessions last four to seven weeks and fall/spring sessions last 16 weeks.
“Honestly, study abroad is different for everyone and each student has a unique experience. Overall students become more open-minded, globally aware and flexible. They also gain problem-solving skills and learn to work with people from different backgrounds. These skills are valuable for their future careers, regardless of what career they pursue,” Taylor added.
But for Young, her experience in the study abroad program was not enough. During her senior year at UIW, she applied for a program through the Episcopal Church called the Young Adult Service Corp. The group sends young adults all over the world to serve in various programs. She asked them to send her anywhere she was needed.
“I just wanted to be a part of their wonderful work,” said an enthusiastic Young. “So, they sent me to Nagoya, Japan. It’s the last place I ever thought I would go. In Nagoya, I worked in two youth centers teaching English, helping a pre-school class and working with a homeless program.”
Young enjoyed her work with such fervor that the 23-year-old signed on for yet another year of missionary work. This time, she was sent to Sendai, Japan with the Anglican Church of Japan and their Let Us Walk Together project, which was started to assist victims of the tsunami and earthquake of March 2011.
Having lived and served in Japan for over a year and a half, she has come to appreciate its long history and people.
“I love Japan. Its history has produced so many traditions with so many hidden bits of wisdom. But every place I’ve been has been great in its own unique way,” she marveled. “Each one has impacted me in a special way. I loved the Dominican Republic because of how open the people were and how they interact with each other.”
After her current commitment in Japan has finished, Young is contemplating pursuing a career in community development. But one thing is certain at this point: she still wants to make the world a better place to live.
“What I do know for sure is whatever work I do or wherever I go, I want to serve the community around me,” said Young. “I do not want to have a job that just pays the bills. I want a job that is working for something I can take pride in, something that I know is going to change the lives around me for the better.”
She understands the hesitancy some may feel about working in an entirely different country with a different language, culture and economy. That’s because she’s had some of the same reservations about working in Japan. But the feelings didn’t last long.
“Last year when I was working in Nagoya and doubting whether I was supposed to be in Japan doing this work, I heard a fable that stuck with me,” Young shared. “A long time ago some animals in the forest were talking about hospitality. As they were talking, a beggar came into the forest and made a fire. The animals immediately went about collecting food for this beggar to eat. The monkey gathered fruit from the trees, the otter caught fish, and the fox stole some milk from another animal in the forest. The rabbit however didn’t know what to offer the beggar except grass. So he jumped into the fire and offered himself. The beggar then revealed that he was a god. He then saved the rabbit from the fire and put a picture of him in the moon. That way everyone from then on would remember the sacrifice this rabbit made.”
“The meaning I gathered from this story is that when you don’t know what you can offer, offer yourself. Offer everything you have to everyone you encounter. It was a reminder of how I am supposed to live and serve in this world. It was a reminder that you are enough as long as you give of yourself fully,” said Young.
For more information about UIW’s Study Abroad Program, email Alanna Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Katie Young’s blog to keep track of her overseas adventures at: www.peaceloverice.blogspot.com.
See page 2 for additional photos.