Trends and Issues in Higher Ed

May 1, 2018

Global learning through doing: High-impact experiences

FIUTS’s wide range of Educational Programs include several that offer UW students hands-on experience in K-12 classrooms. Photo courtesy of FIUTS.

FIUTS’s wide range of Educational Programs include several that offer UW students hands-on experience in K-12 classrooms. Photo courtesy of FIUTS.

The UW offers a myriad of paths to high-impact global experiences for students: from service projects with international communities to internships in the global workforce; from conducting international research to serving our diverse student body through student organizations or government. And some students create brand new paths toward more intercultural engagements at the UW. These students are having transformative experiences — and transforming the world around them.

Shooq Alhathelool
UW Tacoma, class of 2019

Shooq Alhathelool, class of 2019.

Shooq Alhathelool, class of 2019.

In Fall 2016, Shooq Alhathelool had been in the U.S. for a year when she transferred from Tacoma Community College to UW Tacoma. Originally from Saudi Arabia, she quickly became interested in learning about the cultural diversity surrounding her on the UW Tacoma campus — among both the international and domestic student populations.

Getting involved

Alhathelool joined the UW Tacoma Global Ambassadors Program in Fall 2017. “Before the Global Ambassadors meetings, I didn’t know anything about civil rights issues in the U.S. — racism, immigration, the prison system or other issues,” she says. “Every month we get to meet and hear professionals discuss these issues and then discuss them ourselves. I’ll hear a student say, oh, we have the same issue in China and I’m thinking, we have something similar in Saudi … I see how we all connect.”

One particularly impactful presentation came from a visiting Indigenous Studies scholar, Paulette Blanchard. “I’d never learned much about Native American issues, especially from a woman’s perspective. She talked about tribes and wanting to keep traditions alive, and I really relate to that because sometimes I think, why do we [in Saudi Arabia] still do that old tradition? But seeing her fight for her culture was really cool. It made me embrace my culture more, be proud of it and want to preserve it.”

Forging new paths

Alhathelool also joined the Muslim Student Association (MSA). “I really wanted to do something for MSA and for the community,” she says. “The president of MSA suggested, ‘what about teaching Arabic?’ In Islam, all of our practices are in Arabic — and I saw how most students in MSA were struggling with their Arabic. So I thought it was a great idea.”

A great idea — but at first, an overwhelming one. “I didn’t know where to start! First, I was binge-watching videos on Youtube about teaching Arabic to beginners,” Alhathelool says. “At the same time I was learning Spanish, so I was thinking about what was helping me learn a new language, and I created similar games and lessons. I tried to use any resources I could for support.” In time, she created a complete syllabus, and in Spring term started holding lessons every week.

Alhathelool expected lessons would mostly be of interest to MSA students — but from the beginning, they drew a diverse mix of students, as well as faculty and staff. One student, she remembers, had served in Iraq and was interested in refreshing his Arabic.

After one quarter, Cindy Schaarschmidt at the Office of Global Affairs took notice of the impact Alhathelool’s lessons were having on the UW Tacoma community. The OGA offered support through the Strategic Initiatives Fund, so that her costs of time and resources could be sustained longer-term.

“When I first came to campus as an international student, I was very shy, and I didn’t know a lot of people,” Althathelool says. “Now I realized that yes, I’m an international student and I don’t really understand the culture, but that means that I get to learn it — and teach others about mine.”

Ayan Abshir
UW Seattle, class of 2017

Ayan Abshir knew for quite some time that she wanted to do something to help refugees in the Seattle area. “In 2016, I had just come back from a study abroad program in Italy and had seen the huge refugee crisis there,” she says. “So I started looking for a community-oriented internship through the Carlson Center.” With support from the Carlson Leadership & Public Service Center’s Undergraduate Community Based Internships (UCBI) structure and a Class of 1957 Fellowship, Abshir began working as Youth Program Intern with the International Rescue Committee in May 2017. Her project? Creating a summer day camp for refugee children.

“Like everything at the university right now, we’re both influenced by and serving international students — and finding all students opportunities to work with communities unlike the ones they grew up in.”

— Rachel Vaughn, Carlson Center director

Abshir, of course, had never created a summer camp from scratch, so she used whatever resources she could, including help from her supervisor. Ultimately, she designed the curriculum, daily activities and structure for the camp. “I learned so much,” she says, “about youth development strategies, community building and program coordination, by interacting with the refugee youth who were adapting to a new environment.”

The service project had personal resonances for Abshir. “I was born here [in the U.S.], but have seven older siblings who were born in Kenya and Somalia,” she says. “They came here when the war broke out. I saw my family struggle — with stereotypes, language barriers, the education system — so I know how that feels. I used to hear from my siblings about their fear when they first arrived. So with the refugee kids, I got to see them wanting to engage and building their confidence. It was so cool.”

For Abshir, working with an international community in the Seattle area was the definition of a “high-impact” experience — and she encourages other students to get involved with global issues. “For UW students, many of us do come from diverse backgrounds, so an internship like this can open up your mind to a whole different experience,” she says. “It forces you to engage with people that you haven’t before, encounter problems you hadn’t thought about before. I grew up working class, but it opened up my eyes to the privilege that I have.”

“Undergraduate research is one of the uniquely transformative offerings of the husky experience. International huskies bring their global perspectives to the research context, enriching their inquiry and contributions. Students engaging in international research often have deeper and more meaningful experiences — often leading to collaborations and connections that have the potential to be both life changing and lifelong.”

— Jennifer Harris, Undergraduate Research Program director