It was my freshman year of college and everything was new and exciting. I anticipated I’d have to stay the summer for in state tuition, but I didn’t yet know what that would entail. As the year went on, I aligned my summer with solid jobs such as working at a daycare center and at Mizzou’s recreation complex. Since I had these concrete positions lined up, I thought I was set for a summer of inevitable relaxation at the pool and fun with friends at the apartment we leased, mixed with a little bit of work on campus. What I didn’t know was that something else was waiting for me-- and that was the Mizzou International Experience. I noticed it a few times at a table in the student center and on an app called Handshake. But I never thought to inquire about a summer program when my summer was already planned. Instead, the MIE staff approached me and asked me to take a minute out of my day to check out a video of what their program consists of. Internally, I had no interest in “wasting my time” when I knew no matter what it was, it wasn’t an option for me. Little did I know, this video would blow me away.
The video captured high school students from all over the world coming to Mizzou to explore their passions and strengths in a professional setting, build connections with peers of diverse backgrounds, and most importantly, broaden their horizons about what the world has to offer and their place in it. I could see how genuine the smiles were on every student and it made me feel inspired at the thought of being able to contribute to the growth of these international students and be a part of such a positive environment. One simple video made me rethink whether there was room for adjustment to my arranged summer plans. Something told me this program would be worth it-- it’s not everyday you get an opportunity like this to change the lives of others and do something meaningful. I would get to explore my own university beyond my own major, explore major cities within my own culture and learn more about myself, while simultaneously mentoring students from around the globe and allowing them to maximize their opportunities for self-discovery and growth.
Sure enough, I found myself applying as there’s never any harm in applying whether it would fit into my summer plans or not. Upon being hired, I felt a sense of support and community even just from the staff. They welcomed me as not just an employee for a program, but an important individual who would contribute to that communal aspect. At this point I was sold that I wanted to be a part of this program, but I had already signed my apartment lease and knew I would need to live in the Mark Twain dorms for the two weeks that made up the program. It wasn’t until the staff told me how much the students idolize the ambassadors who take the time to invest in their career exploration, foster connections and instill confidence in them that I knew it was worth abandoning my apartment for a couple weeks. I realized that these international students invest a lot of money, time, trust and courage to come all the way to the states and rely on us to make it special for them. I felt confident in my ability to be a leader and create a meaningful experience as I had previously been a camp counselor for several years and am open to working with people of different backgrounds. A fire within me sparked and I knew MIE was where I was meant to be.
Flashforward to the start of the program: we were required to participate in several days of training prior to the students’ arrival, but it felt less like a requirement and more like a kick-off to the exciting weeks that awaited us. The other ambassadors were so open to one another and it felt easy to be my authentic self. It was evident that the other ambassadors were there for the right reasons -- to impact the lives of others and become a part of a powerful environment. With pure intentions, a positive attitude, an open-mind, and an eagerness to connect with others, it was easy to bond with a group of Mizzou students who shared the same mentality.
By this point, the hype had been building up over time to where I couldn’t contain my excitement about meeting the new students. To show them our campus and all it has to offer, to learn about them and help them expand their interests and sense of self. But most importantly, to expand both my own global perspective and theirs. The program did this and so much more and completely exceeded my expectations despite my expectations already being high to begin with. Because once they actually arrived I could see the genuine amazement in their eyes. Simply just being in a Starbucks at the St Louis airport was an aweing experience for them. The limited edition drink was the Unicorn frappuccino and a group of them purchased it to which they responded to my question, “what does it taste like” and they said, “sugar.” We shared laughs instantaneously and they were eager to explore everything there was to know about American culture.
Once we split off into our individual teams, my group of six were the kindest souls I’d ever come into contact with. They were timid about using English as it isn’t their first language, but within a short couple days I had a breakthrough. By talking in an exaggerated American accent triggered an eruption of laughter from my students and they came to realize that this was a safe place where they could be weird and authentic and there was nothing to be afraid of. Their English proficiency grew so strong by the end of the program once they became comfortable using it within those first couple days. They not only grew in English proficiency, but they discovered what they loved to do and grew confident in their abilities.
Each day was a new activity, whether that was doing a mock trial in the School of Law, hands-on games in the School of Engineering, designing a website in the Journalism School, or having fun going to a baseball game, every event helped them build upon their passions. At the end of the program, one of my students expressed to me that were it not for the fun nights spent on the lake or even just in the dorm bonding with peers from around the world, they would have never had the confidence to be their complete self and let loose. Another told me that were it not for the career activities in the TAM School, she would have never realized how good she was at fashion design. It was moments like these that reminded me why I decided to do MIE. To instill the confidence, drive, and connections in every individual that took the time to invest in MIE and better themselves.
The last day was bittersweet to say the least. I would have to say goodbye to my team who I had spent every waking moment with for two weeks straight, knowing I might never see their sweet faces again. I would have to leave the strong connections I formed with students from all over the world. While painful, my heart managed to stay full rather than broken knowing that they would return home with a new set of eyes. They would view their future with a brighter light, with the confidence to face challenges and their aspirations head on. It isn’t easy traveling to another country for multiple weeks and MIE allows students a chance to escape their comfort zone. With the ability to accomplish this, students recognize the power of exploration, connections and growth. That in itself, and contributing to an environment with that kind of impact, is enough for me to return to MIE over and over again. It will always have a piece of my heart and I know it has the same effect on the students as well. And even though the MIE community won’t always physically be together as we are made up of individuals from around the world, we all share one thing in common -- we made the choice to be a part of something greater than ourselves -- Mizzou International Experience.