Double majoring in international and Latin American and Caribbean studies, Ozema Braddock has a lot to celebrate during International Education Week 2016.
A first-generation college student from a single parent home, she took three courses abroad and has been to Argentina, Brazil and Chile — one trip per school year.
“I say to everyone I meet that if there is one ‘that thing’ university students should do before they graduate, it is study abroad,” she said. “The time that I have spent abroad has shaped me as an individual and allowed me to see the world in a completely different manner.
“I feel that we, as Americans, tend to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, living in a sort of bubble that does not allow us to see and appreciate the beauty of other cultures and learn from people with completely different backgrounds and experiences.”
International Education Week begins Monday and aims to celebrate the benefits of exchange worldwide and promote the programs that help shape American students for a global environment. It began in 2000 and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the U.S. Department of Education.
During the week, students can share with their communities their culture and languages and help develop a broader understanding of the world. Michael Jordan, director of the U-M Center for Global and Intercultural Study, said the exposure allows students to grow.
“By engaging in unfamiliar experiences, we gain insight into ourselves and our society. We learn to view life differently and to ask new questions,” he said. “We also develop empathy and patience, we become more flexible.”
Zoe Gerstle, a junior in the Residential College, agreed that her experience abroad opened her eyes. She took a theater and incarceration class from the Prison Creative Arts Project and co-facilitated theater workshops at the Washtenaw Youth Detention Center by playing, talking and laughing with a group of teenaged girls every week during that semester.
Aiming to have a better understanding of the social theater work and an international point of view, Gerstle decided to go to Brazil in a study abroad class to be a participant observer in theater work in prisons, underprivileged neighborhoods and hospitals.
“The class I took at U-M set up a wonderful base of knowledge to start off with, but the study abroad enriched that experience in so many ways,” she said. “One of the most special experiences for me was getting to know the Brazilian students, and realizing how similar they were to our group, especially when we talked about why we do the work we do in prisons and what it means to us.”
Gerstle said that while in Brazil she was reminded that one of the most powerful aspects of travel is to prove the commonness of the human experience.
“That despite traveling thousands of miles to see exotic landscapes and differing cultures, when human connections are made, it is the similarities and unity that shine through,” she said.