Diversity can certainly pertain to physical places of origin, but for Eileen Rucki, who was recently appointed to serve as the University of Findlay’s director of international education, it goes beyond that basic definition to embrace distinctions.
“The word ‘global’ gets used a lot, but there’s no doubt that this is an increasingly interconnected world in all aspects, whether that means business-wise, where we’re connecting with other countries, or even within our own personal experiences,” Rucki explained. “We have diverse populations in the same physical environment that need to have an understanding of one another.”
“The more we can do to help people navigate difference, the better,” Rucki continued. “Our approach is to work on cultural humility, approaching difference with an open, humble mind, and being curious and inquisitive versus judgmental.”
Rucki’s stance represents a solid philosophy, developed in recent years by staff at the Buford Center for Diversity and Service, which focuses on holistic approaches. UF seeks to present engagement opportunities, both here and in other parts of the world, that are intrinsically cultural, educational and service-oriented.
As the former program coordinator at the Buford Center, Rucki’s experience in providing students several domestic and international opportunities speaks for itself. The University now offers six study-abroad programs for any student, ranging from the London Scholars Program to Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village in Costa Rica. There are also study abroad programs that are designed for specific majors, such as the Japanese Exchange Program for pharmacy majors, and the English equestrian program’s German Riding Certificate Program.
More long-term opportunities, such as those that last for one semester or one year, are available in countries such as Austria and Sweden.
Here on campus, Rucki and others have supported events that also encourage students, faculty and staff to mingle and learn about others, such as International Night and a recent three-day diversity conference co-hosted with the Diversity Center of Northwest Ohio.
On Oct. 19, UF’s annual Oilers Exploring Beyond the Arch will give people a chance to speak to students who have participated in off-campus and out-of-country programs ranging from internships at nonprofit organizations to Oilers Serving Abroad, the latter of which enables participants to embark on service projects in the Dominican Republic.
The concept of diversity, especially when it pertains to international travel, has stepped more into the spotlight thanks to recent national political activities. Rucki acknowledged some of those developments have and are making people more hesitant about learning opportunities, such as studying abroad. Many are wary of embarking on activities that push them out of their comfort zones.
“With news and media, people are more aware” of tragedies happening around the globe, Rucki noted. However, gaining greater perspective can help, she maintained.
“We can say we’re nervous about going to Europe or wherever the latest horrible thing that just happened is located, but we also don’t consider that students from other countries are hearing about Las Vegas and about Charlottesville,” said Rucki. “No one can ever promise anyone complete security. You have to manage risk, manage expectations and be wise. That climate of tension in various places is always something we have to maneuver and talk through with students and their caregivers.
One responsibility of Rucki’s is to help participants who are leaving the country with “pre-departure” training, along with formal reflective practices when they return. The Buford Center’s “returnee course” helps students to make sense of their experience, derive the most meaning from it, and put it to good use for future studies and career pursuits.
“We help them to grasp not only how their travels help them personally, but also how it will help them professionally. They can use those experiences to market themselves to future employers and graduate schools. They can leverage that a little bit and set themselves apart from other candidates they’re competing with,” Rucki added.
Exchange programs are particularly valuable to UF because they offer the best of both worlds – travel abroad and exposure to students and staff from those schools. Rucki explained such programs take time to develop, given the relationship building and vetting that must happen, but that they have “been very fulfilling.”
Another intention of Rucki’s, short-term, is to inform UF’s student body that this academic year, through July 2018, is actually “a very good year to study abroad.”
Thanks to the second-annual Run the World 5K, a matching grant from the Institute of International Education, and existing scholarships, UF “has a larger-than-usual pot of scholarship money available,” said Rucki. “That’s the challenge to us – let’s make sure they (students) know about these opportunities, and expand those opportunities to make them accessible to everyone. Obviously we fully believe in the value of these kinds of experiences.”
Buford Center staff members regularly have information tables set up throughout campus, but will be making an additional educational push about their offerings during International Education Week, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, which is scheduled for Nov. 13-17.
Students wanting more information on travel abroad opportunities should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 419-434-5911.