TWU students go beyond campus borders to put learning into action

"Students no longer view the world in the same way they did before they had such an intensive experience. They engage the world and their learning differently."
Dr. Ken Kush, vice president for Student Life

Langley, BC—When R.J. Carr, a 2001 International Studies graduate from Trinity Western University, stood before over 300 university peers from across North America at the recent Model United Nations summit in San Francisco, California, he began to understand why TWU intentionally encourages students to move beyond the safety of its campus borders. As he debated a realistic issue concerning Haiti's trade relations with the US, he realized that this experience was a defining moment in his university education, a moment when his knowledge, character and leadership development was put to the test.

Each spring and summer, students from all different disciplines experience learning through opportunities as varied as the Model UN, student missions and travel studies. This year, students put their education to the test in places as diverse as Guyana, New York, Fort Babine in northern BC, the Philippines, China, London and Ireland, and the inner-city of Fresno. And as Dr. Ken Kush, vice president of Student Life, says, these experiences function as benchmarks in a student's university career.

"Suddenly, who you are and what you understand comes to the surface," says Kush. "In the campus learning environment, we permeate people with what it means to be a Christian leader, a disciple, to have a sense of calling, and what it means to be a member of a community. When students are taken out of that environment, and experience an intensive experience-cross-cultural, competition, short-term missions-they have the chance to see whether they are internalizing their university education."

For Carr and other delegates on TWU's eight-member team, the experiences in the San Francisco Model UN and other university competitions confirm the value of their education. And while their team was distinguished as the only Canadian university team to win awards at the competition, it is the learning experience and the confidence it brings that will have lasting effects.

"There was something in the way our team conducted itself that people responded to—they respected us and propelled us into leadership roles, an opportunity that allowed us to have a real taste of what it means to impact the culture around us as Christians," says Carr, who garnered a "Verbal Commendation Award" in San Francisco.

The student missions program also gave students the opportunity to compliment their campus learning, as two groups of TWU students partnered with Habitat for Humanity, an organization that provides decent housing for people by helping them build their own homes. The trips to the inner city of Fresno and to Grant's Pass, Oregon were practical missions trips that Greg Ouellette, coordinator for TWU's global projects, says are ideal for challenging students to put into practice what they're learning at TWU. Ouellette leads the pre-trip training, which prepares students to integrate their experience into their overall university education, and to approach evangelism from the perspective of servant leadership.

"We go as people to serve and learn, and within that service comes evangelism," says Ouellette. "And when students have a missions experience that integrates with their classroom education, it is an incredibly rich learning opportunity. When they return to the campus, their perspectives are broader, and they are able to ask how the information or principle discussed in the classroom relates to what they've experienced in a hands-on situation."

Reuben Koole, a Geography student who was part of TWU's Habitat for Humanity team, views his off-campus experience as key for confirming his future career plans and for focusing the way he approaches his on-campus learning.

"The trip helped me understand better what it means to serve, and confirmed my desire to serve in some kind of an evangelism ministry that helps people in practical ways," says Koole. "My experience has definitely impacted the overall way I interact with issues in my classes. I'm looking forward to a course I'm taking in the fall, Problems of Third World Urbanization, because I think my experience with Habitat for Humanity will help me connect the issues with real people."

In much the same way, business students who took the opportunity to connect classroom knowledge with hands-on experience, learned first-hand about how Chinese culture affects business practices in the country of over one billion people. The group of thirty-two students learned alongside Chinese students from Tianjin University of Technology, and
travelled to Beijing and other cities to visit nearly twenty businesses.

Maria Vanderwoerd, a business graduate from 2001, says the principles she learned through this trip were ones she wouldn't have grasped in a classroom situation. "I could never have learned what I learned about China without having gone there," reflects Vanderwoerd. "Living in such an international area as the Fraser Valley, I’ll be able to better understand and relate to people of other cultures now that I’ve had overseas experience."

According to Vanderwoerd and other students who have pursued opportunities to compliment on-campus learning with off-campus experiences, their overall educational experience has been enriched and tested. As Ken Kush says, "Students no longer view the world in the same way they did before they had such an intensive experience. They engage the world and their learning differently."

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling 2,850 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2012-08-21
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