A Unique Trip with the "Destiny Benders"

April 04, 2013

By Guest Blogger

Destiny Benders Elizabeth Blanchford (Gen Next Education - Montana), Andy Fraher (Embry Riddle Aeronautical University), Becky Hanson (University of Iowa), Caitlin Kelley (Kansas State University), Jen Wahlquist (Gen Next Education –Bangalore), Brad Van Den Elzen (Kansas State University), Gabrielle Malfatti (University of Missouri), Dave Benoit (Envision EMI), John Wilkerson (University of Missouri), and Girish Ballolla (Gen Next Education) with Mrs. Lakshmi Rao, principal, and Ms. Jyotsna Nair, counselor, at National Public School, Koramangala, in Bangalore.By Gabrielle Malfatti

"When I say M-I-Z, you say Z-O-U"

- M-I-Z

- Z-O-U

- Louder, M-I-Z

- Z-O-U!!

- LOUDER, M-I-Z

- Z-O-U!!!

The chant is a common occurrence on the University of Missouri (MU) campus and popular with all Tiger fans. Yet, this time the chant that brings us together on football afternoons at Faurot Field was being uttered by high school students more than 8,000 miles away from Columbia in Bangalore, Karnataka, India.

As many international educators are in the midst of recruiting trips this time of year, I wanted to share my experience as an observer on a recent recruitment trip. As the MU College of Education’s director for international and intercultural initiatives, I recently joined a group of fellow NAFSAns for India Calling 2013, a recruitment and public relations campaign designed by Gen Next Education, Inc. for its U.S. university partners at schools in Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, and Delhi. The purpose of my journey was to connect with K-12 principals for internship placements for our students at their schools. Mission accomplished! The first group will complete their Indian residency this summer.

But, as most international educators know, when one travels, there are the goals we set out to accomplish and then there are those “eureka” moments that expand our understanding of the world and ourselves, and change our outlook forever. Traveling with this group had a profound effect on my understanding of what it means to be an international educator.

During our first school visits, I watched in amazement as my fellow travelers represented their universities with precision and enthusiasm and delighted partaking in the “MIZ –ZOU” chant of my friend, John Wilkerson. Having served as a faculty member for 15 years, I guess I never gave much thought to how international students ended up in my classroom. I did not recognize the tremendous effort and energy that international recruiters pour into introducing our institutions to talented students around the globe and how they broker relationships that may never develop otherwise.

As the days passed, I began to pay closer attention to the reactions and conversations we had with the young Indian students and recognized that I had been given the unique opportunity to travel with a group of what I have deemed “Destiny Benders”: A select group of individuals who can chart a new path in the life of another, in one very meaningful exchange.

At each school we visited, Girish Ballolla, CEO of Gen Next and a native of Bangalore, shared his story of leaving India for Kansas at the age of 18. He told students about his self-discovery, his integration into U.S. society and the university, about the courses he took, and the opportunities that his decision has afforded him. It was evident that the students could see themselves in Girish. Having left my native Colombia for the United States when I was 17, I could hear my own story in his story and see myself in the students as they began to realize that a door was opening for them, a door they might otherwise have walked by, were it not for the work of these Destiny Benders.

As the visits went on, each university representative had opportunities to showcase his or her institution and then spend time addressing inquiries from students, teachers, and administrators at individual booths. The students were very curious and my fellow travelers answered their recurring questions with great zeal, as if it were the very first time they had heard them.

What I have described may be very typical of how international recruitment trips unfold. But to me, it was new, it was powerful, and it highlighted the importance of the work that we do as international educators, the impact that we have for the betterment of a person’s life, a family, a community, a nation, our world. Even though I am a firm supporter of internationalization, I had never acknowledged the work of those who canvass the planet representing our institutions, scouting great talent, sparking and supporting the realization of dreams, aiding fate as masterful Destiny Benders. Thank you for all that you do.

How does the role you currently play in international education make you a Destiny Bender? Let us know in the comments.


Gabrielle Malfatti is director for international and intercultural initiatives at the University of Missouri College of Education. She is a member of NAFSA’s Membership Committee.


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