Feature Story

December 7, 2023 | By Cole Hatcher

'Transformational Growth'

Ohio Wesleyan Students Learn from University's International 'Leaders Across Borders' Program

OWU Leaders Across Borders (LAB) participants learn about the complicated history and current political situation of Northern Ireland in front of the Parliament Buildings (also known as Stormont) in Belfast. (Photo by Lisa Ho)

Ohio Wesleyan University student Marvella Kurniawan '25 calls her involvement in the OWU Leaders Across Borders (LAB) program "one of the most reflective and fulfilling moments in my life." And fellow Bishop Blake Johnson '24 adds, "My experience with LAB was, in one word, transformative."

The Ohio Wesleyan students are among 22 undergraduates from around the nation and world selected to participate in the grant-supported OWU LAB program, launched this year to provide participants with cross-cultural leadership training.

After participating in virtual programming for three months during the summer, 20 students representing 10 countries gathered in Northern Ireland for a five-day leadership workshop in October. The event was held in Belfast and Ballycastle at Corrymeela, which helps people, often from marginalized communities, "explore differences and discover ways to live well together."

Becoming Better Leaders

Jonny Clark, program manager for Corrymeela, addresses OWU LAB participants as they tour the Corrymeela residential center. Corrymeela is Northern Ireland's oldest peace and reconciliation organization. (Photo by Michele Nobel)

Lisa Ho, M.A., director of the OWU Leaders Across Borders program, said she is pleased with the progress of OWU LAB to help students acquire and/or apply cross-cultural communication skills; utilize intellectual curiosity about other cultures, peoples, and ethnicities; and demonstrate peer leadership and conflict mediation skills.

"We saw transformational growth in the students," said Ho, who also serves as Ohio Wesleyan's associate director of the Office of International and Off-Campus Programs. "Many expressed that this program changed the way they viewed themselves as leaders and the way they understood peace and justice in the wider world. …

"Having returned to their home campuses, students will now implement what they learned in LAB in a campus project," Ho said. "Some examples include challenging their university to hire more diverse representation among their faculty and staff; joining their local community advocacy around diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts; convening global majority student leaders on campus to better coordinate and align their efforts; and going back to their home communities (high school) to host a program focused on developing diverse student leadership."

Understanding Multiple Facets of Culture

Four Ohio Wesleyan students were among those selected for the OWU Leaders Across Borders program following a competitive application process. They are Kurniawan of West Jakarta, Indonesia; Johnson of Centerburg, Ohio; Timothy Page '25 of Roseville, Michigan; and Anya Robinson '26 of Belleville, Illinois.

"We got to consider multiple facets of culture – the interpretation, interaction, and meaning," said Kurniawan, a Nutrition and Psychology double major. "These help us become more mindful, thoughtful, and have a sensitive outlook. … This program has given so much strength and courage for us to take home. It will remain a bookmark in my life and the memories are those that I will treasure forever."

Johnson, a Politics and Government major with a concentration in Public Diplomacy, added: "LAB taught me to search within myself for moral wisdom in a deeply reflective and open space. It taught me about the importance of creating public spaces in which difficult dialogue can occur, which our societies tend to avoid out of fear of discomfort. And it taught me that changing individuals is the way to change oppressive social systems.

"The ideals of hope and peace, specifically woven throughout the program, were crucial as I listened and learned throughout the program," said Johnson, who also is pursuing minors in Communication and International Studies. For his project, he plans to develop a program to present at his high school to help plant seeds of cross-cultural leadership in the younger generation.

Exploring Peace and Reconciliation

OWU LAB participants contemplate the world as they marvel at the scenery of Carrick-a-Rede Island on the North Antrim coast. 'We felt the world around us as it gives us confidence to carry on and believe that any opportunity we work hard on will be ours for the taking,' says Marvella Kurniawan '25. (Photo by Stephanie Martinez)

Robinson said one key lesson she has learned is how to be a more focused and effective leader by working "to not let the chaos surrounding me and how other people are treating me change who I am as an individual."

"Besides leadership, I learned more about history, gained more gratitude, and changed my perspective on society," said Robinson, a Neuroscience and French double major. "Because of circumstances, I am more of a pessimistic person, but I found that assuming the worst does not always prepare you well for what happens and causes more harm than good. …

"We learned about the explicit and implicit differences between peace and reconciliation," Robinson continued. "Peace is difficult to reach because everyone has a different definition of peace and because of things such as revenge and the cycle of pain continuing, but reconciliation has a more unified definition between people."

For her project, Robinson will work with the executive board of Ohio Wesleyan's Sisters United student organization to share what she has learned. She also will incorporate her OWU LAB experience as she transitions into the presidency of Sisters United for spring semester.

'The Best Program I Have Participated In…'

Ohio Wesleyan faculty and staff working with Ho to develop and teach the OWU LAB curriculum are Paul Dean, Ph.D., associate professor of Sociology and Social Justice; Michele Nobel, Ph.D., assistant professor of Education; and Chad Johns, D.Min., university chaplain.

"For me," Ho said, "it was the best program I have participated in as an international educator. The students quickly bonded as a group and were incredibly generous with their honest reflections and willingness to challenge their biases, assumptions, and beliefs. Plus, the partnership with Corrymeela and the connections we have in Northern Ireland just continue to deepen."

Those connections include an invitation for Ho and Katie Murphy '27, an exchange student with the Study USA program in Ireland, to hear remarks from Her Excellency Geraldine Byrne Nason, 19th ambassador of Ireland to the United States, when Nason spoke Nov. 10 at the City Club of Cleveland. Ho and Murphy were invited to Nason's presentation by Mark Owens, vice president of marketing and communications for Team NEO and newly appointed honorary consul of Ireland, Ohio.

In support of OWU LAB, Ohio Wesleyan received nearly $49,000 in grant funding, including support from the GLCA's Global Crossroads Initiative, made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation. Learn more about OWU LAB and more about the University's Office of International and Off-Campus Programs.