Robert Kelley, Ph.D.
President, University of North Dakota
My first international visit was to Mexico City with my parents. I was eleven years old. My impressions were that the architecture looked just like pictures of Europe that I had studied in school. Dad hired a local fellow to drive us to Teotihuacan to visit the pyramids of the sun and moon. I remember playing with a boy who lived in one of the villages near the pyramids and being a little puzzled at his language, which sounded quite different from the Spanish that I had grown up with in New Mexico. I suppose it was my first recognition that there was just a tremendous amount of diversity in the world. Also, I had never seen anything like Teotihuacan and had to wonder about the people who built the city.
Growing up, my parents often talked about Europe. Mother always wanted to take a "grand tour" as she called it. So, when I received a postdoctoral fellowship to study at the Hubrecht Laboratory in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 1971, I jumped at the chance. Living in Holland, learning the customs and a little bit of the language (which was somewhat like the German that I had studied for my doctoral language exams), and having some time to travel to adjacent countries (Belgium, Germany, France and Denmark) gave me a completely new perspective on how people lived, their music and interests, their thought processes and the way they interacted with each other.
Over the years, I've accepted every opportunity possible to live and work abroad. My laboratory work in developmental and cell biology encouraged participation in international conferences in Japan, India, Brazil, Venezuela, Canada and several countries in Europe and the U.K. (Italy, Spain, France, Scotland, England, Switzerland, Austria and Germany). The U.S. State Department sent me to Nepal to assist the Prime Minister who wanted to build a western style medical school in Kathmandu. I spent six months working at the Okazaki National Laboratory for Basic Biology in Japan back in 1986. Living and working in an environment where I often felt illiterate (couldn't read, write or understand the complexities of Kanji) was quite an educational experience that helped me respect the accomplishments of individuals who come to the U.S. and succeed under very intimidating, foreign conditions. And in 2006, Marcia and I spent six months on sabbatical at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia. We learned a great deal from the Aussies and, in return, assisted with the development of a health curriculum at a new university on the Sunshine Coast.
Why should students study abroad?
Perhaps the best response is that one gains perspective when traveling and living abroad. There are many different ways to think and direct your life. Cultural differences create breadth for enjoyment of music, art, literature and philosophy. And the diversity of human experience is seemingly endless. So, understanding of one's own life experience in relation to others in the world helps put the individual into a much broader perspective and awareness.
How have international experiences influenced my career/life decisions?
This is a difficult question to answer since international experiences become part of the individual, and it is the individual's total experience that produces the response to opportunities and decision making. Perhaps the easiest response is to note that international travel, living and working abroad requires a bit of courage...a sense of adventure and risk taking that can build personal confidence. So bringing this confidence to career and life decisions has made me a little more willing to accept risk and that which is new...new challenges, new people, new environments, new career opportunities, etc.