Discovery Profiles: Jessica Mew Gains Personal Connections and Life Perspective Through Repeated Study Abroad
Jessica Mew knows her mother would be proud to know her daughter studied abroad not once, not twice – but three times.
“I know my mom would have loved me for doing all of this,” says Mew, a 23-year-old California Lutheran University graduate whose mother and father had both passed away by the time she went to college. “I know she’d be proud.” Mew’s mom was a single mom since she was five, and she also has no siblings. “She passed away when I was in high school. My family – we just kind of fell apart. I was living with my 80-year-old grandfather.”
So when Mew started college, she accepted she was truly on her own, and that it was completely up to her whether she wanted to study abroad. “In my mind, the only person who’s going to push me is myself, because I have no one to really ask, “Mom, can I study abroad?” she says. “And I had control of my funds. I didn’t want to go home for breaks and long periods, so why not go abroad?”
Mew decided to take her opportunities and make the most of them. She planned carefully to make sure she could afford to go abroad. And for all three of her international education programs, she chose to study abroad through GlobaLinks Learning Abroad. “I’m one of those people who is constantly asking questions,” she says, “and they are always there.”
Necessities of life
First, Mew spent a semester during her sophomore year in 2009 in Fiji at the University of the South Pacific. There, she found the beaches and tropical climate she expected. But in Suva, she found her eyes opened to the challenges of living in a third-world country, including a lack of personal space, little access to technology, and especially, a lack of freedom in politics and speech, which she learned about firsthand from a teacher who fled the country after the semester ended so he could have political freedom. And she learned a personal lesson: “You don’t need all of the technology. You don’t need all of the materials.”
She returned to California Lutheran University more relaxed, less rushed, and knowing she’d pack much less for her next international education experience.
Enriched by history
Her next study abroad experience happened in 2010 when she attended the International Summer School at Scotland’s University of Stirling. At Stirling, she found a new love of history. She dove into Scottish lore through both classroom learning and visits to the area’s many historic sites, where she heard the stories of Sir William Wallace, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Saucy Mary. “Scottish history is so amazing,” she says, “especially when it’s told by a Scottish person.”
Whānau = family
As Mew neared graduation, she decided to bridge the gap between college and adult life with an internship abroad in 2011 in New Zealand in her chosen field of social work. “I knew I wanted to do a helping profession,” she said. “Part of being a social worker is that you have to be culturally competent.”
In studying and interning abroad, she gained those competencies and more, especially as she worked directly with families in New Zealand and learned the strong cultural emphasis on “whānau” or “family” in Maori. “They have whānau agreements,” she says. “They’d even fly in family members for this meeting where they’d say, ‘We need someone to step up and help decide the fate of this family.’ This would be laughed at in America. We don’t have the time, the energy, or the money to do this.”
During her internship, Mew was accepted to a two-year social work program at the University of Southern California. As part of the program, Mew is interning at an elementary school and helping to develop the framework, documentation and processes for a Department of Defense program for military families.
“I’m like, ‘I’ve got this,’” she says. “I learned in New Zealand how to run this. I try to incorporate the family. I spend a lot of time calling parents and having the parents visit school. I think New Zealand has taught me that you have to get the family involved.”
Mew sees herself continuing to use her social work skills both inside and outside the United States. In recent months she has volunteered at an orphanage in Guatemala and went to the Philippines to study human trafficking.
“I feel like a lot of people are very comfortable in what they have and what they know, but they’re not very open minded,” she says. “They say they don’t mind change – but change as in, changing my hairstyle. I’m talking about big change, like living life in a different perspective.”