SGA president reflects on experiences abroad

Welsford Bishopric '14 had the opportunity to participate in three distinct Global Study experiences.

It’s no secret that most Elon students are passionate about global study. Elon University boasts one of the highest rates of student participation in study abroad, with 72 percent of the student body completing a global experience before graduating.

While most students go abroad once in their undergraduate career, a fortunate few embark on global study multiple times. Welsford Bishopric ’14, executive president of the Student Government Association, has completed three distinct global experiences in six different countries – opportunities he regards as some of the most significant moments of his time at Elon so far.

“I interact with the world in a fundamentally different way now,” Bishopric said. “It’s invaluable; the knowledge I gained in those countries plays into everything I do in some way.”

As a first year student, Bishopric spent Winter Term in Mexico with the Business Fellows. As someone who “wasn’t much of a world traveler” before Elon, Bishopric said the experience catalyzed a fundamental shift in how he perceived the world beyond the borders of Western culture.

“As we were moving out of the more commercialized parts of Mexico into Merida, I remember looking out the bus window and watching the familiarity sweep away,” Bishopric said, “Watching my culture being washed away and replaced with another one for the first time was a really incredible experience – I’m still getting money out of the same ATM, but everyone around me is living a fundamentally different life.”

His sophomore year, Bishopric took a Winter Term course in India and Dubai focused on the business and culture of the Indo-Gulf. Although he chose the course because he was interested in pursuing a career overseas at the time, the most important knowledge he gained wasn’t related to business at all.

“We visited an orphanage in India, and they gave us a pretty blunt overview of what it’s like to be an average child there,” Bishopric said. “It’s impossible not to think about what I learned there, even today – every single day of my life, I know exactly how children in that orphanage live.

“For me, the most important part of that course became learning to both recognize and appreciate the privileges I have and factor that understanding into my day-to-day life as I continue to live as a global citizen.”

Bishopric’s last Winter Term abroad was the 2013 Business in the Pacific Rim course, where he visited Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore. Although he regrets not having enough time to spend a semester abroad because of his commitment to SGA, Bishopric said that collectively his time overseas gave him a valuable new viewpoint from which to assess both himself and his culture.

“Particularly in American culture, I think there’s an unfortunate sense of egoism and desire for self-gratification,” Bishopric said. “I think one of the best ways to combat that is to sit down with someone who’s fundamentally different than you and just talk with them.”

Bishopric also said he learned that acquiring a genuine understanding and appreciation of other cultures is predicated on a sensitivity to commonalities as well as differences.

“At first all I saw was differences – different backgrounds, languages and priorities – but after that, I realized everyone I met is no less valid than I am, their feelings are no less legitimate than mine,” he said.

Bishopric said Elon students are particularly privileged to have so many opportunities to explore the world at a young age. He argued that completing a global experience is an invaluable opportunity to experience unprecedented personal growth – one that students would be remiss to pass up.

“If you think that you are truly enlightened to the same degree as someone that has met people in various different cultures and attempted to communicate, struggled to relate and eventually found commonality with someone different than themselves, then that’s awesome – maybe going abroad isn’t for you,” Bishopric said.

For undergraduate students considering a global experience, Bishopric had one piece of advice: “If you really want to be a global citizen in the true sense, not just the marketing sense, it’s the only way to do it.”