The idea of encounter is something that Pope Francis talks about a lot in Catholic theology. The emerging theme seems to touch the deepest part of the Christian vocation, encouraging the faithful to be fearless and look beyond their own needs. In short, the pontificate is challenging us all to “step out” and encounter new people and new communities.
The theological idea of encounter is something that undergirded a new global education pilot program at the University of Notre Dame, created by Rev. Matthew Kuczora, C.S.C. At the time, he was participating in the University’s Leadership Rotation Program at Notre Dame International. He was conducting research and studying the NDI’s strategic plan for internationalizing the University.
Kuczora, who also served as rector of Dunne Hall, focused in on international opportunities available to students. The Institute for International Education ranked Notre Dame second among doctorate-granting universities for undergraduate participation during 2016-2017. According to the latest numbers, nearly 70% of undergraduate students will have participated in study abroad by the time they graduate. While he found that number to be substantial, Kuczora wondered about the other 30% of students. He started researching the reasons why this group did not study abroad. Four emerging themes emerged from his research: academic schedule conflicts, financial costs, student-athlete training schedules, and fear of going abroad.
“At the core, many of those students really had a fear of going abroad alone,” says Kuczora. “I started thinking about our strengths as a great dorm community and wondered if we could leverage that to encourage these students who may be hesitant to take advantage of an opportunity abroad.”
Kuczora created a pilot program that tested his thesis that “affinity groups motivate hesitant students to participate in international experiences.” His program, which was presented to Notre Dame International, was a week-long trip in Uganda, Africa during fall break that targeted students who have limited experiences abroad. With the financial support of NDI and Student Affairs and support on the ground with the Holy Cross network, applications opened for the new program in the spring 2019. More than 100 students applied, but after a rigorous interview process, 19 students were chosen for the program from both Dunn and Cavanaugh Halls.