“Education plays a vital role in helping form and shape the future of a country.”
That seems like a reasonable statement for anyone to make, but CSULB alum Brenda Vasquez has had the unique experience of comparing and contrasting specific educational systems across three different countries.
During her senior year, Vasquez decided to seek out a study abroad experience that would also help her complete the upper-division courses she needed to graduate on time. With the help of CSULB Education Abroad advisor Lauryn White, she chose a four-month exchange program at Åbo Akademi University in Finland in 2017.
“Finland is renowned for having one of the best education systems in the world,” said Vasquez. “I wanted to get a little taste of that, and do a little comparison with the U.S. education system. Finland also ranks #1 as the happiest and safest country in the world, and since this was going to be my first time traveling alone, I figured Finland was the perfect destination.”
As the only CSULB student and one of two Americans at Åbo Akademi, the experience gave Vasquez plenty of opportunities to expand her horizons, especially through classes in psychology and intercultural communications. In between school work, she was able to hop on ships, buses, and trains to neighboring countries like Norway, Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic, and many others.
Vasquez returned home transformed, and graduated from CSULB in Spring 2018 with a degree in Psychology as well as a growing interest in education. It wasn’t long before she embarked on another overseas trip, this time with the Cultural Vistas program that helps U.S. students gain international work experience. Vasquez spent two months at the Akshaya Patra foundation in Bangalore, where she gained insight into the various details and special needs of India’s education system.
“The Akshaya Patra foundation implements a mid-day meal program to schools all across India,” Vasquez explained, “feeding more than 1.6 million children every day while also improving school attendance.”
India has one of the fastest growing populations in the world, with almost half of its citizens still in school. So it was only a matter of time before Vasquez returned there to pursue additional opportunities. Her second trip to India included a nine-month stint at the Kalinga Institute of Social Science as a Fulbright-Nehru ETA (English Teaching Assistant). Since returning to CSULB in March 2019, she’s been planning to obtain a master’s degree in either International Studies or Educational Psychology.
“These experiences have definitely changed my life. I learned a lot more about myself,” said Vasquez. “You grow a lot more as a person when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. There are amazing people doing remarkable things in their life that may one day have an impact on you or someone you know.”
“You start to realize that this world is a lot smaller than what we make it out to be,' she continued, “and that we may share a lot more in common with someone across the world than with our own neighbor.'