Flyers Embracing Global Experiences: Mary Niebler

Mary Niebler, Associate Director for the Center for Social Concern and Coordinator for Cross-Cultural Immersions, found that she was able to create meaningful relationships and experiences across cultures with honesty and open communication. Through those experiences, she developed her passion to be an ambassador for international education and exchange.

What has influenced or shaped your passion for international education and exchange?

Mostly experience; through my own personal development, travels, and interaction with others in different intercultural situations. I am continually inspired by my students’ interactions and transformations, while they are on cultural immersions. It inspires me to see how much an individual can grow and become better global citizens by interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds. Building cross-cultural relationships and exchange is what shapes my passion for international education and exchange.

Can you share an intercultural experience or moment that inspired you?

One thing that I often think of is a conversation that I had while I was on our cross-cultural immersion in Kumba, Cameroon in West Africa. Our immersion group had the opportunity to travel to a nearby village with an engineering group that was doing assessments. The Chief of the village invited us in for some fellowship and hospitality; a sign of appreciation. They were graciously sharing food with everyone, but I was not able to accept some of the food, since I have been a vegetarian since I was 13. I was sitting next to the chief of the village and we were able to have a really great conversation. Instead of just eating the meat products that they offered in an effort to not offend the village, we discussed why I decided to become a vegetarian and why I could not accept it. I am glad that the conversation happened because there was a mutual understanding and he got it. We were both able to share our values and what they mean to us. Honesty has a place and time, but if you’re in a situation where people are open to honesty then have a conversation. That is where the most growth happens.

In your opinion, what are some benefits to international education and exchange?

International education and exchange allows us to learn about different cultures and traditions. It also enables individuals to be open to new experiences, which may help us find similarities to others from different cultures. International education and exchange can happen on campus, in the city of Dayton and abroad.

As a staff member, how have you expanded intercultural experiences whether through campus, community, or around the world?

I coordinate cross-cultural immersion programs for students. We typically go abroad to regions in Latin America, South America or Africa during our summer excursions and winter break. During the breakout sessions (alternatives to going home for breaks), we typically travel to regions in the United States, that are rich in cultural diversity, such as New Orleans or rural Kentucky. These service-related trips allow students to gain a better understanding of the world. Prior to leaving for the trips, we meet with the students to allow them to get to know each other, learn about the current/historical events of that specific region, and discuss how to navigate through cross-cultural communication. We want our students to have a better understanding of how to be ambassadors of global solidarity.

What is one aspect or memory of home that you still embrace today?

I am originally from a town outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I grew up where there was a lot of land and trees, so the smell of home is what I miss the most. I still go up there and visit all of the time.

Where are some places you have traveled that expanded your perspective of yourself and the world?

India, one of the immersions that I led during graduate school at UD. India is just spectacular. During that summer excursion, I was able to identify differences in food, religions, languages, traditions and so much more. The diversity within India is so extensive. Not only was I able to identify differences, I was able to find similarities in the culture to myself. As a vegetarian, I appreciated the wide variety of options that were available for me in India. Another trip that expanded my perspective of the world was with a group of individuals in Peru. Our group had people from all over the world and who all spoke different languages. Sometimes we would have to go through multiple people, acting as translators, to communicate.

If you had to pick a life motto or quote, what would it be? Why?

Always wear comfortable shoes. It will enable you to have more fun, have a positive attitude, and will allow you to do what you need to do.


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