Helping students study abroad is a passion close to home

One of the reasons students come to Foster is the opportunity to build meaningful global experiences. Foster’s Global Business Center, home to one of only 17 federally-funded Centers for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), has a robust study abroad program. As with many areas of education, support from private donors opens doors for students who may otherwise forego a unique and transformative experience.

We caught up with Bob (BA 1979) and Ann (BA 1978) Christensen, Foster School alumni with a passion for global experiences and a heart for paying it forward. With them were two scholars they funded, Sunshine Camille M Arcilla and Truman-Hieu M. Ngo. The discussion took place before Sunshine and Truman departed for their study trip.

Bob and Ann Christensen with scholarship recipients

Has anything really surprised you in all your travels over the years?

Bob: One of the conversations we were just having was how sophisticated many other parts of the world are.

As an American, you have this view that maybe you’re living in the most sophisticated place in the world and often times you find that there are places in the world that have a higher level of technology, or a better transportation system, or cleaner streets, and more livable environment.

Ann: One thing that I’ve taken from traveling is how in other countries people may not have very much, but they’re very happy and appreciative of what they do have. You don’t see that here too much. It’s very refreshing.

Do you have a favorite place in the world?

Ann: I’m still finding that place. I need to go to quite a few more places. [laughter]

Bob: I can add that it needs to have a beach…and lots of sunshine…

Ann: And coffee!

You said it’s a plan that every year you want to go live somewhere for a few months. Do you know where that first stop is?

Ann: London.

London?

Ann: London. Bob has a lot of family in England, so that’s a first stop.

Bob: Chance to reconnect with family in a different way.

Ann: We’ve spent a lot of time in London, but I think to live there a few months will be different.

What drove your passion for enabling business students to study abroad? What was the deciding moment that this would be the kind of gift that you wanted to give?

Ann: It became a very easy decision when we figured out these were all connected. Two of our kids, the ones that went to the University of Washington both studied abroad, and we saw what had changed in them when they came back.

I reflect back on when I was a student, and it was unusual for kids to study abroad. I knew of maybe one or two people who did it. I don’t know if that was due to limited opportunities or financial resources. I always thought that would be such a wonderful experience, but it just wasn’t there for me.

Those two things plus our love of travel and seeing how it can change your perspective on lots of things—your personal life, your professional life. You’d become a more rounded person, I think.

Bob: I think good decision-makers are the key to a company. I really believe that one of the ways to make better decision-makers is to provide them multiple experiences.

At PACCAR we tried to do that by moving people functionally and geographically so that they look at a decision not just as an accountant, but as a business person who’s got some global perspective and cross-functional perspective.

The idea of helping kids to achieve that level of perspective sooner is pretty appealing to us, because that’s what we’ve seen with our kids. Take our son—I think it’s fair to say that as he’s matured he has moved from one end of the political spectrum to more of middle place in the spectrum. I know that’s because of his travels.

Ann: I think we would like to see that if there are students for whom this would be a wonderful opportunity, that finances are not holding them back. We can help them achieve that. It is something we can relate to as a people, and we can see a difference we’ve made.

Let’s hear from our Christensen Scholars, Truman and Sunshine. Maybe start with an intro?

Truman: I’m an information systems and entrepreneurship student. I’m also looking into doing marketing as well, which is why a part of what I’m going to be going abroad. I’m studying in the Netherlands and will be there for all of fall quarter.

Bob: Which school in the Netherlands?

Truman: I’m going to Erasmus University. It’s Rotterdam School of Management.

Ann: Very exciting.

Bob: I retired from PACCAR in February, and I don’t know how much you know about us. PACCAR’s largest global facility is about an hour east of Rotterdam in Eindhoven. Philips Electronics is in Eindhoven as well, and DAF Trucks.

It would be wonderful if you could visit. I could arrange it. You can go with the marketing people or the systems people at DAF Trucks in Eindhoven if it’s something you’re interested in.

Truman: Oh, that is definitely something I’ll be interested in. That would be amazing actually.

Bob: It’s a truck factory where every six minutes a complete truck comes off the line.

Sunshine: Every six minutes?

Bob: Every six minutes.

Truman: Wow.

Bob: Sunshine, are you an accounting major?

Sunshine: Yeah. I’ve interned with Boeing. This is going to be my third summer now. They’ve been kind to just let my imagination run wild and try things out. First year I did accounting, and then I went back and did supply chain last summer. I’m going back to do marketing because it’s another interest and a new perspective.

I’m looking for an opportunity to be more accounting-focused—hopefully next summer.

Would you share a little about your backgrounds?

Sunshine: My mom and my dad were actually entrepreneurs back in the Philippines. We owned two restaurants and they call it ukay-ukay back home, but it’s a dry goods store of used anything like clothes or bags and stuff like that. They’re usually found in city markets, but it didn’t end up working out, which is probably the reason why we ended up in the US.

It was a fun childhood. We made up our own games and got to go to the beach alot.

My parents were planning our move, and the timing was about a month before I’d graduate elementary school. I didn’t want to move to the US. In fact, I tried to run away the night before my flight—but my sister told on me.

[laughter]

Truman: I actually grew up in Seattle, born here, raised here. My mom is from Vietnam. She was an immigrant here. I moved to Kentwood in fourth grade. That’s where I lived for the rest of my life.

Where do you want to go with your career?

Truman: I want to go into a company that has a social impact or mission that I can get behind and gain initial experience. I’m also very interested in technology and marketing, and I could see taking an entrepreneurial path down the line.

I see a lot of overlap between global social issues and global business. I’ve never been outside of the US and I view this first, initial going abroad as my kick-starter or entry point into just traveling everywhere because even though I’ll be in Europe, I still have that month and a half and I was thinking about going to Thailand, South America or even Australia.

Sunshine: I definitely want to be in a multi-national company, and my dream and my mission is actually to be in a C-suite of one of those companies. I think if you do that it’s inevitable that you’re going to have to touch on different cultures and go to different countries. Yeah, I definitely wanted to go international at some point.