Enrichment through world experiences

SPU professor Pete Renn advocates for life-changing study abroad programs

Belle Privitera, Staff Writer

Pete Renn (right) with former students after meeting with an original Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Bueno Aires.

Throughout their time at SPU, many students are encouraged to participate in a study abroad program. They hear professors, parents and even counselors preach about their life-changing abilities. Studying abroad can be a daunting experience as students face the decision to enter unknown territory. 

However, SPU professor of curriculum and instruction for the school of education Pete Renn, who has a doctorate in education,  believes studying abroad is indispensable. Renn took part in a study abroad program himself in Hong Kong when he was only 21. Coming from a small town in Nebraska where life moved at a slow and leisurely pace, Renn experienced culture shock when confronted with the swift rhythm of Hong Kong. 

Renn’s experience in student teaching allowed him the opportunity to navigate a different cultural work environment than that of the United States. Experiencing life outside of the Western American influence allows students to engage in a nuanced worldview. From cultural understandings of body image to the work expectations of a culture, learning and experiencing the differences can be a great asset to a person’s personal, spiritual and professional life. 

“The opportunity professionally to work in a school with such high expectations and diversity allowed me to connect with people that I would never have met otherwise. Also, being exposed to the pedagogical methods and overall excellence of the school set me up for my career, and I hit the ground sprinting,” Renn said. 

When coming back from student teaching in Hong Kong, Renn had the work experience to jump right into the heart of his career. The challenges he faced overseas, such as language and cultural differences, allowed him to start his career in the U.S. with a great deal of nuance and cultural appreciation. Studying abroad can not only provide exposure to the rest of the world but can also help make connections for one’s professional life. 

Another benefit to studying abroad is the unraveling of Western media stereotypes. Unfortunately, Western media and rhetoric often lead many to attribute a country’s political decision to the morality and character of its people. 

“Visiting Central America was eye-opening for me because I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s when Nicaragua was painted as communist bad guys by our government. Going down there and really getting a better understanding of what was going on, the impact of American imperialism and hearing their perspective was an important moment for me to reflect on my childhood and what I was taught,” Renn said. 

The study abroad experience helps people understand other perspectives on global history and Western politics and can also allow students the opportunity to reflect on their country’s actions. When taking a group of students to Argentina, in the wake of the killing of Osama Bin Laden by U.S. forces. Renn and his students became engaged in an eye-opening conversation.

“We met with Argentine scholars, and the issue came up. Everyone around the room questioned, ‘why even have a judiciary or legal system if you’re just going to kill your enemies or advisory?’ That was a really good experience for everyone in the room to realize that it might be a little more nuanced than how we’re looking at it,” Renn said. 

Since his time student teaching in Hong Kong, Renn has traveled to around 24 different countries. Having the experience of both teaching and studying abroad, Renn understands the fear and hesitancy that students may have towards these programs and says that the trick is to recognize you are not alone. 

Yet, like many students who go abroad, Renn has caught the travel bug, and there is no cure!  

“Once you get past the apprehension, it does make you stronger and adept at understanding how to get involved in a culture and appreciate it with an element of humility. It is a transformational experience, and you will be a different person coming back,” Renn said.