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Professional Counseling students expand horizons in Malaysia

When professional counseling graduate student Nicholas Nugent first heard about the study abroad trip to Malaysia from professional counseling assistant professor Kelli Saginak last spring, he knew right away it was a spiritual journey he wanted to take.

“I hoped to get a clearer understanding of what I want in life and what I hold to be true and important and I would say I came away with both of those things. I definitely got what I wanted out of the trip. Malaysia was all that and more and I will never forget that experience,” Nugent said.

The graduate students who went on the two-week study abroad trip were eager to broaden and expand their learning development. Saginak said the goal of the trip was for these counselors in training to develop a greater sense of empathy for others and, in turn, envision themselves as social-change agents, personally and professionally.

While in Malaysia, the students conducted developmental play sessions with children at the Nur Salam Service Center, attended educational lectures, visited group homes of adults with disabilities and went to a work center run by adults with minor and moderate disabilities.

“We wanted to expose the students to the educational and mental health needs of Malaysia and bring them face to face with the reality of life for high risk, disabled and abandoned children.” Saginak said. “I believe the students traveled to Malaysia risked, stepped out of their comfort zones and embraced all that the people of Malaysia had to offer. Opening the student’s eyes to barriers that exist on the global scale is immeasurable.”

Graduate student Rebecca Miller said that the biggest thing she took away from the trip to Malaysia was the service learning with the children they worked with.

“Before going on the trip I hoped I would learn about a new culture. I also wanted to get out of my comfort zone and Malaysia allowed me to do this. I was able to experience a lot of great things with a lot of great people,” Miller said.

The students were also able to embrace the culture and customs of Malaysia by touring mosques, temples, spiritual centers, beaches and the city markets in Malaysia’s culturally rich cities of Penang and Kuala Kumpur.

On the way home from Malaysia the students were given back a letter that then had written to themselves before going on the trip about what they hoped to discover about themselves while on this journey and how this experience would help them develop as an individual and as a counselor. Each student was required to write a follow-up letter about what he or she had actually learned and discovered while abroad. After returning back to the classroom the students created a final project that displayed their personal journey in Malaysia.

“What I will take away from Malaysia is the awesome energy I got from immersing myself in Malaysian culture with my friends and classmates and the overwhelming feeling of peace and happiness the people of Malaysia live their lives with. I think it really rubbed off on us while we there and it's still going strong back here in the States,” Nugent said.

By Carlyn Brown

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