BLOOMINGTON — When Olivia Heffernan was playing basketball and volleyball for Fisher High School, she wasn't sure when or where she would study abroad; she just knew she was going to do it.
“Teachers and others have told me the number one thing they regretted was not going abroad, and I didn't want that to be me,” she said.
This month the Illinois Wesleyan University senior will be heading to Hong Kong for an eight-week internship with the Mission for Migrant Workers along with junior Ann Crumbaugh of LeRoy. They will be helping migrant workers, mostly Pakistanis, understand their legal rights and visa procedures.
Both have double majors in political science and economics. They will be among 34 IWU students with internships in Asia this summer, thanks in large part to a two-year, $400,000 grant from the Freeman Foundation.
That's twice the number who participated in a pilot project in summer 2015.
Sociology professor Teddy Amoloza had to scramble that first year to find internship spots and recruit students in a short period of time. It couldn't have happened without the support of fellow faculty members who helped with internship leads and by supervising students remotely via the internet, she said.
“This has been a very satisfying experience for me — seeing students grow,” said Amoloza.
Vishnu Velupula, a senior in biology from Normal who interned at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines last summer, said the experience changed her.
“It made me more of an independent person,” said Velupula, a 2014 graduate of Normal Community High School. “I developed skills on how to think more effectively when I don't have resources I usually have.”
She also learned research skills, doing genetic research and genome editing on a project that is looking into putting the gene for iron into rice plants, a staple food in Asia.
Before returning from the Philippines, she and four other IWU students visited Vietnam.
Velupula, who plans to go to medical school, said her experience abroad will help her in “knowing how to communicate when language is a barrier.”
This will be Heffernan's second study-abroad experience. This spring she was an intern in the Scottish Parliament.
“I learned things abroad that I wouldn't have learned if I didn't go,” said Heffernan, singling out “establishing my independence. … For a lot of small-town kids, it's hard.”
The foundation grant covers such things as airfare, lodging, visa costs and a living allowance, explained Amoloza. Founded in 1978, the foundation is dedicated to improving international understanding between the United States and countries in East Asia.
About two dozen schools receive study-abroad grants from the Freeman Foundation, but most are large universities, unlike IWU, which has an enrollment of less than 1,800 students. Nevertheless, Amoloza said, “There's nothing wrong with asking,” and the university received its first pilot grant for summer 2015.
Amoloza is applying for another grant to keep the program going.
Students come from a variety of majors, including biology, business, English, math, nursing, psychology and sociology, she said. This year's group will be doing internships in Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand.
While on their internships, the students are required to write a blog about their experiences and stay in contact with a supervising faculty member.
Velupula said the summer program was perfect for her.
“I've always been interested in studying abroad, but I didn't think I could take a whole semester and stay on track” with coursework for her major, she said.
Velupula said it is important for students to get out of “their bubble”
“My biggest advice is don't be afraid to try new things,” she said.
The internship sites are as varied as the students' majors. Among them are Mizuno Corp., a sporting goods manufacturer in Japan; EarthRights International in Thailand, which works on environmental and human rights issues; the Food and Nutrition Research Institute in the Philippines; and Shiro Oni Studio, an arts collective in Japan.
A recent graduate who was in IWU's first Freeman Foundation group is going back for a job.
“His being in Hong Kong for his internship really opened his eyes to possibilities,” said Amoloza.