In March 2015, Sandy Soohoo-Refaei joined PLNU’s staff as the new director of the Office of Global Studies. She has a B.A. in sociology from Western Washington University and a master’s degree in education counseling in higher education from Pacific Lutheran University in Washington. She has served as an assistant dean with the Semester at Sea program and associate director and summer “acting director” of the International Programs Office at Linfield College in Oregon for more than 10 years.
Q: What inspired you to join PLNU?
A: Prior to coming to PLNU, God had been speaking to me during my drive to work. I didn’t know what He was saying exactly until I arrived at PLNU. God has certainly called me to serve here, where I can walk closer with Him on a daily basis. PLNU’s mission of academic excellence, service, and caring for the whole person deeply resonates with my core beliefs and values.
Q: You’ve traveled to more than 100 countries. How have these experiences shaped your life and understanding?
A: Interacting with people in so many cultures reminds me that today’s world is deeply interconnected. I’ve learned there are always multiple perspectives. Rather than being a tourist, I strive to look through the cultural lens of locals, reach out to strangers and ask questions. Travel has shaped my worldview. I understand what we have on Earth is transitory and our relationships with God and those He loves are most important. He has asked us to love our neighbors, no matter where they are in the world.
Q: What is your most memorable overseas experience?
A: I led a group of American students for a one-month trip to New Zealand, climbing the Franz Josef Glacier and touring the New Zealand parliament building in Wellington, nicknamed the “Beehive” because of its design. The highlight of the trip was being given permission to stay at a Maori marae on the North Island, a meeting ground of the Maori communities, the indigenous people of New Zealand. We were delighted to learn about Maori history, language, philosophy, food, medicinal plants, successful industries, and much more. The conversations and interactions we had with the Maori were amazing—the best part of the trip.
Q: What is the true value of international travel and study for undergraduates, both personally and professionally?
A: International experiences build self-confidence and promote great understanding and peace among people. Studying abroad pushes us out of our comfort zones, and gives us opportunities to learn, grow, and examine our values. Travel helps us care less about ourselves. We develop empathy for those who are less fortunate. The challenges of adjusting to another country and culture also strengthen faith and help clarify spiritual and personal questions.
For students in particular, experiences abroad enhance interest in an area of study and motivate them to pursue scholarly work. Employers look for graduates who are able to appreciate, understand, and communicate well across cultures. Study abroad signals to potential employers that students are capable of developing connections and resolving conflicts. They are people who can live in harmony with those who are different from themselves.
Q: What is your vision for the Office of Global Studies as its new director?
A: My aim is to continue to develop partnerships with reputable universities around the world, working together through faculty, staff, and student exchanges, as well as through collaborative research projects and lectures. Integrating robust academics within study abroad experiences is key. Another goal is to develop bilateral exchanges—bringing more international students and scholars to PLNU. International professional development opportunities for PLNU faculty and staff are equally important. Faculty and staff are in touch with students on a daily basis and their influence in students’ lives, of course, is great.
Q: You continue to hold a leadership position as a member of the Association of International Educators. Tell us about your work— and what are some of the priorities among educators in this area of study abroad?
A: I’m serving on the Board of NAFSA, an association of international educators with more than 10,000 members. As its vice president of Professional Development and Engagement, I oversee seven national leadership groups— including Education Abroad, International Student and Scholar Services, International Enrollment Management, Leadership Development, and Membership—in all 11 regions of the association. I have been a volunteer member leader of NAFSA in various elected or appointed positions continuously for 30 years, starting soon after I entered the field of international education. I’m in my third year serving as vice president.
As leaders in international education, we are all working hard toward advancing public policy, internationalizing higher education, promoting diversity, supporting international students and scholars, and increasing student participation in study abroad. The ultimate goal is to promote peace and understanding among people and between nations. We all firmly believe that, through international education, we can indeed make a difference in the world.
By Anna Cox