Immersing yourself in another culture can make you a better citizen – one who treats people with empathy, and can relate well to others.
That belief was at the heart of Kensley Cox’s desire to study abroad – an aspiration that began even before she set foot on campus at NC State University. She realized a dream when she spent the 2016-2017 academic year studying at Sophia University in Japan.
“Being able to go to a place where I was the minority, and not the majority, made me more able to empathize with minorities here in the U.S.,” Cox said. “I really wanted to be challenged in that way.”
That increased ability to relate with others will come into play as Cox graduates this week with a B.A. in international studies – a degree she picked in part because it requires students to study abroad – but turns her focus toward a career in human resources. She credits her experiences overseas with that decision.
Cox entered the College of Humanities and Social Sciences thinking she might want to become a diplomat. During her college career and time abroad, she learned that she really enjoys helping others, and making them feel welcome and accepted. After graduation, she’ll begin working toward her master’s in human resources online from Western Carolina University, and she hopes to find a job in human resources while she completes that degree.
Her experience overseas happened thanks, in part, to the Jackson Rigney Study Abroad Scholarship. These awards, administered through the Office of Global Engagement’s Study Abroad Office, recognize students for academic achievement. Recipients are selected for their ability to serve as ambassadors abroad and to positively impact NC State upon return.
“I depend on financial aid to be able to go to the university – I don’t have an affluent family that can support me to go to school, much less study abroad,” Cox said. “I knew I’d need money for housing in Japan, as well as the trips that I’d want to take there.”
She applied for the $1,000 scholarship and said she was overjoyed when she found out she’d received it.
“If they’d given me $50, I would have been happy – any little bit helps. That money helped pay my rent in Japan, and made a really big impact on me – that was the largest amount I received outside of financial aid.”
It wasn’t Cox’s first trip overseas. She began traveling in high school each year during her spring break, visiting England, Wales, Japan and the Netherlands over the years.
“With those experiences though, I was just a tourist, and it was only for a week,” she said.
Her time in Japan allowed her to immerse herself in another culture.
“I’ve always been interested in other cultures, and in learning about how other people live,” she said. “How we’re raised, the expectations from people we interact with – it’s different depending on where we’re from.”
Cox said the experience was a time of personal growth.
“It made me realize that the world is a whole lot bigger – I’d always been in this bubble here,” she said. “It made me realize the impact that I can have on discussions, having experienced something that a lot of people had never experienced.”
Cox grew up in Lumberton. She initially didn’t want to attend NC State.
“I saw it as my brother’s school,” she said. “But I realized it had a lot of resources and many study abroad opportunities.”
She also viewed the large campus as a learning opportunity in itself.
“There’s a lot of diversity on campus,” Cox said. “I wanted people who would challenge me and not just reinforce my preexisting ideas. NC State gave me the room to be able to grow and to delve into things that were different from the small-town life I grew up in.”
She has given back to that community as a member of Pack Abroad Ambassadors, presenting to classes and people across campus to educate and encourage others to study abroad. She also serves as a peer adviser through the program by working weekly in the study abroad office, where she offers advice to those interested in foreign study.
Cox said she hopes the donors who make scholarships such as the Jackson Rigney Scholarship possible realize their impact reaches well beyond the study abroad experience.
“The money that they give is contributing to the better future – it’s contributing to the creation of better citizens,” she said. “They are creating many diplomats that move forward in life, and make the world a better place.”