Studying abroad gives UNK graduate a broader perspective

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Ben’s journey studying abroad changed his life.


Studying in the Czech Republic and China created experiences that Ben Cooney can’t describe using dollar signs.

It left him with lifelong, intangible benefits. It forced him to leave his comfort zone.

It exposed him for the first time ever to different cultures and people.

“I saw, heard, smelled, and tasted what I had never before,” said the 2011 University of Nebraska at Kearney graduate from Clay Center. “I was able to meet people from across the globe, spanning from Great Britain to South Africa, from Spain to Russia. Because of studying abroad, I have widened my cultural awareness and have become a more rounded person overall.”

Life-altering experiences such as his are the reason the University of Nebraska set a goal to increase student study abroad opportunities and international partnerships, including giving every undergraduate the opportunity for a meaningful international experience, through classes, internships, research or service learning.

To assist with this goal, the University of Nebraska Foundation awarded UNK a $166,000 grant to support its study abroad programs. The grant funds curriculum development and faculty stipends for its World Leaders Camp and provides student travel scholarships and faculty travel stipends for study abroad trips.

The University of Nebraska Foundation’s board of directors awarded a total of seven grants across the university this summer, totaling more than $1.1 million, including the grant to UNK. The grants are awarded each year and are made possible through unrestricted donations.

This year, University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken asked chancellors to submit grant proposals on the theme of global engagement. Increasing private support for global engagement activities is a priority of the university’s fundraising initiative, the Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities.

“It’s especially important now to have an internationally connected university and students who are knowledgeable about the world, so we’re especially proud of these grant awards,” said Brian Hamilton of Grand Island, a University of Nebraska Foundation board director who chairs the grants committee. “We also recognize and thank the donors who make these grants possible.”

Examples of the other grants include support for University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s study abroad programs; University of Nebraska at Omaha’s academic partnership programs in India, China, Germany and Norway; and University of Nebraska Medical Center’s collaborative research studies in India and China.

Ann Marie Park, coordinator of UNK’s Office of Study Abroad, said the grant is important because the act of studying abroad changes every participant.

“Almost everyone who studies abroad is thinking outside their own sphere of reality,” Park said. “I believe this trait is an attractive personality characteristic, because it signifies a willingness to embrace change and thrive in new environments. Regardless of where students choose to study or how long they choose to stay, their future will be enhanced. They will increase the offerings which they bring to the table when applying for a job or graduate school.”

For Cooney, the recent grad, studying abroad was a pivotal time for him and led him to an English teaching position in China.

“Studying abroad was an opportunity that may only come around once,” he said, “and I took advantage of it, as should anyone with the chance.”

Global engagement is one of the highest priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska. If you’d like to help expand the global horizons of students like Ben Cooney, please give online or contact the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Lincoln, Omaha or Kearney offices at 800-432-3216.

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