Cincinnati.com: Successful pilot program bridges summer gap for...
February 21, 2020
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When Garrett Ainsworth returns home after his international travels, he often hears old friends say, “You hang out with foreigners more than us.”
But even as a child, Ainsworth knew that the world was bigger than his small hometown in Independence, Kentucky. His desire to live in a larger, multiethnic community eventually led him to the University of Cincinnati where he says his mind was opened, and he enjoyed its diverse international student population.
“My mother passed away when I was three years old, so for most of my life I grew up in a single-parent home,” says Ainsworth. “In order to help, I took on extra work and learned to be adaptable and self-motivated. But most of all, we thrived because people in my community helped my family and taught me the true value of community and acceptance.”
Now, a recent graduate of UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Ainsworth will begin what he calls a gesture of "giving back" by teaching English and working as an intercultural mentor to young people. Through a 2019 Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarship awarded by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, Ainsworth will spend a year, beginning this August, working with children in Taitung, one of Taiwan’s most rural communities.
As a business student, Ainsworth took advantage of the opportunity to study abroad through a variety of UC International programs.
“During my first trip to Mexico in my sophomore year, the cultural diversities really touched my heart, and I developed more of a passion for traveling the world and working with people in different countries,” he says.
Later as president of iCats, a student organization for cultural learning at UC’s Lindner Business College, Ainsworth took it a bit further and created the iCats Cultural Development Program, designed to enhance the member’s intercultural knowledge.
“Through a variety of workshops we created on campus, several international students educated others on different aspects of their culture such as social values, food, religion and sports,” says Ainsworth. “Through iCats, our international students were able to share a new world of fun and cultural ethos through sponsored events like cricket matches, Chinese hot pot events and Oktoberfest celebrations on campus.”
But it wasn’t until the summer of his junior year on his trip to China that Ainsworth began to appreciate the advantages of living and working in a variety of cultures, all of which he says helped bolster his plans for a global career.
“While I backpacked around China with another American friend from iCats, we met up with some of our Chinese UC International students,” says Ainsworth. “They were gracious enough to introduce us to their families, host us, squire us around the cities and act as our translators and tour guides.
“We had a lot more fun because of their help. I wouldn’t have had that kind of unique experience without being part of UC’s rich, diverse environment."
Ainsworth’s passion for cross-cultural experiences was now in full swing. While serving as a Benjamin A. Gilman International scholar, Ainsworth completed two study abroad programs and traveled to 16 countries. As a student advocate and leader back on campus, he conducted research on the motivations for cultural learning and how to maximize that motivation within students.
“I was impressed by every country I visited but China impacted me the most and led me to my interest in Taiwan,” says Ainsworth. “In Taiwan I saw a place rooted in tradition but able to adapt to new technology and progress. I couldn’t help but feel a personal connection.”
Ainsworth exemplifies the impact that outstanding UC students have on the global community through their innovation, academic excellence and urban impact — all primary tenets of UC’s strategic direction called Next Lives Here.
Along with Ainsworth, UC received five total Fulbright Student Scholarships for 2019-20. Through UC's Office of Nationally Competitive Awards, four recipients include Brian Nabors, who will perform musical composition research in Sydney, Australia; Andrea Ori, who will work in biophysics at the Louis Pasteur Institute in Paris; Amanda Bright, who will teach English in Greece and Chloe Elleman, who received a UK summer institute grant through the United Kingdom.
During his Fulbright fellowship, Ainsworth will spend the next year in the small Taiwanese city of Taitung, a rural and mountainous community along the southeastern shore.
“I know I’ll have a greater opportunity to immerse myself into a small-town society where their culture is still traditionally rooted and [with] minimal outside influence,” he says. “While I’ll be teaching English to children who have had little exposure to cultures outside their own, I am sure I’ll learn as much or more about their way of life and look forward to discovering our common interests.”
Tutoring English is only part of Ainsworth’s ambitious Fulbright plans. Since culture and language are naturally developed through social interaction, he also plans to teach the children about American board games, sports and host traditional U.S. holiday celebrations, he says.
“I learned that no culture is a monolith, and it is often difficult but necessary to separate a person’s personality from their culture. So while teaching Tiawanese children about American culture, I hope to show students how diverse we are while emphasizing that I still cannot speak for everyone,” he adds.
As he navigates around this daunting new language and culture, Ainsworth looks forward to embracing new customs and perspectives, tools he says will help build valuable business skills for working with a majority of the world vastly different from his own.
“As Americans, only 5% of the global population is like our culture,” says Ainsworth. “The other 95% is something different and I look forward to adapting on a personal and professional level to the other 95%.”
Ainsworth's UC experiences have ultimately lead to his career goal to become a future U.S. diplomat in China and Taiwan. In this role, he looks forward to using his cross-cultural experiences to help promote a better understanding between American and Taiwanese people.
“It’s always a unique opportunity to learn from people who are different from you and that’s something I took to heart early on," he adds.
"Being part of a university that has a very diverse environment, traveling abroad and my involvement in organizations with international students helped me develop as a person and has positively changed the way that I think.”
Featured image at top: On one of his study abroad trips through UC, Garrett Ainsworth stands with UC mechanical engineering student Vaidhyanathan Sabesan in front of the Jama Masjid of Delhi, one of the largest mosques in India. all photos provided by Garrett Ainsworth