Traveling the world to make a global impact

For decades, MIT students have traveled abroad over Independent Activities Period (IAP) or in the summer for enriching global experiences through MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI). This year, dozens of students became MISTI’s first IAP travelers abroad since the start of the pandemic. 

“We got very good at being spontaneous and rolling with the punches,” says MIT-Israel student Marilyn Meyers. “I knew that given the rising cases of the new Covid variant that things in Israel would be a bit chaotic and that I would have to be prepared to go with the flow. I decided to take a chance and go … because I had a feeling that it would still be a transformative experience. I was right about that.”

MISTI students are extensively prepped before they take their trips abroad, with program managers advising on logistics such as visas and foreign bank accounts and training students on regional workplace culture and travel safety. While the pandemic added some additional elements to the process, a solid infrastructure was already in place to support them.

“Safely sending students abroad has always been our top priority, even prior to Covid,” says Griselda Gomez, MISTI’s assistant director of health and safety. “That constant commitment is what has made it possible for us confidently navigate the pandemic and reopen programs.”

The Global Teaching Labs (GTL) program is one of MISTI’s most in-demand opportunities, where MIT students teach STEM courses in high schools and universities abroad. On top of the standard preparation, GTL students are trained about teaching materials, platforms, and communication techniques, as well as introduced to the host country’s education system and culture. Thirty-seven students took part in GTL this year, sharing the MIT style of education and unique approach to problem-solving around the world.

“GTL Israel was really an incredible experience,” gushes Meyers. “One of the highlights of my experience was playing English games with the students. Seeing the [students] push themselves to use the English that they knew and to learn more English words despite making mistakes [made it] a really special event.”

Yuka Machino and Holden Mui went to Ghana with the MIT-Africa GTL program to work on a unique mathematics project. “The mission for our MISTI program was two-fold. One of our goals was to train their nation’s top mathematics students in preparation for the International Math Olympiad. The second goal was to inspire students from Ghana’s top public schools to prepare for and participate in mathematics competitions,” says Mui. “It was exhilarating to watch the students reach their ‘aha!’ moments when working through problems.”

Machino agrees that interacting with the students was the highlight of the trip. “They were all very engaged and interested, and I felt a lot of satisfaction in being able to share the kind of math that I found most fun and beautiful.”

Students also gained valuable experience to bolster their academic and professional careers. “This MISTI program definitely helped me improve my ability to explain complex concepts in a simple way. Though I’m not sure what my career will be, this ability will be helpful in almost any career, from working with others in the workplace to one in academia,” says Mui.

“Compared to my life during the semester, it was a very different and enriching experience for me to work with other people on a project like this,” adds Machino. “I’m really thankful for MIT for this opportunity and for our host for making it such an enjoyable and exciting experience.”

There are more student opportunities like this on the way. Now that the students have returned to campus, planning at MISTI is already full steam ahead for the next group of students. Says Gomez, “We anticipate having even more countries open this summer, and we are positive that our staff and students will be ready.”

MISTI is MIT’s hub for global experiences, providing immersive international programs that bring MIT’s one-of-a-kind learning model to life in countries around the world. MISTI empowers students to build cultural connections, make an impact in the world, and gain valuable perspectives that inform their education, career, and worldview.