An immigrant from South Africa and fluent in four languages, senior biology major Bianca Basch nurtured her passion for international development last year by living, studying and interning in Thailand. Basch traveled abroad after receiving a prestigious award, the Boren Scholarship, given to U.S. students looking to study in a country of national security interest.
The scholarship administered by the Institute of International Education is designed to promote linguistic and cultural immersion, providing students with the “resources and encouragement they need to acquire skills and experiences in areas of the world critical to the future security of our nation.” In exchange, students agree to seek at least a year’s worth of work in a position of national security for the federal government.
Prior to applying, Basch spent a semester in Thailand in 2009 with GoEd, a study abroad program that partners with Messiah, and she adopted a strong connection to the country’s culture and language. Basch returned to Thailand after receiving the esteemed scholarship for a year-long study focusing on sustainable development. “Thailand is a very colorful nation,” she explained. “The people are friendly, the lifestyle is inexpensive and the food is delicious. There is also a strong emphasis on human rights with issues such as sex-trafficking, and that really interest me.”
Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand, welcomed Basch for the first four months of her experience. She took major-related courses at this respected international college, learning and interacting with students from across the globe.
Basch then dove into hands-on projects in Chaingmai for her final six months in Thailand. Living and working on a vocational Bible school compound, Basch enhanced her qualitative research skills through a sustainable agriculture internship. “We executed four pilot projects,” explained Basch. “Each project was centered around three overall goals: financial sustainability, food sustainability and education in agricultural vocation.”
“My favorite project was soap-making,” Basch shared. She also participated in a project on vermicomposting, a form of aerobic composting that involves the use of worms to help break down organic waste materials in soil. Her experience inspired the creation of her seniors honor project: Messiah’s first vermicompost sustainability endeavor on campus. Basch said that she hopes “to get a lot of people involved. I want it to be a big student interest. I’m partnering with some professors, but I want it to be a student-managed project.”
Looking back on her experiences, Basch encourages other students to study internationally. “Students should study with a program that really cares where they are and what they are doing,” she advises. At the same time, don’t take Messiah for granted. “I think a lot of people are too harsh on Messiah,” Basch explained. “They don’t realize how rare it is to have this kind of Christian community. From chapel to class to everyday conversations, students at Messiah have the opportunity to engage in constant dialogue about faith or difficult issues.”
Basch is still open to what the future holds for her after graduation. While her interests in international sustainable development may eventually take her to graduate school, Basch hopes to acquire more hands-on experience first. “A master’s degree in sustainable agriculture doesn’t say much unless you get your hands dirty first,” Basch explained.
Basch also shared her interest in helping immigrant populations. “This was a constant reality as I lived in Thailand and met refugees who escaped Burma or Laos,” she said. “When I came to the U.S. as an eight-year-old, I remember trying to learn to be different yet still retain my South African culture.” Basch is excited to help others and for whatever the future may have in store, but for now, she is happy to be back in the Messiah community for her final year.
Story by Mary-Grace MacNeil `13