As a child, Dr. Patricia Solís was curious about the world. Even growing up in a small Kansas town, she found herself fascinated with the stories church missionaries and foreign exchange students told about faraway places. She and her sister even pretended they were in other countries using made up languages.
It should come as no surprise then that international work has become an integral part of Solís’ being and way of life. “I do feel that the world is a small place and our differences are important and should be celebrated,” said Solís, “but what we have in common is strong and compelling.”
Solís, who earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and German and a master’s degree in geography from K-State and a doctorate in geography from the University Iowa, said her experiences at K-State helped inspire and solidify her desire to work internationally.
There was “openness and encouragement to get involved at K-State,” recalled Solís. “I chose K-State because it gave me opportunities to be a leader and get involved.” As a student, Solís taught courses, tutored other students, participated in marching band and studied abroad in Switzerland.
As Director of Outreach and Strategic Initiatives for the Association of American Geographers, Solís creates innovative programs for youth leadership and global citizenship. Her vision to achieve collaborative, inclusive and integrated research and education for sustainable development has engaged nearly 4,000 students, teachers and professors in 35 countries, including the U.S. and many developing nations.
In today’s global society, international experiences are more important than ever before. The need for individuals who are engaged in the international arena continues to increase as “environmental issues cross national boundaries…and our communities increasingly reflect the diversity of the world,” said Solís. For individuals, international experiences can be life-changing and offer new ideas or personal enrichment in addition to improving one’s career and perspective on life.
For those interested in international work, Solís suggests:
- Taking advantage of, and getting involved in, any opportunities available.
- Looking for international experiences within the U.S., such as serving as an English language partner to an international student.
- Keeping an open mind. “Learning and international experiences are sometimes challenging,” said Solís, but worth the work.
- Traveling internationally, even if it is for a short period of time. International travel “helps us to get beyond our comfort zone to really truly learn more about the world,” said Solís.
- Learning the language. Solís encourages students to work in developing nations and to spend time in non-English speaking countries and European countries.
- Taking advantage of alumni. “As a student, I didn’t realize there was a broader community of alums very passionate about K-State,” said Solís.