Above: A 2012 photo taken during Lauren Chow's study abroad trip to Kyoto, Japan.
Lauren Chow ’20 was inspired to help marginalized college students study abroad after her own experiences in Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Now, as both an education abroad advisor at Babson College and a master’s candidate in our International Higher Education program, Chow is distinguishing herself in her field. She recently won the Rising Professional Award from the NAFSA: Association of International Educators and is bringing a refreshing perspective to the study abroad field. (The organization was founded as the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers.)
Q. Where did you study abroad and what was the experience like for you?
A. I did a trimester in Kyoto, Japan, and a one-week short-term program in Dubai, United Arab Emirates as well as a summer program in Malang, Indonesia as a graduate student. These programs were definitely influential in that they exposed me to cultures and people different from those that I had grown up with.
I do make it a point to tell people that I'm probably in the minority of education abroad professionals that had a somewhat negative experience as an undergraduate. I faced many challenges during my trimester in Kyoto due to my identities as a queer Asian-American woman. As the only woman of color on my program, I had to navigate certain challenges related to my race, whether it was understanding how I fit into Japan as an Asian American or dealing with microaggressions from other (white) students and even our faculty leader on occasion. I had nobody to turn to for support who I felt would understand. That was an isolating and lonely experience, even as I was learning a lot in other ways during the program.
That is part of why I feel so strongly about supporting students of marginalized identities in international education, now as a professional. On the flip side, I was privileged to be able to have studied abroad at all, thanks to family financial support and my private liberal arts college education. I always keep these experiences in mind being on the other side of things now as an education abroad advisor serving students who may or may not share those identities.
Q. How and why did you get interested in international education?
A. The really transformative international experience that I had was not in college but after it. I was fortunate enough to be selected for a Fulbright grant to Malaysia after I graduated, which I was able to extend to stay for a total of two years in a rural area of northern Malaysia. Living abroad in a small rural town, isolated from other Americans for the most part, and navigating the cultural differences associated with being in a highly conservative Malay Muslim community, taught me more than I could have ever imagined. When I returned to the States only a couple weeks after the 2016 election and found that everything seemed to have changed while I was away, I decided to pursue a career in this field.
Q. In your opinion, what is the value of international education?
A. International education is immensely valuable because of its potential to completely alter someone's worldview. This has not only deeply personal ramifications but also very practical business applications—successfully working in diverse teams in an increasingly globalized economy, for example.
Q. What is your role at Babson?
A. I am an education abroad advisor, which means that a significant part of my job is advising students for my portfolio of programs (Asia and parts of Europe), supporting them through each phase of the education abroad process—from advising, application, pre-departure, to when they return to campus.
This small campus atmosphere also allows me to wear a number of different hats, such as serving as the advisor for Pride (the LGBTQ+ student organization) or co-organizing Babson's annual International Education Week, which keep me from ever having a dull moment.
Q. What brought you to Lesley’s International Higher Education program?
A. As I started my journey in the international education field, I noticed that practically everyone I met in the Boston area seemed to have gotten their master's degree from Lesley's International Higher Education program. It became clear to me fairly early on that I would need a master's degree to make the career steps that I wanted to make in international higher education. I met Jana Van Der Veer, the program's coordinator, while volunteering at a conference and the rest is history. I started my master's in the fall of 2017, and I will be finished this year.
Q. What does the Rising Professional Award mean to you?
A. I was incredibly honored and humbled. I was informed of not one, not two, but five different colleagues and mentors who had nominated me for the award, and that really spoke to the community that made me decide to enter this field. We work in such a unique field, in that people are so willing to collaborate and offer advice across institutions and organizations, to offer their time and energy to people, and programs that they are passionate about helping. I always want to remember not to take this for granted, and to pay it forward to others who are seeking to break in like I once did.
Q. What’s next for you?
A. I'm conducting research for a culminating project of my coursework in the program at Lesley, focused on the intersections of multicultural and international education, a topic I've been interested in for a long time. I'm looking forward to continuing my work at Babson, deepening my involvement in the field through organizations like Diversity Abroad and Lessons From Abroad—with which I've had significant involvement already—and completing a Certificate of Advanced Management at Babson.