Maura Knutsen never imagined she would find herself living in the bustling city of Changsha, China, as a sophomore business management student at Southern Utah University. She was born and raised in Centerville, Utah, but always knew she wanted to see and experience more of the world.
When Knutsen was 14 she discovered she had an interest in the Chinese language and made a commitment to learn it. She studied the language throughout high school and continued studying it into her college career. During her freshman year at SUU, she decided she no longer wanted to be limited to learning the language in a classroom -- she wanted to become fluent, and have a chance to immerse herself fully into the Chinese culture.
Knutsen began looking into possible opportunities and found a study abroad that allowed her to attend an SUU partner school in China. It was exactly the kind of opportunity she hoped for. With some encouragement and inspiration from her family and friends, she took a leap of faith and decided to do the study abroad.
She began her study abroad in the fall 2018 semester, and is currently studying at Hunan Normal University in Changsha, China. She is taking three courses on the Mandarin Chinese language including listening, speaking, and comprehensive. Additionally, Knutsen is the American Studies Center Coordinator at the university, where she coordinates and hosts events to spread American culture and helps tutor English.
She admits that it has not been easy to follow her dreams and move to a different continent on her own, but she has seen incredible growth within herself. “Being here on my own, I have had to be independent and handle stressful situations, knowing I’m in charge. It's very easy to say you have a dream, but it's going out and chasing that dream that helps you realize how much greatness is within you.”
Knutsen credits Kurt Harris, SUU director of learning abroad, who has made a huge impact on helping her accomplish this. “He worked tirelessly to assist me in the application process and even supports me while I am abroad. He helped me chase my dream, and I will be forever grateful.”
“Although Maura's study abroad and work in China has posed many challenges, she has met each challenge with determination,” said Harris. “She demonstrates over and over two qualities crucial for a successful study abroad experience: curiosity and flexibility. Maura is not afraid to ask questions and meet new people, and she is adaptable when things don't go as planned. She has been an outstanding representative of SUU, of Utah, and of the USA.”
Knutsen records her study abroad experiences on her blog, often writing about getting out of her comfort zone, learning more about the culture, and the adventures she has while exploring her new home.
One experience that had an especially big impact on Knutsen was having SUU President Scott Wyatt and a group of esteemed professors visit Changsha in October, to celebrate the 80th birthday of the Hunan Normal University. Knutsen was honored to be included in the festivities, and served as one of the four guides that helped translate and guide the group to their destinations. Knutsen blogged about the experience, and emphasized how amazing it was to have the opportunity to be with the group. She wrote, “It truly made me feel so honored to have President Wyatt and others in the group all tell me how proud they were of me, and the work I’ve done.”
“I now realize how important it is to believe in yourself,” said Knutsen. “Of course, I always knew this to be a fact. But as I have been here, working diligently to study and improve, I recognize how much of an impact our self-image affects the way we study, the way we speak, and the way we see the world.”
Because of this opportunity, Knutsen has discovered a deeper appreciation for the Chinese people and their culture. Her dream is to master the language, although she acknowledges it will take years to achieve fluency.
Knutsen will be returning to the United States in December 2018, and will be returning to SUU for the Spring 2019 semester. She plans to continue to earn her degree in business management, with the goal to integrate her knowledge of the Chinese language and culture into her business profession in the future.