Inspired by Study Abroad Experience, Alumna Supports International Education

Like a thread leading from one adventure to the next, international experiences are woven throughout Christine Pederson’s life.

Through her generous support, Pederson, ’68, ensures today’s students have similar opportunities to embark on international adventures. Her financial gifts to Study Abroad & Global Engagement have allowed for students to study at the International Summer School in Oslo, Norway; receive free U.S. passports; and represent their countries and cultures at the International Jayhawk Festival.

“Christine cares deeply about creating opportunities for cross-cultural learning, and for ensuring all KU students can benefit from these experiences," said Angela Perryman, director of SAGE." Her gifts have supported countless students in pursuing their international education dreams, from taking that first step toward study abroad by securing a passport to supporting students in immersive experiences internationally. She is a staunch supporter of and ambassador for the work of SAGE."

Growing up in the northwest Kansas town of Plainville, one of Pederson’s first international connections occurred when her family hosted a woman from India for a month. Pederson, a high school student at the time, had the opportunity to get to know the woman as she showed her around the area and the two even shared a bedroom. A few years later as a college student at KU, that friendship encouraged Pederson to reach out to international students on campus.

“Because of my experience with the woman from India, I wanted to meet the international students, go to their meetings, hang out with them and talk to them,” Pederson said.

Pederson also felt a strong pull to explore her Norwegian ancestry. Her father’s parents had emigrated from there, and her aunt had married a Norwegian and visited the country and relatives frequently.

When a visiting scholar offered a Norwegian language course during her junior year at KU, Pederson eagerly signed up. Then at her aunt’s urging and thanks to a scholarship, Pederson traveled abroad to the International Summer School in Oslo. The experience connected her with 300 students from 50 countries and allowed her to visit her Norwegian family members.

“It just really changed my life, meeting all these people from all these different countries,” Pederson said. “When I came back to KU, the first thing I wanted to do was sign-up for the Peace Corps.”

After graduating in 1968 with a degree in American studies, Pederson spent two years in Thailand as part of the Peace Corps. She lived with a midwife and worked to set-up preschool centers that prepared young children for elementary school.

Her time in Thailand pointed her in the direction of public health, and eventually, the field of mental health, where she spent much of her career working in New Mexico and Pennsylvania. Throughout her working years, Pederson continued to travel, returning to Norway seven times as well as visiting other countries throughout the world.

“It just didn’t stop after the Peace Corps in terms of my interest in international people and places and travel. I’ve just fortunately taken advantage of a lot of travel opportunities in my life,” Pederson said.

As soon as she was eligible, Pederson retired, took her camping equipment and backpacked throughout Europe for three months, traveling to Switzerland, France and Italy. In 2010 she returned to the International Summer School in Oslo, where she served on the student council, advising on issues and planning activities.

After giving a presentation about the International Summer School to her Scandinavian Club in Santa Fe, Pederson reconnected with KU’s study abroad program.

“I wanted to do something more. I wanted to advertise the summer school and get more people interested in going,” Pederson said.

To encourage students to attend, she worked with Perryman to establish and fund a scholarship that assists with covering the cost of the International Summer School. Each year KU sends several students to Norway.

Pederson has also supported KU’s efforts to help students pay for a U.S. passport, a common barrier of entry into studying abroad. The program expands access to study abroad to all undergraduate students, particularly first-generation, Pell-eligible, and underrepresented minority students.

More recently, Pederson established grants for global engagement, supporting the involvement of student clubs and organizations interested in representing their countries and cultures at the spring International Jayhawk Festival. With the funds, the groups could purchase items that helped in sharing, celebrating and educating festivalgoers about their language and cultural traditions.

“Being involved with KU’s Study Abroad and Global Engagement feels like a gift to me,” Pederson said.  “I’ve truly enjoyed all of the staff that I’ve met and worked with, and I’m looking forward to more exciting adventures together.”