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Students and alumnus share values, struggles and opportunities of intercultural peacebuilding major

BYUH students stand in front of the David O. McKay Foyer

According to members of the BYU–Hawaii ohana, the intercultural peacebuilding program (IPB) at BYUH provides students the opportunity to find fulfilment, passion and drive.

BYUH alumnus Christopher Udall, the president of Rebuild for Peace, a non-profit organization, shared, “The beautiful thing about peacebuilding is you change lives, group culture and group dynamics. That makes people closest to peace ... and you get paid in purpose. There’s no better currency.”

Since graduating from BYUH in 2016, he has served the people of Jordan with his wife, Alison Udall, as well as helping the people of Central America immigrating to Arizona for asylum through peacebuilding training.

Isabella Vincent, a junior from California majoring in IPB, said she loves how much IPB opened her eyes to the real world.

“I grew up in the suburbs of Southern California. It was super clean, super safe and I had great education ... I lived in a bubble. Peacebuilding forced me to think outside of my bubble and to get uncomfortable.”

Benjamin Mitchell, a freshman from Australia majoring in IPB, is already planning how to apply the skills he will learn in peacebuilding.

“When I [reflect] on the years that helped me to become the person I am today, it led me to peacebuilding– helping people and serving them. More specifically, my indigenous identity as an Australian.

“I plan on creating a doorway for education in regard to international exchanges, internships and scholarships. [I plan on going] into communities and to [tell] high school indigenous graduates that international connections and universities are achievable.”

The highs of peacebuilding

Udall said the IPB major taught him many skills. “It helped me with negotiating, dealing with lawyers, learning how to pull heartstrings and staying neutral.

“[It] gave me all the drive … [The] biggest strength [of] intercultural peacebuilding is it gives you intrinsic motivation to not give up and to know that peace is possible,” said Udall.

“Everything about non-profit work is: You’re alone, people don’t understand what you’re doing … You have to have a clear vision not only what you’re doing is worthwhile, but also it’s worth sacrificing for.”

Led by the Spirit

While Udall was working in the Gilbert Arizona Temple before his days at BYUH, he said, “It hit me like a ton of bricks, ‘You need to apply for BYU–Hawaii.’ It was very specific.” He said he started in social work, switched to communication, and ultimately found IPB.

He said he is getting his Master of Business Administration at the University of Notre Dame, specializing in social entrepreneurship and innovation, while pursuing the peace studies minor.

Vincent also shared how she was guided to the IPB program. She applied for BYUH multiple times and had been accepted each time but did not feel ready.

“I was watching Moana, and it sounds cheesy, but ... I [connected] to the part where she’s finding out who she really is. I felt it was God’s way of telling me, ‘This is where you need to be.’” She shared she didn’t know IPB was a major, but she’s always wanted to learn how to work in a non-profit organization.

Tara Lautiki, a junior from Washington majoring in IPB, shared, “I wanted to choose it as a major but wasn’t sure what I would do for a job. Several people discouraged me from it.”

She then said she chose accounting, but it was not the right fit. “As I was doing it, it wasn’t clicking, even though I had done it forever. I decided to try a peacebuilding course, and it clicked. I loved it.”

Udall noted, “I don’t know if people join [IPB] because each class is structured like a great TED Talk or [because of the] spiritual aspect, but it is soon to be determined.”

Advice and guidance

According to Udall, if you are pursuing a degree in IPB, it says a lot about what type of person you are. He advised students to make an impact with their IPB degree as soon as they can.

“Whatever you are trying to accomplish with your peacebuilding degree, whatever vision you have or what impact you would like to make, do it now.

“You don’t have to wait until graduation to start. You have mentorships and people who can look at your ideas here. You can take your ideas to a number of different people on campus and have experts critique you.”

Udall also said, “Don’t be afraid to fail. I have had successes, but nobody has seen how much I have failed. I fail a lot.”

Vincent expressed how it is easy to get discouraged in this field. “You have to learn to take care of yourself and pay attention to what you can do and what you’re able to do because sometimes [you will] want to fix everything.”

Similarly, Udall commented, “There is a need, if you’re studying IPB, to make sure you take care of your mental health.

“Go see a therapist. Do what you need to do. Treat your mental health the same way the U.S. Army treats the mental health of their soldiers because you are on the front lines.”

Peacebuilding opens doors

Udall said he has taught others around the world how to build peace in their own lives, communities and countries. According to Rebuildforpeace.org, “We work with Jordanian youth who lack opportunities, as well as refugees who reside in the resource-scarce southern regions of Jordan.”

Another initiative that Udall has participated in is a construction business with the former leader of the Latin Kings gang. “We are working to help youth to get out of pimping and into construction,” he said.

Lautiki expressed, “Back home, I know a few refugees, and I have heard their stories. I’m just really drawn to them. That’s what I want to do. I want to go, and I want to help their quality of life.”

To learn more about the intercultural peacebuilding program, visit www.mckaycenter.byuh.edu.