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BHSU research team comes back inspired from trip to Special Olympics World Games


During a recent trip to the Special Olympics World Games in South Korea, the Black Hills State University psychology research team attended the Global Development Summit on Ending the Cycle of Poverty and Exclusion for People with Intellectual Disabilities. Pictured, from left to right, Amanda Koepp; Hilary Eaton; Dr. Emilia Boeschen, BHSU assistant professor of psychology; Janie Borkowski; Morgan Dixon; Dr. Timothy Shriver, chairman and CEO of Special Olympics; Nicole Dickenson; Lauren Lund; Devon Halajian; and Alyssa Niesen. Not pictured are Peter Soverns and Nicole Jurgensen.

Dr. Emilia Boeschen, Black Hills State University assistant professor of psychology, and her research team of 10 students, knew their trip to South Korea would be a life-changing experience. They, however, did not realize the extent of it.

“The entire experience was beyond anything I could have imagined,” said Lauren Lund, BHSU psychology major from Hot Springs. “I was blown out of my seat when I saw how many athletes were there representing so many countries. “

The team recently returned from a more than two-week trip to South Korea where they attended the Special Olympics World Games. The trip was an extension of research started by Boeschen during her doctoral work at the University of North Dakota where she was studying performance anxiety in athletes with intellectual disabilities.

The team is now analyzing all the data compiled from their athlete interviews at the World Games where more than 110 countries were represented. Most of the research happened during dinner after the day’s events were complete.

“It was amazing eating dinner with the athletes and sitting in this grand ballroom and listening to the buzz in the room and knowing that just about every single table was speaking a different language, but they shared this unity of sport and enjoyment of sport,” Boeschen said. “It was just so much fun to sit back in those moments and listen for a little bit.”

A main question the team looked at was whether there was a difference between individualist and collectivist cultures and how those athletes experience performance anxiety. While they are still analyzing the data, Boeschen said she did find one thing surprising. A team from a collectivist country, one which emphasizes competing for your country, had different colored jackets for each sport. “This is not something I would’ve expected from a collectivist culture,” she said.

Boeschen said she’s curious to see what all the data reveals.

The student researchers spoke, through translators, with the athletes many times latching onto a particular country. “One student looked for Ireland every night and another looked for Gibraltar,” Boeschen said.


Dr. Emilia Boeschen, Black Hills State University assistant professor of psychology, recently escorted 10 of her research assistants to the Special Olympics World Games in South Korea where the team continued Boeschen’s research on performance anxiety in athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Lund said she had an amazing interaction with the team from the Isle of Man who experienced the loss of an athlete during the Games. The athletes continued on with all their events. “Even if people are from a different country there are still lessons to be learned,” she said. “Breaking through a language barrier appears to be only a minor issue once you connect on a similar level. Conversations lasted longer than expected and friendships were made in a matter of minutes. I believe this is the reason as why I am so thankful to have had this opportunity – to see such humility and cooperation between countries is outstanding. I don’t believe I could have experienced this anywhere else.”

The team also attended the Global Development Summit on Ending the Cycle of Poverty and Exclusion for People with Intellectual Disabilities where they got to meet many powerful world leaders.

“The global development summit was inspiring,” Lund said. “Being able to see so many influential people and hear what they had to say about equality in the world and in their own countries was relatable.”

Several of the coaches and other high-profile people including Tim and Linda Shriver, and Cindy McCain, wife of former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. John McCain, were interested in the BHSU research and asked researchers to keep them informed of the team’s findings. The Shrivers offered them a place to stay if they ever visited Washington, D.C.

The team also spent Super Bowl Sunday, or Super Bowl Monday in Korea, with the Shrivers and retired
NBA star Dikembe Mutombo.

“We all came back a little star struck,” Boeschen said.

The team is currently compiling and analyzing the research from South Korea which will be presented by a few students at the National Conference in Undergraduate Research held next month at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Boeschen will also present the research at the American Psychological Convention in Hawaii this summer.

In two years, she plans on taking more students to the Special Olympics Summer World Games in Los Angeles.

“Once we find out if there is a difference between individualist and collectivist cultures, we can still use that research questions but now the bigger questions is if there is a difference between summer sports and winter sports.”

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