Dr. Emilia Flint, professor of psychology at Black Hills State University, and BHSU students Timothy Brooks, Fey Ramirez, and Jack Wenger traveled last summer to the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, Germany. While in Berlin, Dr. Flint and the students went to the main grounds of the games each day, where they attended athletic matches and interviewed athletes and coaches about the physical and mental preparations for the competition. 

The purpose behind conducting these interviews goes back 10 years ago to the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Dr. Flint and a group of BHSU students that traveled with her conducted interviews focused on cultural differences in how the athletes viewed their support systems. They found that athletes from individualistic cultures named specific people that were there to support them, such as family members, coaches, or teammates, while athletes from collectivist cultures felt that the entire community was there to support them. In the 2023 World Games, Dr. Flint, Brooks, Ramirez, and Wenger were interested to see if the answers were affected by the passage of 10 years, the difference of summer versus winter games, and the change in host country. 

Along with learning research skills, the students had the opportunity to learn about diverse cultures firsthand, navigate unfamiliar surroundings, and communicate with people that speak different languages. Although challenging at times, Dr. Flint said the experience benefits the students because they are better equipped to empathize with individuals that travel to the United States from a foreign country. "You know what it feels like, and you can be that ambassador for somebody else,” Dr. Flint added. 

Ramirez said, “The experience has influenced me on an individual level because I got to learn about the culture that surrounds the individuals in Berlin and their community. I am honored to have been able to travel to Berlin because it was an astonishing journey to explore life outside of America!”  

Attending this trip also benefits students that are looking at graduate programs. "The students have attended the world’s largest international humanitarian event, picked up some skills along the way, and learned things about people who are different from them culturally. They can put that on their resume, making them more competitive for spots in graduate programs,” Dr. Flint said. 

To current and future BHSU students, Dr. Flint emphasized the importance of taking advantage of all the opportunities available. “There’s a lot of opportunity for how small of a school BHSU is, so take advantage of them while you can. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. It’s exactly how you grow and it’s uncomfortable on purpose. Embrace the discomfort, live through it, and you will see that you are a better person as a result.” 

Dr. Flint and her BHSU research team would like to thank Special Olympics South Dakota, anonymous donors, the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 Organizing Committee gGmbH, as well as Special Olympics Germany for their contributions and collaborating partnerships to make this possible.