The Call Abroad

September 20, 2023

U.S. News and Report cites the Department of Education’s tally of colleges and universities at nearly 4,000 with substantially more worldwide. Given the number of higher education options available to prospective students, it speaks volumes to the Baylor experience that some of the most talented and academically qualified students choose to become Baylor Bears. Hear from students who bring achievement, passion and purpose to the student body this year:

Photo of Elena Semler at Baylor

Elena Semler


San Antonio, Texas

First-year student Elena Semler may be headed “home” to San Antonio over Christmas break or to do the occasional load of laundry in the house her family has owned there for nearly a decade, but she truly is a citizen of the world. Semler was born in the United States, but comes to Baylor by way of Concordia International School in Shanghai, China, where her parents worked for the past 14 years.

“One of the interesting things about Concordia is you can’t have a Chinese passport to go to the school, you have to have a foreign passport. And so, my friends — my best friends — are all from different places,” Semler says. “I think it’s given me a lot of empathy for different people from different backgrounds and different experiences.”

Along with exposure to a variety of cultures at Concordia, Semler also was introduced to many innovative and academically demanding classes. One, in particular, was designed to focus on social entrepreneurship, which is starting a business for the greater good and not simply for profits. Concordia’s social entrepreneurship class focuses on the strategy and operations of a non-profit social enterprise called Third Culture Coffee Roasters. The organization creates social impact by roasting and selling specialty-grade coffee through student-led, experiential learning.

“We collaborated with farmers in the Yunnan province, which is part of the coffee belt near the Equator. The class established a direct trade model and was in communication with the farmers. There’s no middleman. We sourced the beans from the farmers, roasted the beans in the class, packaged them and sold them to the community,” Semler says.

She was so invested in this pursuit that she wrote a proposal to the high school principal and teamed up with another student to convert the class to a club over the summer to sustain it.

“The whole experience showed me how to reach for things that might seem a little bit daunting. It was something outside of my comfort zone, and taking that initiative and utilizing some grit to get something done for the good of the community is important to me,” Semler says.

Through her work with Third Culture Coffee Roasters, she cemented a calling to pursue social entrepreneurship as a vocation. As she was researching and applying to colleges, finding ways to use her leadership and business acumen for the greater good was at the forefront of her decision.

“I know that Baylor has one of the best entrepreneurship programs in the country, so that academically really drew me to the school. I’ve really enjoyed being challenged in that way intellectually and engaging curiosity and creativity,” she says.

Now, as an honors student in the Hankamer Scholars program, Semler calls Baylor — and the Baylor and Beyond Living Learning Center in North Russell Residence Hall — her home.

“Baylor was my number one choice. During the first round of college applications, I only applied to Baylor. Toward the end I applied to two other universities, but about one week later I decided to commit to Baylor and withdrew my other applications. It’s been Baylor all the way for me,” she says.

And because the Hankamer Scholars program has Semler on an accelerated track with early access to upper level and major courses, there is more space in her degree plan to pursue several study abroad programs and additional coursework to augment her studies and fuel her love for world cultures.

“Even when I’m not studying abroad, I can still engage with people and other cultures through the clubs and organizations here and through my residence hall experience in the Baylor and Beyond community. You don’t have to go to another region of the world to serve somebody, you can serve right in your own community.”