As a lifelong Kansas City Royals fan, Thomas Wolfe realized a dream come true interning for the major league team. Although he misses playing baseball, he found a way to fuse his love of the sport into an internship where he bridged the cultural gap between the U.S. and players in the Royals' Dominican Republic Academy.
“For a lot of people baseball ends in high school, or if you're lucky enough, in college. Athletically, I'm not playing for the Huskers or going to be making the major leagues, so this internship is a way to keep baseball as a part of my life,” said Wolfe, a junior international business major from Leawood, Kansas.
Not immune to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wolfe’s internship shifted from what it was originally intended to be.
“Initially, I was supposed to live in the Dominican Republic from May to about the middle of August when the Dominican season completed. My job was going to be to go down there, film and commentate the Dominican League games. I would also teach a class in the afternoons talking about culture issues within the United States they might not understand,” he said.
Wolfe engaged eight players in the Dominican League virtually, meeting with them on a weekly basis to discuss U.S. culture. At times, those conversations veered into difficult or divisive topics.
“When the protests happened after the death of George Floyd, this was something the players were completely unfamiliar with and very curious about. It was my job to have that conversation about race relations in the United States and go into details that might not be nuanced by just reading an article,” he said.
Wolfe felt comfortable talking through these tougher subjects due to his experiences in the International Business Program at the College of Business, which connected him with people from all walks of life.
“The biggest role the International Business Program has played for me is allowing me to network with not just people I would have encountered previously, but people I would have never had the opportunity to hang out with like when I studied abroad in Costa Rica,” he said.
He also appreciates how Dr. Kalu Osiri, director of the International Business Program, holds these types of candid discussions with students. To Osiri, having these dialogues helps society progress as a whole.
“We have to have those difficult conversations otherwise we can’t build a better society. If we don’t have those conversations, we are going to remain divided, but when we have them, we can appreciate each other’s point of view. It doesn’t mean we will agree, but we can appreciate and understand one another,” said Osiri, who also serves as an associate professor of practice in management.
Wolfe emulated that same mindset he sees from Osiri when he spoke with the Dominican players. For him, it is about being more inclusive in his perspective.
“It all comes back to maintaining a fluid conversation with people who may have had different experiences throughout their lives. As long as we're continuing these conversations with people from different backgrounds who give us different perspectives on life, I think that'll allow us to be more inclusive in the future.”
The internship not only presented the opportunity to improve Wolfe's communication skills in Spanish, but also his ability to communicate with an open mind.
“What I really admire about Thomas is how he is willing to take a chance and be vocal in a respectful manner. He speaks up and says his mind, but I can tell whenever he does, he is being mindful of how people are receiving what he is saying,” Osiri said.
For the remainder of his internship, Wolfe spent his time collaborating with the other interns on a research project focused on studying the success of other MLB Dominican League programs. While he enjoyed working for his favorite team, the internship also showed him the pleasure of doing what you love for work.
“A lot of people end up in jobs they don’t enjoy, but this internship showed me what work can be if you’re passionate about what you’re doing,” he said. “It's one thing to play baseball and have that passion for playing, but it's another thing to be able to keep it as a big part of your life as you move forward into your career. I am just excited to have baseball still be a consistent part of my life.”
To learn more about the International Business Program, visit: https://business.unl.edu/ib.