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Program options make it easy for UWRF students to study abroad

Falcon News Service

February 14, 2018

Studying abroad in the International Traveling Classroom, UW-River Falls sophomore Sara Heile hoped to learn more about foreign cultures with every country she visited. However, by observing the behaviors of the American classmates studying with her, she realized it was her own culture she was learning more about.

“When we first got to Amsterdam, we had a layover,” Heile explained, “and we got off the plane, and Americans are very loud. The airport was absolute silence, so it was very awkward to hear us being really loud and nobody else talking. When you go to the MSP airport, it is so loud. The airports here (in Europe) are not like that.”

The quietness at the airport, however, is only the beginning of the experiences study abroad students encounter that are different.

“When we first arrived in London, we noticed that everyone dresses really nice,” Heile said, “and I realized that I don’t have that nice of clothes with me, so I’ll feel out of place while I’m here.”

Feeling like a stranger to numerous aspects of her experience abroad, Heile’s recent visit to the Dalkeith Palace in Scotland was no exception.

“They have this food called haggis,” she said, “which is like the really gross parts of a sheep – the esophagus, heart, liver – and they just kind of grind it up, and they make it into a meat, like a sausage kind of thing. I tried it, and it wasn’t that bad, so I’m trying to continue eating different foods for each culture. I’m definitely going out of my comfort zone on foods.”

As one of 27 UWRF students currently studying in the ITC, Heile is certainly not alone as she explores the unknowns in different cultures.

With UWRF ranking second place – following UW-Eau Claire –  in study abroad participation among the comprehensive universities of the UW System, 25.1 percent of UWRF seniors reported having a study abroad experience during their time in college, according to the 2017 National Survey of Student Engagement.

The level of convenience that the UWRF Office of International Education provides to its students is part of the reason the university sees study abroad participation from a quarter of its students, according to Education Abroad Advisor Carol Rogers.

“If you were today to start planning to go somewhere in two months, that’s a lot of planning,” Rogers said. “You have to think about how you’re going to get to places, where you’re going to stay, what you’re going to see, and that takes a lot of time. With a class, where the faculty leader has that experience, you’re just going to plug into things, and I think students find that a lot easier.”

Another option that can make studying abroad easier is choosing to go on one of the university’s shorter programs.

“In J-term, when a lot of classes aren’t happening on campus, that could be a time,” Rogers said. “Summer is a standalone term also, so if you don’t have anything going on in summer, that could be the time when you pick. There’s just a lot of different flavors to all of this, and it’s not one-size-fits-all. That’s why I think we offer as many programs as we do.”

The wide variety of program options is what allowed UWRF graduate student Katie Stenroos the opportunity to study abroad at the time in her college career when the university typically does not advise students to study abroad – during her last semester before completing her undergraduate degree.

“I was highly involved on campus before going abroad,” Stenroos said, explaining how she had gone on to become the president of the campus rodeo club and how she wanted to complete her involvement and responsibilities on campus without the interruption of leaving to go abroad.

Upon finishing her term as club president, Stenroos enrolled in the Experience Scotland program, giving up her final semester on campus as an undergrad student in order to fully maximize her college experience.

“It was my ideal situation,” Stenroos said. “I knew it was an experience I couldn’t get outside of college – being able to go for 3 1/2 months at one time, having the opportunity to see sights that I would not have thought to go see myself. It’s the best thing ever.”

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