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Study abroad trips give students opportunity to see the world

November 1, 2007

Imagine spending a semester traveling across Europe, two months student teaching in Australia or a J-Term trip to Ireland.

For students on the UW-River Falls campus, these trips are not something students need to imagine, they are something that students here are able to experience.

“Our programs range in length from one week study tours to year long programs,” Carissa Williams, a student who works in the Global Connections office, said. “We also promote various programs such as IRSS (Inter-Continental Recruitment and Support Services) and COST (Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching). If a student isn’t quite ready to study overseas, we also offer the National Student Exchange program. On this program, a student can study at one of the 180 plus American universities (involved in this exchange) for a semester or a year.”

Students are given the opportunity for study tours over J-term, spring break and summer. There are also semester programs, which will keep students away from River Falls for substantially longer than those who do the approximately two week long study tours.

Semester Programs include: Scotland, International Traveling Classroom, France, Germany, Mexico, Taiwan and New Zealand; while the Study Tours include: Mexico, Italy, Ireland, Egypt, Japan, Uganda and Belize.

Studying abroad in Ireland
Ken Olson, an English professor, has traveled with students to Ireland for six years and will be going on a seventh trip in January.

A strong interest in Irish history and Irish heritage are what got Olson interested in traveling abroad.

“Both of my great grandparents on my father’s side were from Ireland, and I had a long interest in Irish history and literature,” Olson said. “I studied Irish Literature at Kent State University, and I teach Honors Irish Studies Classes. I do the Ireland study abroad experience because it is a life-altering event for the students, and I love to see how they change as we progress in our Ireland journey. It is very exciting.”

Students who take part in the J-term trip to Ireland spend 15 days touring around Ireland and Northern Ireland. Cities they visit include Dublin, Belfast, Galway and Cork.

Students are not the only ones who enjoy meeting special guests while studying abroad. A few years back, Olson and his study tour met Alex Maskey.

“We met him [Maskey] at the government center in Belfast, and he met with my students for about an hour on a very busy day,” Olson said. “Maskey was the only ever Sinn Fein, Catholic Lord Major, and he is also a former IRA member. Then, two years ago my students were able to meet with Mariead Corrigan-Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate from Belfast, Northern Ireland.”

Senior Maureen O’Donnell is currently spending the semester in Limerick, Ireland, studying along with one other student from UWRF.

O’Donnell has been in Ireland for almost two months and will return shortly before the end of the semester.

“Studying in Ireland is a little different. In the classes I have, there are no midterms, only one or two papers and then a final,” O’Donnell said.  “So the final is a big part of your grade. There are also lectures and tutorials; the lectures are very broad-based and many people are in them, whereas tutorials get more in depth and there are only around 10 to 20 people. The grade system is also different, but it’s a little too complicated to get into right now. It’s definitely a more relaxed atmosphere than back home.”

Student teachers get global
Every year, students get the opportunity not only to study abroad, but to teach abroad. In the past few years, a number of education majors have traveled to Australia to teach in their classrooms. This semester, there are 15 students teaching in Australia or New Zealand.

Lindsay Woychek graduated in May, but still needed to student teach before getting a job in the United States. After doing some student teaching this fall in a suburb of the Twin Cities, she is currently in Australia finishing up her required student teaching.

Woychek left for Australia Oct. 20 and will return in December, and even though she has only been there for a short time, she has already noticed key differences.

“There are so many things that are different in Australia,” Woychek said. “They are all English speakers, but there are still different words and things, so I have been getting used to that. There is also a difference in the way schools are run. Kids will always be kids who are anxious to learn, but things run in completely different ways. I think teaching abroad has given me a whole new sense of what kind of teacher I want to be. It also will allow me to bring different experiences into my future classroom.”

Woychek is currently in Western Australia, in a suburb of Perth.

In January, senior Miranda Pogulis will be traveling to Australia for her own eight weeks of student teaching.

“I chose Australia because it was the only place that I could go to do my early childhood student teaching,” Pogulis said. “The COST program has places all over the world, though. Right now I have friends student teaching in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England…but they have the chance to go to other places.”

A home away from home
Spanish professor Terry Mannatter has gone with students for a Spanish 376 Winter Interim course seven times in the past 11 years. Mannatter’s favorite memories with the trips include spending time with Mexican families.

“We spend time with a Mexican family, which always makes a great impression on students,” Mannatter said. “They make us a traditional Mexican dinner and open up their home to us.”

Students are always amazed at how open and generous Mexican families are, and how close their family structure is—grandparents typically live with the family,
and everyone helps out where they can.”

Students and staff who have traveled abroad all agree that study abroad opportunities are a must-have for any college student, regardless of major.

“I really would encourage anyone and everyone to study abroad at least once…even if it is only for a week on a study tour,” Williams said. “I cannot stress enough how important it is today to have that experience, especially on a resume. But don’t only do it for building your resume, do it to help yourself grow as a person and gain new perspectives on life. Studying abroad, for me, has been such an enriching and life-changing experience.

For more information on study abroad opportunities, students can contact the Global Connections office at 102 Hagestad Hall. In the office, staff members are available to answer questions regarding any of the student travel options.