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Wells hopes to raise awareness about Wisconsin in Scotland study program

September 25, 2008

Student Life Event Coordinator Karyn Wells has assumed dual responsibilities as she takes on the job of the Wisconsin in Scotland program coordinator.

Wisconsin in Scotland is run through the Global Connections office in Hagestad Hall and is one of many travel abroad programs. Although there are 12 major programs listed on their official Web site, Global Connections Director Brent Greene said there are literally hundreds of options. Students are able to join any program that they can find at any school that they can collaborate with.

“We’d be doing our students a significant disservice if we sent you out of [UW-River Falls] without some sense of that bigger global world and how to interact in that,” Greene said. 

Specifically, the WIS program has been on campus since fall 1986 and the University participates in the program with UW-Stout and UW-Superior in the West Central Wisconsin Consortium.

“[Wisconsin in Scotland program coordinator] is a new position,” Wells said. “It’s because they need somebody in a central location to manage the Consortium schools.”

Wells works as a liaison between the schools, setting up meetings and keeping them up-to-date on the program. However, Wells said that she sees it as an interim position because in the future a director would likely assume the same responsibilities.

She said her goals include increasing student awareness and participation in the program. Since the program is undergoing restructuring (it went from five core schools to the current three), Wells said that it has led some students to believe that the program was not going to continue. As a result, Global Connections is working even harder to recruit students for the program.

Every semester, faculty and staff are drawn from all three Consortium schools and additional schools that want to participate in the trip to Scotland. Students maintain a regular class schedule of at least 12 credits in addition to Scottish courses taught by Scottish faculty, a weekly Scottish-focused field trip, optional internships at Scottish businesses and general immersion in Scottish culture.

Although the level of immersion is largely left up to the students, they quickly adapt to the new setting. Study Abroad and Lead Peer Advisor Daniel Bochman said the confidence that students gain is one of the program’s biggest assets.

“When [the students] first get there, you notice that they need to be walked to the bus stop that’s just up the hill,” Bochman said. “And by the end of the March, they’re off to Barcelona for the weekend by themselves.”

More than just being exposed to Scottish culture, Wells and Bochman said that students are near Edinburgh, which is the travel hub of Europe and the number one tourist city for Europeans. One of the draws is that very little rebuilding has been done in the city and much of the original city is intact.

“If you want to see an authentic city, Edinburgh is the one to see,” Bochman said. “And you’re going into an international environment there.”

Students stay at Dalkeith House, a 300-year-old manor in the Midlothian region of Scotland. Greene described it as an idyllic setting.

“Imagine the old days [and] this college in the East when the U.S. started with the faculty living with the students,” Greene said. “That’s what we’re creating in an international setting.”

The cost of participation in the semester-long program during the fall and spring is $7,495, while the 6-week long summer program is estimated at $5,495. The cost covers tuition, shared rooms, and meals while school is in session, bus tokens and official field trips, according to the WIS official Web site.

“WIS is the absolutely best full semester study abroad value in the nation,” Greene said. “Typically similar programs would cost anywhere from $10,000 to $16,000 plus.”

The low cost does not come at the expense of quality.

Greene said that it is the way that the program is structured with its economy of scale. The participating universities split the costs of faculty salaries, and students are required to work at least four hours a week so less is spent on in-house staff.

“Students are used to maintain many aspects of the program in Dalkeith House, whether it’s cleaning responsibilities or cooking responsibilities,” Wells said. “I remember when I was there as a student, I worked in the kitchen.”

Wells participated in the program in 2001 as a student, while Bochman is a current student that has participated in the program. Both said that it was a positive, life-changing experience that led to greater independence, greater confidence and greater global awareness.

Katie Herr, a senior English major, said that the program was the most amazing experience of her life. She said she enjoyed the live-in community at Dalkeith House, having Fridays off to travel and being in a new culture and experiencing new things.

Along with many other travel abroad programs, the WIS program is facing problems with the low value of the dollar. The withdrawal of two Consortium schools from the program at the end of summer 2007 also increased the financial burden on the remaining schools. Global Connections combats higher costs by continually seeking to increase the number of participating schools and the program is open to students outside of the three Consortium schools.

Expansion could involve incorporating Minnesota and Iowa schools, Bochman said. However, a specific plan on how the program will be expanded is currently is in the works.

“There will be some pretty important discussions in the next few months about the future of the program and which direction it is going to go,” Wells said. “It is a really exciting time right now for the program.”