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Advice from program alumni on studying abroad is simple: Just do it

Falcon News Service

February 14, 2018

As the sun rises through the tall panes of glass in the castle walls, students begin to stir. As students rise, they peer into the Scottish mountainside. They observe the lush greenery as they prepare to undertake another day of field trips across Europe.

This is how Keely Johnson, a sophomore at UW-River Falls, starts most mornings. The only difference between Johnson and her friends back at UWRF is that Johnson’s classroom is not just a building – it’s most of Europe. Another key difference is the structure of her days.

“We have class all day (Monday through Thursday), but it’s only one class at a time because of the module-based class structure. We have one class for about six weeks, then it switches to the next class for six weeks. While doing that we lecture and then go on trips around Scotland actually applying the content to our environment – which is exciting,” Johnson said.

Sonja Johnson, Experience Scotland program associate, said that if students have any desire to study abroad, it’s never too early to start looking into it. She said that the majority of students begin applying to study abroad as sophomores. She also said that 41 students from UWRF participated in the Experience Scotland program in 2017.

According to the UWRF Study Abroad website, minimum requirements to participate in the program include being at least 18 years of age. Students must also be in good academic standing and have a minimum 2.25 GPA. Interested students are required to submit an online application.

Sonja Johnson said that the cost for the semester-long program is $8,500. She said that most students spend around an additional $3,500. This includes airfare, meals during the weekends and any additional travel students may participate in.

“We encourage them (students) to look at scholarship opportunities. They don’t just fall into your lap, but they are out there,” said Sonja Johnson.

More information on program-specific scholarships can be found on the Experience Scotland website.

One of the most beneficial parts of the trip is the opportunity to gain a different view into how the world is through travel. For Jordan Andreas, a senior at UWRF, the ability to travel gave her a great appreciation for how connected the world really is.

“The world is a lot more connected than you know. Just being back here, this sounds bad, but I feel a lot more claustrophobic here because I can’t travel as easily. Like flying from Scotland to Spain, that was maybe $70. Whereas here, flying to Chicago is $100.”

Additionally, students are exposed to different worldviews through their own classmates. Students from all 26 UW System campuses are eligible to participate. There are also a number of partnership schools, including Texas A&M Corpus Christi, that contribute to sending students to study abroad.

Katie Stenroos, graduate student at UWRF, said she had students in her classes from UW-River Falls, UW-Superior, Lake Superior State University and Murray State University.

Similarly, Stenroos also described how the trip changed her viewpoint through experiencing another culture in person.

“Seeing another part of the world made me more globally informed. You pay more attention when you actually live there.”

Stenroos fell in love with studying abroad so much that she is now a peer advisor at the Office of International Education. Her advice for students was simple:

“You will most likely not have an opportunity to spend three and a half months without worrying about a job or family or kids. Experience it while you can.”

While the cost of being away from home may deter some students from pursuing opportunities to study abroad, program alumni unanimously provide the same piece of advice: just do it.