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Proper planning is key to a positive study abroad experience

Falcon News Service

February 14, 2018

Wandering from booth to booth, freshman April Okerson and Alyssa Mori explored the different travel options available during the Study Abroad Fair in the University Center’s Falcon’s Nest last Wednesday. Okerson and Mori expressed interest in the different education abroad experiences but also had some big concerns about how to go about selecting the right program for them.

“I really want to, but it depends on if my family can swing it or not,” said Okerson on deciding if she will ultimately study abroad.

In contrast to Okerson’s worries about paying for studying abroad, the timing is the worrying factor for Alyssa Mori. “One of my concerns is that I’m from California,” she said, “so if I were to do a J-term one, is what I would do for the two weeks before if I can’t fly back from home – so doing a semester or spring break one probably fits better.”

Also on hand during the Study Abroad fair was geography Professor Charles Rader. He has been a faculty member in Experience Scotland, Semester Abroad Europe and International Traveling Classroom, which he will be leading for the sixth time in 2019. As a seasoned faculty member of many different study abroad experiences, Rader is well versed in some of the pitfalls that students experience when considering traveling abroad at UW-River Falls.

Students who are thinking about studying abroad and worrying that it might delay graduation should think ahead and plan for it, Rader said. “Almost every student, unless you’ve changed your major a lot, will have a flexible semester along the line.”

International Traveling Classroom is a spring semester study abroad option that allows students to travel and take classes in a variety of European countries over the course of a semester.

“One thing we have coming up this year in 2019 with International Traveling Classroom,” Rader said, “is that every class meets a general education or university requirement, so for a sophomore going in, if they have some of those requirements that need to be done, everything will move them towards graduation.”

For students who worry about the financial costs a study abroad program might entail, Education Abroad Advisor Carol Rogers recommends looking into the many different study abroad scholarships.

Additionally, programs such as the Falcon Scholars program and the Wisconsin Resident Education Abroad Grant offer anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for international education programs. “But many times,” Rogers said, “the resources available to (students) during a regular semester could be available to (students) during a semester abroad.”

Study abroad Peer Advisor Cassandra Chmielewski draws from her own experiences studying abroad to help students plan a successful international experience.

“I went freshman year, and I did ITC and that was all general education requirements which were all classes I needed,” Chmielewski said.  She studied abroad in Europe using money from scholarships and $890 from the Wisconsin Resident Education Abroad Grant.

Feeling trepidation about being so far away from home and parents in a brand new environment is an obvious and common difficulty that many students who study abroad face. Rogers recommends having a plan in place before you leave for your study abroad program about what you will do if you feel anxious or homesick.

Non-traditional student and grandmother of six, Christine Marriott went to Europe with the International Traveling Classroom program during the 2016 spring semester. For her, health problems were some of her biggest concerns during her semester spent in Europe.

“I passed two kidney stones and had swine flu,” Marriott said. “My professor was right there working with the medical staff, and I was treated as an individual. I was very impressed.” Marriott’s health care needs were covered by the study abroad program’s insurance, which every student is required to have. She saw no bill from her hospital visits.

Even with her medical problems, being a nontraditional student on her study abroad program was the most challenging aspect of the semester for the then-60-year-old university student. “Be aware that no one wants to party with grandma,” Marriott said. “Don’t take it personal.”

Still, she said, “It was the most incredible experience in my life.”

Upcoming ITC group leader Charles Rader advises that with proper planning, a careful look into the resources available and a commitment to finding the positives are key to avoiding some common pitfalls that may befall you on a study abroad education experience.