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Semester Abroad Expands Students' Worldview
By Kari Johnson
UW-RF News Bureau
FEB. 18, 2005--Nearly a dozen University of Wisconsin-River Falls students
returned from Europe last fall with a global perspective.
The program started in 1963 when the late sociology professor Robert Bailey
designed a way for "students to experience Europe in an intimate
way," said Brad Gee, co-director of SAE.
Bailey wanted students to experience Europe as he had, by being immersed
in another world. One man's love for international travel has become a
legacy as SAE enters its 42nd year as UW-RF's oldest study abroad program.
The program has a long-running reputation of success, says Gee, with students
conducting fascinating research projects spanning the European continent,
providing them with experiences that read like adventure novels.
In the past, students have studied architecture in Spain, tourism in Greece,
cultural differences in Italy, ceramics in Portugal, dairy operations
in the Netherlands, and biotechnology in Ireland, among many other topics.
The SAE program is a long-term commitment, says Gee. Students who are
a junior standing or higher and interested in the program must attend
meetings the spring semester before they leave in the fall. At these meetings,
students are prepped with practical knowledge about travel and also begin
to develop their research projects.
The prospect of developing an independent research project can be daunting,
says Gee, who insists the students are not alone. "Designing the
research project is a cooperative effort, a triangle encompassing the
student, their project adviser and the SAE staff member." With support
during the project development phase, students confidently establish the
direction they will take and submit their proposal in April.
The emphasis of the program is on independent study. Students develop
contacts, plan living arrangements, modes of travel, and where they will
conduct research. "Students take ownership of the project by carrying
out their own plans and meeting their goals. To do this they must have
self-discipline," said Gee.
And they do as fall 2003 participant Jamie Wise noted. "Being on
my own for 100 days, having almost complete freedom of everything I did
on every day that I was in Europe has been one of the most rewarding experiences
of my life. I was able to grow up in a sense that I hadn't been able to
Even with preparation, once students get to Europe they need to be flexible.
Jen Dolen, a fall 2004 student, echoes this notion. "Even with the
most careful planning, it's inevitable that a students' project will shift
and change… I was moving around a lot, and was flexible enough to
take the advice of those I met—this is an important thing for students
to learn…to adjust their plans and heed good advice."
In the fall, the students head to Europe with a group leader. The first
destination is Paris, where they spend a week getting used to a major
city. Andrew Polski, a fall 2004 participant, enjoyed the orientation.
"The one week in Paris is set up to help students become fully prepared
for the trip, and I feel that it couldn't be set up better."
After a week, the students are released, given a head start by the group
leader, who makes rounds checking in with each student and the progress
of their project. Gee said the group leader is many things to the students—from
a practical resource to a friendly face—when they are lonely.
"Solitude is a great avenue to personal growth and strength, but
can leave room for loneliness," said Dolen. "Any student who
is concerned about such things should be comforted to know that the SAE
group adviser is there to help them."
At the end of the research period, the students all meet in a location
chosen by the group leader. This is a time for the students to share travel
experiences, relax and regroup for their last month, during which they
can travel, finish up research or begin writing their research paper.
Most opt to travel. "Each student's research paper is due the Friday
after spring break during the spring semester following their abroad experience,"
An experience of this kind teaches students many things about the world
and about themselves. Gee notes students learn self-reliance, independence,
and self- confidence. Although three-and-a-half months is a relatively
brief experience, Gee comments it "looms large in their memories."
Students agree. "This experience has made me stronger," says
Wise. "I am also much more confident with myself and the things that
I do in my life, whether they be personal, academic or professional."
Programs like SAE answer the need to give students a global experience
at UW-RF, said Gee. In an increasingly globalized world, the situation
of being immersed in another culture, where there is no barrier between
the student and culture, provides an opportunity to learn on both sides.
"It's not just a one-way street," says Gee. "You are teaching
others about yourself and your country."
Studying abroad allows students to dispel their own misconceptions about
other cultures as well as others' misconceptions about Americans. International
Programs Director Brent Greene agrees. "Our students serve as ambassadors,"
he says, and they have a very powerful role when it comes to shaping the
"American" image abroad.
SAE is one of several international programs on campus that help to make
the campus a global community and serves to increase global understanding,
says Greene. Studying abroad, Greene adds, "gives UW-RF world knowledge
awareness," that is "our one true hope for true world peace."
Tuesday, 22-Jun-2010 16:21:19 Central Daylight Time