For students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison looking to go abroad, finding international experiences that fit with their academic pursuits—in terms of both content and schedule—can be daunting.
For international students studying at UW–Madison, making American friends is important, yet often difficult.
These are among the top issues that have emerged from initial discussions of the Student Advisory Board on Global Leadership, a group created by the Division of International Studies to provide a student forum to discuss critical issues facing the globalization of the university. The board held its inaugural meeting on January 30 and met again on February 27.
“We launched this board to provide interested students with a voice in shaping the direction of UW–Madison’s international initiatives and to help develop future ambassadors for the university,” says Gilles Bousquet, dean of International Studies and vice provost for globalization.
Steven Olikara, UW–Madison’s senior class president, approached Bousquet with the idea of starting a student advisory board, and the two collaborated on its launch. They sought nominations from across campus and invited a diverse group of students to join.
“We were seeking both undergraduates and graduate students who have demonstrated leadership skills and have participated in international experiences – either overseas or domestically – as well as international students who have been involved in campus organizations or activities and are likely to be engaged in alumni activities following graduation,” says Olikara.
“Steven and I believe that this board will play an important role in envisioning new opportunities for internships, study abroad, service-learning, and alumni engagement,” Bousquet says.
During discussions, the students highlighted several issues, starting with the need for flexibility and variety in their options for student international experiences.
Finding programs that addressed their academic interests and also fit into their schedules is often difficult, they said, even for students who are pursuing majors that emphasize the importance of international experiences.
The students also called for more short-term opportunities, over breaks and during the summer. Also, one student mentioned that graduate students might want international experiences, but not necessarily for degree credit.
Nationally, some study abroad programs have been criticized for having participants live in an “American bubble,” where they interact mostly with peers. But members of the Student Advisory Board favor offering a full range of programs—from more insulated to full immersion—because not all students want to be completely immersed.
The students also talked about issues of preparing students to go abroad. They stressed the importance of having students work with advisers as soon as they arrive on campus to plan for study abroad experiences early in their academic careers.
They also highlighted the need to better prepare African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and other students who will face the particular challenges of being American minority students abroad.
To focus on the challenges of connecting international and domestic students, Laurie Cox of International Student Services (ISS) joined the discussion at the board’s second meeting. Cox describes the main role of ISS as communications, specifically helping international students make the transition to living in Madison and studying at UW–Madison.
ISS surveys of international students who have been here for one or two semesters show a variety of student concerns, including money, U.S. culture and customs, language, and academics. Concerns about dealing with American tax issues led to informational sessions led by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
The top concern identified by international students is “making friends with Americans.”
Cox discussed the Bridge Program, a formal effort that brings U.S. and international students together, and noted that ISS has received funding to expand the program across campus. She also talked about the newly created Assembly of International Student Organizations, which brings together the leaders of international cultural clubs on campus.
ISS and other organizations offer numerous events and activities that attract international students, but are open to everyone. These range from special programs to regular informal gatherings for conversation.
According to Cox and others, the challenge is making more U.S. students aware of these events and activities and encouraging them to attend and participate.
In addition, Emilie Dickson of the Admissions Office talked to the student group about recruitment and admission, with a particular focus on international students.
UW–Madison mostly does its international recruitment via emails and programs aimed at counselors. The Admissions Office recently has begun a limited number of international recruiting trips, starting with China, with trips to India and Europe planned.
Dickson explained that at least 75% of the students admitted to UW–Madison must be residents of Wisconsin or Minnesota. International student admissions are included within the 25% limit on out-of-state admissions.
The Student Advisory Board plans to continue exploring these concerns at future meetings, with an intent to develop action items to begin addressing some of the issues.
— by Kerry G. Hill