Being able to share her study abroad experience with other students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison “made it that much more meaningful for me, because I began to feel like what I had to say and what I experienced abroad had value,” says Kiana Murphy.
Murphy, a junior majoring in English and creative writing, studied last summer at the University of Westminster in London. “I am now able to share parts of the world with other people, and encourage them to experience that world for themselves too,” she says.
Murphy was among the first 12 students to go abroad with support from the International Academic Programs (IAP) Scholars Program. All students who receive this award must agree to do a “Share Your Experience” project when they return to campus.
But Murphy and others make it clear that talking about their experiences and promoting international academic programs means much more than simply fulfilling a scholarship requirement.
Launched in February 2013, the IAP Scholars Program aims to help all students – especially first-generation college students, students who are going abroad for the first time, students with a cumulative GPA above 3.8, and students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields – to “Discover the world…and bring the world back to Wisconsin!” with individual scholarships starting at $1,500.
Under the direction of IAP, these students must conduct a “Share Your Experience” project upon their return to campus in order to “enrich the UW-Madison community as a whole,” encourage international awareness and motivate others to visit foreign countries.
Murphy gave a presentation about her experiences at one of IAP’s Study Abroad 101 workshops. She also spoke about the process of applying to and funding programs as well as an “inside scoop of the University of Westminster program.”
She aimed her talk at students who have come here through the Posse Program, “an academic, leadership scholarship that recruits students from urban cities all over the country to support them in attending prestigious colleges and universities … who may not have an opportunity to go abroad.”
She also invited students who live in Witte Residence Hall, which houses the Center for Cultural Enrichment.
“I decided to carry out my project in this way because I am passionate about assisting underrepresented students, who may not have an opportunity to study abroad,” Murphy says. “It’s super important to have a diverse group … who recruit for study abroad programs, because this diversity shows students that people like them have studied abroad, and travelling to another country is actually an option for them.”
Carissa Valeri, a senior majoring in psychology and neurobiology, shared her experience of studying in Toledo, Spain, by holding office hours through Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), a pre-health student organization with approximately 200 members. She also plans to talk about her experience at HOSA’s Summer Options meeting this year.
“I chose to go through my student organization because I personally really struggled trying to find and finance an opportunity abroad that would work into my schedule, which I know is a common issue with pre-health students,” Valeri says. “I also wanted to reach underclassmen and help them develop a plan so they aren’t rushing to make last-minute plans and deadlines like I was.”
For Valeri, doing the “Share Your Experience” project recalled fond memories from her time abroad, while giving her the satisfaction of knowing that her outreach efforts might lead others to study abroad.
“I really wanted to get the message out that it is possible for students who are science majors to go abroad and still get that incredible experience, even if it’s not for a semester like everyone else,” she says. “I had a lot of great questions from members as well as a lot of thanks, which made it worth it.”
Katie Kuecker, now a pharmacy student, completed her Spanish degree after studying last summer in Alcalá de Henares, Spain. For her project, she spoke last fall with pre-pharmacy students.
“I wanted to encourage students in this pre-health professions club to consider study abroad and I explained how fluency in Spanish will help me in my future career as a pharmacist,” Kuecker says. “I have already been able to use my improved Spanish-speaking skills to help patients through my volunteer work with MEDic – student-run free clinics for undeserved people in the Madison area.”
She also documented and shared her time abroad by blogging. She says her favorite memories are of the “cultural immersion” of living with a host family.
“I miss my Spanish family and…I hope to visit them when I do one of my fourth-year pharmacy rotations in Spain,” she says. She adds that her blog enabled her to “put into words and pictures my feelings of joy, accomplishment and satisfaction with learning from and connecting to people in another part of the world.”
Andrea Bonaparte, a fifth-year student studying Spanish and social work with a certificate in gender and women’s studies, studied in Merida, Venezuela. Her “Share Your Experience” project focused on addressing the financial issues associated with going abroad.
“I attended three of the IAP sessions, the Funding Study Abroad sessions,” she says. “I chose to talk about financial aid … to let [students considering study abroad] know that it is possible, that there is money out there.”
Bonaparte says her favorite part of her experience was “getting to know my host family and being part of the community” and “the immersion and being a part of the city.” She drew on these fond memories as she encouraged others to study abroad.
“It’s an experience that can last a lifetime,” Bonaparte says.
— by Haley Henschel