Peer Advisors Share Experiences, Insights

Studying in another country transforms lives, changes perspectives on the world, and contributes to the development of well-rounded global citizens. Those who understand this best are those who have lived through the experiences.

At UW-Madison, many students who go abroad through International Academic Programs (IAP), part of the Division of International Studies. Upon return, some of these students share their experience and insights as IAP peer advisors.

Three peer advisors talk about their experiences for Wisconsin in the World.

Jack Hildebrand, a senior from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, majoring in history and German, studied in Freiburg, Germany, for the 2010-11 school year.

“I decided to study abroad when I was still in high school.  It was right after a two-week excursion to Germany with my senior class.  I had such an amazing experience that I knew I wanted to go back and live in Germany.

“I chose Freiburg because it was right in the heart of the Schwarzwald and it offered a year-long program.  Plus I had only heard amazing feedback from other students who went there.”

“I was surprised by how much time I was able to travel during my study abroad.  I initially thought that most of my time would be spent in Germany, but I was able to spend some significant time in Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, England, France, and Austria.

“The toughest thing for me was leaving.  I had gotten so used to my life in Freiburg and hanging out with the friends I had made there, that going back to my ‘normal’ life was a challenge.

“The most important thing that I got out of the whole experience was another perspective on the World Wars from the History classes I took there.

“I also became a more confident speaker in German.  Now that I have studied abroad for a year, I believe that I am a more rounded, independent and enlightened person.  My year in Freiburg has only reassured me in my path to becoming a German teacher.”

Lindzey Kobiske, from Fremont, Wisconsin, has been studying psychology and philosophy and is set to graduate in December.  She studied in Galway, Ireland, during the spring of 2010.

“Thinking back, I’ve always had the urge to travel and study abroad. My father has always said that his one regret from college is that he never went abroad, so I’ve been lucky to have parents who encouraged me to go when I had the chance.

“I, unfortunately, do not speak any other languages, so I was searching for a program in an English-speaking country.  I’ve always had an interest in Irish culture and music, and my parents had recently taken a trip there that they absolutely loved, so Ireland seemed like the right fit for me.

“I struggled between deciding to do a summer or a semester program (Dublin vs. Galway), but I eventually put my nerves aside and went for the semester-long program, which I whole heartedly believe was the right decision.  Galway is a smaller city with many similarities to Madison—college town, Shop Street versus State Street, a ‘cultural capital,’ etc.

“I would say that the most surprising part about my experience had to do with their academic system.  NUI-Galway has a different approach to class enrollment, semester schedules, and exams and it wasn’t really a positive change.

“I appreciate the UW Student Center much more after having to physically enroll for classes rather than electronically.  Things just seemed disorganized compared to UW; in order to find a class timetable, you have to first hunt down the department offices during what is essentially a campus-wide scavenger hunt.

“Final exam schedules aren’t given out until mid-March, so you are unable to make plans to travel elsewhere or even home until you know when you need to be on campus. This was also the hardest thing to adjust to in Galway. The first week of classes during enrollment was extremely stressful, as was the entire month of March when I was trying to plan for exams and travel throughout Europe.

“In the big scheme of things, it was only a few pockets of stress in an otherwise relaxed and wonderful experience, and everything turned out all right in the end.  It was different, and a little hard to get used to, but sometimes you just have to power through the things that make you nervous.

“I gained a lot from my study abroad experience. Being abroad rekindled my desire to explore. After traveling through Ireland and the rest of Europe, I was reminded of just how diverse this world is. There is so much to discover outside of the Wisconsin bubble I’ve spent much of my life in—and one small taste wasn’t enough.

“I’m much more aware of the similarities and differences between cultures now, and I find it fascinating.  Being abroad has given me an open and curious mind.

“I can say with certainty that my time abroad has changed me.  I am more independent; living thousands of miles away from your normal support group will do that to you.  I’m also more confident, and more apt to take advantage of the opportunities that are offered to me, especially at UW.

“Since my study abroad, I’ve started working at IAP, I received a summer internship, I joined the BRIDGE program, and I’m president of a Greek organization on campus. I don’t know if I would have had the drive to pursue these opportunities or take advantage of all that UW offers if I hadn’t taken the time to live and study abroad and pull myself out of my comfort zone.”

Jamie Stark, a senior from Green Bay, Wisconsin, majoring in journalism and political science, studied in Madrid, Spain.

“My mom was born in Seville, so that inspired me to look to Spain. I also really wanted to explore Europe while learning a second language, and I’ve been working on Spanish since 7th grade. I wanted to be in the center of things, the heart of the action, and Madrid seemed like the place. It also let me experience ‘big city life’ and made traveling much easier.

“The biggest surprise was a pleasant one: how quickly I was able to improve my Spanish and communicate with native Iberians. The pressure to communicate, the sink-or-swim phenomenon, made it much easier than I had thought to speak a second language.

“The culture shock was most, well, shocking. Minute cultural differences seem gigantic when you haven’t lived in a different culture before. For example, Spain is much more laid-back than America, which took some getting used to, particularly when I was in a rush. Eventually, I just had to stop being in a hurry.

“My biggest gain from the experience certainly was the language improvement. But a close second is the enhanced cultural understanding. I now have a much greater appreciation for those who speak more than one language and for those from a different cultural background (which is most of the world).

“Studying abroad has probably had a bigger impact on me than any other aspect of my undergraduate experience. I now feel more employable in the job market with a second language on my resume. I also feel much more prepared to move and work wherever with whoever because I have done something so far removed from my traditional daily bubble.”

— by Kerry G. Hill