Even before their first day at the UW–Madison, some students prioritize building an international dimension into their Badger experience. Among the many ways to begin cultivating themselves as global citizens is the Wisconsin International Scholars Program (WISc). WISc is an undergraduate honors enrichment program for students interested in global affairs, cultures, and languages. The WISc program seeks to build global competence and citizenship for undergraduates from a variety of disciplines and majors.
WISc participants represent majors and areas of study from across the university. To celebrate International Education Week, the International Division (ID) asked Jinan Sous, a Biochemistry major pursuing Global Health and Leadership Certificates, about her experiences with WISc. Sous, who expects to graduate in 2021, is fluent in Arabic and English, conversational in Spanish, and is currently studying American Sign Language. Beyond her language abilities, she has an incredible range of skills and experiences to share.
ID: Why did you decide to participate in WISc?
JS: After I was accepted into UW–Madison, I began exploring extracurriculars that I could be involved in. I happened to find the WISc program and thought it was too good to be true. I have always had an interest in languages, traveling, and learning about different cultures. The WISc program allowed me to engage in coursework I might not have if I were not in the program. As a result, I’ve learned more about what it means to be a global citizenship. Most importantly, I knew it would allow me to take advantage of travel abroad as it provides travel funds.
ID: What spurred your interest in international culture and language learning?
JS: As a Palestinian immigrant, I moved to the United States when I was 4. I think this move sparked my interest in international culture and language learning as I was in a place surrounded by people that were largely different from me. Living in a mid-sized town in Wisconsin made me curious about the world, which led me to learn more about different cultures, which quickly helped me learn how important languages were.
Languages help us connect when it can be difficult to connect in other ways. I cannot pin an exact moment when I became interested in culture and language learning because it feels like it’s been something a part of me for as long as I remember. What I can say though is that UW–Madison and the WISc program have certainly aided me in furthering this interest.
ID: What have been your favorite aspects of WISc? How have these enhanced your UW experience and prepared you for the future?
JS: My favorite aspects of WISc include the community and event opportunities given to us. As a WISc student, you take a seminar with all of the other students in your cohort during your first semester on campus. These were some of the first people I met on campus, and it made a difference to my experience. One of those people in my cohort is actually one of my roommates now. They study journalism and political science, which I think highlights the diversity of the WISc program. Some of my favorite events have been the International Learning Community dinners where I was able to catch up with my friends while listening to a topic related to international relations that I would not have learned about otherwise.
ID: WISc participants take part in two study abroad experiences. Where did you study abroad and what was the focus of each experience? What do you see as the major takeaways from each?
JS: In January 2019 I spent two weeks as part of the UW Wellbeing through Microenterprise and Environmental Stewardship in Ecuador. The program focused on learning about women-led co-ops in rural and indigenous areas of Ecuador. These co-ops empower these women to create and provide for their families and community. Another aspect of this study abroad experience included staying at a homestay in rural Ecuador and learning about traditional/herbal medicine and shamanism. This experience was enlightening for me as it allowed me to learn more about how important culture is to medicine, especially since in the United States, we most often see Eurocentric medicine.
During summer 2019, I spent 10 weeks participating in an internship at the Chulalongkorn University, Medical Microbiology Department, Bangkok, Thailand, through the CALS Study Abroad program. During this time, I researched in the Palaga Lab at Chulalongkorn University within the Medical Microbiology Department. This was also the first time I travelled to a country where I did not speak the language. This was a great challenge because it taught me how to communicate outside of my comfort zone. It also taught me how universal science can be. Outside of lab, I took advantage of traveling throughout Southeast Asia on the weekends and made an effort to learn about the cultures and communities at each place I visited. This has been one of my favorite experiences, and I look forward when I can travel like that again.
ID: What are your professional plans following graduation?
JS: After graduating, I will begin my gap year while applying to medical school. The plan is to begin medical school in 2022. As a physician, I want to have a focus on global health and patient advocacy. Because of this, I plan on pursuing a MD/MPH dual degree.
ID: How do you see your international experiences as important to your professional goals?
JS: My international experiences have helped me solidify the importance of cultural competency when it comes to healthcare. In my opinion, having cultural competency is essential for equitable patient care for all, which is what I will strive for in my future career.
ID: What do you see as the importance of adding an international dimension to your UW experience?
JS: Having an international dimension is incredibly important to anyone’s UW experience. In my opinion, these experiences help anyone explore and self-reflect outside of what they have been used to for most of their lives. It’s hard to explain how educational and enlightening an international dimension is to a student. I highly recommend that any student experiences it for themselves.