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UW-Eau Claire Provost Visits
Study Abroad Site in Latvia
MAILED: Nov. 9, 1999|
For years, Dr. Ronald Satz has encouraged University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire faculty and students to take advantage of the many study abroad experiences offered by the university. As a scholar and university administrator, Satz knew such an experience would be meaningful to its participants.
But it was an October visit to UW-Eau Claire's study abroad site in Latvia his first visit to a UW-Eau Claire study abroad site that helped the Provost understand just how meaningful studying in another culture could be.
"These students have an opportunity to do something meaningful in a part of the world that has fought long and hard to break away from Communist control," said Satz, who spent a week touring Latvia and Lithuania with Karl Markgraf, director of UW-Eau Claire's Center for International Education. "Our students are sharing American values in ways that could never be done in a book. They are living proof of the American education system, the freedom of expression, the free exchange of ideas and a free society. That's something you can't duplicate."
Satz said students involved in any study abroad program could have an excellent educational experience. But students studying in countries such as Latvia a country that is rebuilding after years of Communist rule will likely have an impact on the people and region in ways that wouldn't happen elsewhere. Their mere presence makes them ambassadors for the American way of life and the American educational system, Satz said.
"You can see it by listening to and talking with the people who are meeting our students," Satz said of American students helping Latvians understand what it means to live in a free society. "Our students are playing a role in what will happen in the next decade in that part of the world. The impact they are having will be long and broad."
UW-Eau Claire students studying in Latvia are developing a new understanding of world issues, an understanding they couldn't get by simply reading about issues facing a nation such as Latvia, Satz said.
"This is the kind of experience our students are never going to forget," Satz said. "It will be an important part of their forming ideas on diversity and an appreciation for foreign cultures. They will carry this with them for the rest of their lives.
"When I saw the impact this experience is having on our students and the people of Latvia, I came away feeling very, very good about what we are doing."
UW-Eau Claire established its study abroad program in Latvia in 1991, immediately after the end of Soviet rule. Dr. Paulis Lazda, a Latvian-American UW-Eau Claire history professor, worked hard to make the connections necessary for UW-Eau Claire to offer such a program. As a result of those efforts, UW-Eau Claire is the only American college or university that has a continuous study program in Latvia. About half the students who travel to Latvia through the UW-Eau Claire program are from other parts of the United States.
"We're meeting a national demand for programming in the Baltics and Latvia," Markgraf said, noting that plans are under way to expand the program. "People from all over the country know to call UW-Eau Claire if they have students interested in studying in that part of the world.
"This is really an exciting part of the world for our students to see. They can see the pace and amount of change going on change that's affecting every part of society. Latvia is headed toward the elegant and wonderful stage of its re-development and it's good for our students to witness that transition."
While UW-Eau Claire students are traveling to Latvia each year, UW-Eau Claire also has hosted more students from the Baltic States than any other United States university, Markgraf said, explaining that 70 students from this region have participated in UW-Eau Claire academic programs.
UW-Eau Claire's Center for International Education works with the Soros Foundation, the Open Society Institute and the Baltic/East European Studies Program to develop funding to support Latvian and other Baltic States students to study at UW-Eau Claire. The university also works with the students to identify scholarship money.
"These are among the most academically strong students in Eastern Europe," Markgraf said, noting the intense competition among Eastern European students interested in studying in the West. "Only those identified as future leaders are getting the opportunity to study in the United States. Many of their political, industrial and educational leaders in the future are going to be Blugolds."
During their trip to Eastern Europe, Satz and Markgraf met with UW-Eau Claire students and faculty members who are studying and teaching at the University of Latvia in Riga; they signed a new contract that charts a new course of collaborative ventures with the University of Latvia; and they met with numerous Latvian and American representatives about a variety of educational issues. They also visited the neighboring Lithuania to begin discussions with officials at the University of Klaipeda.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Nov. 9, 1999