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Report Ranks UW-Eau Claire Study Abroad Programs Among Top in the Nation

RELEASED: May 20, 2005

Study Abroad students in Germany
UW-Eau Claire students in front of Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, Germany, during an excursion offered as part of the Wittenberg study abroad program.

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire ranks No. 2 nationally among master's level institutions sending students to study abroad for at least a semester, according to the newest Open Doors Report from the Institute for International Education.

"We're excited because this ranking reflects our commitment to semester-long study abroad programs," said Karl Markgraf, director of the Center for International Education.

Unlike some universities, a majority of UW-Eau Claire's study abroad programs involve students studying in a country for a period of months rather than weeks, Markgraf said.

"We're committed to providing programs that allow students to live in countries long enough to learn about the country and culture," Markgraf said. "We try to avoid the two-week trips that more closely resemble tourism. Tourism is fine but I don't want it confused with study abroad. You can't really learn about another country or culture in that short amount of time."

Research indicates that shorter programs sometimes perpetuate stereotypes because students don't have enough time to decode the culture and understand it, Markgraf said, adding that UW-Eau Claire's commitment to longer programs dates back more than 20 years.

"With some programs, students get a stamp in their passport but they don't get an understanding of a place or its people," Markgraf said. "We try to integrate students into the local culture so they leave with a much better understanding of it. We try to include in our programs foreign language, host families and service-learning projects, all of which add to the experience."

Interest in study abroad among UW-Eau Claire students has increased as programs have been added and more students have come to understand the value of an international experience, Markgraf said, noting that about 24 percent of UW-Eau Claire students now study abroad.

"Nearly a quarter of our students study abroad during their undergraduate years," Markgraf said. "That's an impressive number. It reflects well on the quality of our students and on the quality of our programs."

Historically, most students studied abroad during their junior or senior year, Markgraf said. But in recent years, 40 percent of the students going abroad are sophomores who applied during their freshman year, he said.

"Our reputation for offering great study abroad programs is why some students come to UW-Eau Claire," Markgraf said. "Many of our freshmen have had an international experience and they're ready for more. They take advantage of the programs as soon as they can."

A growing number of students also participate in more than one study abroad program during their college career, said Susan Lochner, study abroad coordinator. Every year, five to 10 students enroll in a second or more study abroad program, she said.

Students interested in a particular language may spend multiple semesters in one region but in different programs in different countries, Lochner said. Others choose to spend semesters in different parts of the world to gain new knowledge and experiences, she said, noting that one student studied abroad for four semesters.

"The diversity of the destinations we offer is appealing to students," Markgraf said. "Every new program we've introduced — from South Korea to Costa Rica to South Africa to Chile — has been well received."

In addition to personal and academic growth, students who study abroad are often more successful than their peers when looking for jobs after they graduate, Markgraf said. Employers in all fields recognize how important it is for employees to understand other cultures, he said.

"Studying abroad helped open doors in many careers for me," said Kim Omachinski, a 1995 Spanish and Latin American Studies graduate from Glendale. "In every interview, I've been asked about my experience abroad. It helped me be less nervous by talking about something I had such a great time doing. Because of my language and travel experience, it also helped me obtain several jobs, including bilingual, teaching and international human resources jobs."

U.S. News & World Report magazine's recent inclusion of study abroad statistics in its best colleges rankings reflects the value being placed on quality international experiences, said UW-Eau Claire Interim Chancellor Vicki Lord Larson.

"Participating in a study abroad program adds great value to a student's undergraduate experience," Larson said. "I'm pleased that a growing number of our students are recognizing that value and taking advantage of these exceptional programs."

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JB

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