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Family of Blugolds credits study abroad for life-changing experiences

| Jackson Schmidtke

They say when the travel bug bites, it’s never gone. In the case of one Blugold graduate, the travel bug bite was contagious.

David Hahn, a Platteville native who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and marketing from UW-Eau Claire this past May, had the opportunity study abroad in Winchester, England, and conduct research in China through the International Fellows Program.

David’s older twin brothers, Tom and Jim, both studied abroad — Tom in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and Jim in Valladolid, Spain. Their mother, Priscilla, started the trend by studying abroad in 1976 in Monterrey, Mexico. Yet, something makes this study abroad family even more incredible: They’re all Blugolds!

“My brothers and mom attended UW-Eau Claire as undergraduates and had really positive and well-rounded experiences,” David said. “These experiences definitely influenced my decision process when choosing a college and to study abroad. They all studied abroad in Spanish-speaking countries, and I broke the trend by studying in Winchester, England, instead.”

Priscilla graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 1977 with a double major in elementary education and special education. Having taken four years of Spanish language, Priscilla wanted to become fluent and decided to study abroad in Monterrey, Mexico — an experience that changed her and her family’s lives.

“Because I had a study abroad experience while at UW-Eau Claire, I knew the importance of exposing our sons to a variety of cultures while raising them,” she said. “However, it was the study abroad experience through UW-Eau Claire, with the full immersion into a culture, that provided my sons with the most valuable international opportunity.”

Jim, a 2007 Spanish and math education graduate, returned to Spain through the Fulbright program to teach English at a bilingual secondary school. Today he uses his UW-Eau Claire and study abroad experiences every day working at FHI 360, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that works to improve lives around the world by implementing projects in sectors that include education and economic development.

“Studying abroad helped me to build the skills and independence to navigate and appreciate new country contexts,” Jim said. “It also helped me to develop a strong sense of how my perspectives and actions can impact others — and this is something I constantly use in my work today.”

Tom, a 2007 psychology graduate, used his study abroad experience in Mexico to build his Spanish skills just like his mother. As a family physician in Madison, he is continuing to use what he learned at UW-Eau Claire and in Mexico.

“Studying abroad not only helped to improve my Spanish language skills but also really sparked my desire to travel and learn more about the world,” Tom said. “In medical school I did a one-month rotation in Quito, Ecuador, to study medical Spanish and volunteer at a clinic. Following residency, I volunteered at a clinic in Belize, and I currently volunteer at a local free clinic where I work with many immigrant patients and families. My experiences traveling and experiencing different cultures have helped me to relate to patients.”

Despite three very different experiences and countries, all three brothers look back on their experiences with fondness. They all say everyone should look into studying abroad and learning more about other cultures and about themselves.

“Don’t think twice — do it!” Jim said. “College is the time to take risks, broaden your worldview and develop a deeper understanding of yourself, and there’s no better way to do this than by studying abroad.”

Sending your children thousands of miles away to a different country can be a daunting experience for parents, even those who have studied abroad, but Priscilla says the payoff is well worth the anxiety.  

“I realized that by studying abroad they would get the complete package of a college experience,” she said. “The international experience would provide a global perspective that they may not get through an on-campus experience. I also thought that it would help them with future career opportunities and it would be a confidence-booster because it would take them out of their comfort zone.”

While Mike Hahn (Priscilla’s husband and David, Tom and Jim’s father) is not a Blugold and did not study abroad, he encouraged his sons to go abroad while they had the chance.

“These research and travel opportunities were an education in themselves, Mike said. “What great training for all three of them! They saw the world and developed friendships and contacts, which will stay with them the rest of their lives. That experience is priceless.”

The entire Hahn family credits study abroad and UW-Eau Claire for creating excellent learning opportunities at home and abroad. The support from campus, their host countries and each other made studying abroad a truly life-changing experience for everyone.

“I feel as though Eau-Claire has become a second home to my family,” David said. “We have developed many connections with a variety of people, and we have all had positive experiences at school and in the community. I am very thankful for everything UWEC has provided for me during my time as an undergrad.”

Photo caption: Blugold David Hahn, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in May, celebrated with his brothers, Tom and Jim, their mother, Priscilla, and father, Mike.