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Exchange student buddies get the best of both worlds

| Denise Olson

It's no secret that study abroad is a big deal here. A recent story highlighted UW-Eau Claire's high ranking among four-year colleges participating in study abroad, with 490 current Blugolds hitting the books around the world. It's also no secret that a semester abroad just isn't in the cards for all students, for a variety of reasons. That is where the "buddy program" comes in.

Dr. Teresa Sanislo, professor of history, has established a buddy program for her students as part of the Winchester-UW-Eau Claire student exchange. The Phi Alpha Theta buddy program offers members of the UW-Eau Claire history club/honor society the chance to serve as a campus buddy for exchange students and fellow history majors from Winchester College in the U.K.

"Both schools have a great deal to gain working with each other and enriching the programs and experiences we offer our students," Sanislo said, noting the tremendous opportunity for the Blugold student buddies to gain a personal international experience through the relationship.

The buddy program is part of a much larger partnership between the two campuses that includes shared research findings, common field trips and collaborative research projects. After spending time in Winchester developing this initiative, Sanislo came up with the idea to pair students on the exchange to foster one-on-one learning.

"I drew upon a model established by former UW-Eau Claire professor Rama Yelkur for cultural immersion in India through the College of Business. The concept is meant to give extra academic, cultural and personal support to students. The program here provides the international students support, draws them closer into the campus community and introduces them to all that our department has to offer," Sanislo explained.

Murray Kreswell and Tony HoehnThe fall semester of 2015 brought nine Winchester students to UW-Eau Claire, three of whom are history majors, and were paired with a Phi Alpha Theta Blugold buddy. Eau Claire native Tony Hoehn was eager to serve as a buddy to visiting senior Murray Creswell from Winchester. As one of the history club members who does not foresee the opportunity to take advantage of study abroad, Hoehn knew this program offered the chance to experience another culture and think more critically about the world.

Hoehn and Creswell both found the buddy program to be a beneficial experience. In addition to the academic boost of having a study partner, it gave them a chance to dive a little deeper into cultural differences, which they both found interesting and at times, amusing. For example, the friendship cleared up something Creswell initially interpreted as the rude behavior of American students.

"It's just a little thing, but in Britain, it's seen as horribly rude," Creswell said. "Americans don't say 'You're welcome' or a similar phrase in many situations, which is so odd. I'll thank Tony for holding the door open and when I say thank you, has just says 'Yep.' Until I got to know him, that bothered me, but now I know that it's just a weird little cultural difference and he is the farthest thing from rude, so that was an important cultural difference to learn," Murray said.

In addition to the on-campus benefits to both students, Sanislo has included an alumni outreach element to the semester, which this fall took the form of a weekend trip to St. Paul to stay with host families who are history alumni of UW-Eau Claire.

As for Hoehn, he found the immersion weekend the highlight of the program, saying, "I think this program has encouraged me to travel in the future and to appreciate geographical differences. The trip to St. Paul really allowed Murray and me to get to know each other on a more personal level. I think we both benefited from this experience."

Sanislo's idea for the alumni weekend in St. Paul was to give the Blugolds and the Winchester students a chance to talk with history alumni about life after college, and about the importance of staying connected to the university after graduation. Hoehn and Creswell were hosted by 2006 grad Brandon Walters and his wife, who were pleased to be able to give back to the history program and the university. Students were able to go sightseeing, enjoy local restaurants and brew pubs and simply talk about life for hours.

"I was able to talk about my experience at UWEC and how it formed me and the decisions I made after I graduated," Walters said. "I was able to talk about how I use what I learned as a history major in my work and my life in general every day. It was wonderful to hear their stories and how education and university life in the U.K. compares with education and university life in America. It was also very interesting to hear a foreign perspective on the history and politics of the U.S."

The spring semester will bring two new international students to the history department, and the Phi Alpha Theta honor society will once again be pairing buddies for the visiting students. Sanislo looks forward to the second edition of this program, and is inspired by the students' work.

"It speaks well to the history students that they appreciate global learning, international experiences and support for international students on our campus," Sanislo said.

For more information about the buddy program or the Phi Alpha Theta history club/honor society, contact Dr. Teresa Sanislo at sanisltm@uwec.edu or the student organizer of the club, Karissa Mueller, at muellerk@uwec.edu.

Photo captions:

Top photo: UW-Eau Claire history student Tony Hoehn.

Side photo: History students, from left, are Murray Creswell of Winchester University, UK, and Tony Hoehn of UW-Eau Claire.