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Globally engaged: Enhancing learning through international education

More than 100 international education professionals will be in Eau Claire March 19-20 for the annual Wisconsin Association of International Educators conference. The conference gives professionals involved in international education a chance to learn from leaders in their field and talk with their peers about the constantly changing world of international education. Conference topics range from health insurance to mental health issues and international partnerships to visas.

Many of those who will lead the conference discussions are Blugolds. With a long history of being a national leader in providing meaningful international experiences to its students, a number of UW-Eau Claire alumni who studied abroad as students have gone on to become leaders in the field of international education.

Jodi Simek is one of those Blugolds whose international experiences led her to a career in international education. She studied in Sweden as an undergraduate student at UW-Eau Claire. After earning her accounting degree, she served in the Ukraine as a Peace Corps volunteer. Now a senior international student adviser at UW-Eau Claire, she says her business background combined with her experiences abroad prepared her well for a career in international education.

Simek, who now serves as chair of Wisconsin Association of International Educators, took a few minutes to discuss the upcoming conference and the important role international education plays in higher education at UW-Eau Claire. 

What do you hope people take away from this conference? 

The goal is to promote international education and help international educators learn about current issues and trends within the field of international education. The conference attracts professionals who work in study abroad, international student and scholar services, admissions, recruitment and intensive English programs. They come together to learn from one another and collaborate about how to best serve students. We also have a series of sessions for people who are interested in careers in international education. It's a great opportunity for new professionals to connect with more seasoned colleagues. The best part of the conference is the network that people build with colleagues to help solve similar challenges and share model practices.  

What are some of the trends and issues within international education that will be addressed? 

We have sessions on study abroad, immigration regulation, developing a career in international education and recruitment as well as sessions on culture, mental health issues and language learning. We've added roundtable sessions so people can discuss current issues and trends with colleagues or seek more information from presenters. We'll also talk about new opportunities within international education, like the attention student mobility is receiving coming from the highest levels of governments including the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative from the United States, the Brazilian Science Mobility Program and the Mexican Proyecto 100,000 program. We'll also talk about challenges, such as the complexity of visa regulation for international study and the impact of budget cuts.

Many of the people presenting at the conference have ties to UW-Eau Claire. What is it about this university that inspires students to pursue careers in international education? 

UWEC's Center for International Education offers many fantastic programs for undergraduate students to participate in paraprofessional roles in international education. Through peer advisers, peer guides, internships and ESL mentors, students can get a feel for the profession. Many of these students then pursue international education as a profession. The great thing about our paraprofessional programs is that students get a real sense of what we do. Some people think we travel around the world talking about culture, but we really spend much of our time managing complex visa issues, answering questions via emails and creating proposals. Our team offers fantastic mentorship to students and I think that brings students into the profession. It's great that whenever I go to a conference, I find UWEC alumni all over the place.

What inspired you to work in this field?

I studied abroad through a UWEC program in Vaxjo, Sweden. This was life changing for me. When I returned, I saw an ad for one of the student paraprofessional positions through CIE. I applied, was offered the position, had wonderful mentors and found that international education was the right niche for me. It gave me an opportunity to apply the skills I was learning in my accounting and business courses to students in a life-changing way.

Why does international education matter?

For the U.S., international education matters for national security and economic prosperity. We need people with an understanding of how our country and our economy fit within the global framework so we can make decisions that strengthen the U.S. and our economy. We need people with the knowledge and skills to help grow our economy. In a broader context, the exchange of people and ideas leads to mutual understanding and —hopefully —peaceful resolutions to global issues. What's something you wish every UW-Eau Claire student knew about international education? The Center for International Education offers many different options for giving students international experiences, so take advantage of these wonderful opportunities. We try to offer programs that meet the budgets, majors and interests of all of our students. Come see us so we can work together to figure out which opportunities are best for you.