Photo caption: Ricky Schiff is among the 90 Blugolds who are studying abroad in a dozen countries this semester. Schiff’s program in Winchester, England, was canceled three times because of COVID-19, so he’s making the most of his experience this spring. (Submitted photo)
The old saying about if at first you don’t succeed try, try again certainly rings true for Preston Krautkramer and Ricky Schiff, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students who are finally studying abroad this spring after COVID-19 canceled their international programs multiple times.
“I was motivated to continue trying to study abroad because I recognize that it will allow me to be immersed in a different culture, travel throughout Europe, take unique classes and meet people from all around the world,” says Krautkramer, a senior from Marathon who will graduate in May. “I couldn’t think of a better opportunity to gain a stronger understanding and appreciation of other cultures than studying abroad, which motivated me to keep trying.”
Krautkramer first planned to study abroad in Ireland in fall 2020, but the university deemed it wasn’t safe for students to go abroad that semester. The same thing happened in spring and fall 2021, so he was thrilled — and relieved — to finally board a plane for Ireland in January.
Schiff had a similar experience — his program in Winchester, England, was canceled three times. While it was tempting to think it just “wasn’t meant to be,” the broadfield social studies education major knew he’d be student teaching or teaching in the fall, so this was his last chance to study in England.
“I was really interested in going to Europe because so many historical events have taken place across the continent and I can see many different sites for fairly cheap,” says Schiff, a senior from Lakeside. “I know the places I travel to and the experiences I have here will make me a better teacher.”
There still are some limitations and uncertainty around international travel, but study abroad programs at UW-Eau Claire are ramping up again and students are eager to explore and learn in other parts of the globe, says Colleen Marchwick, director of the Center for International Education.
“Study Abroad Day is Feb. 28 and there is much to celebrate this year as we are safely getting students back out into the world to meet new people and explore new places and cultures,” Marchwick says.
International programs re-opening
Krautkramer and Schiff are among the 90 UW-Eau Claire students who are studying abroad this semester in Chile, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, England and Scotland. Many of those students had to transfer forward their plans after earlier programs were canceled.
Marchwick says COVID-19 made it more challenging to plan for spring programs, but staff and students worked through issues as they came up. For example, UW-Eau Claire canceled programs in Australia and Japan due to border closures, and concerns about visa processing times altered some program dates. Also, more testing is required to fly and to enter various countries, further complicating logistics.
Still, the students did an amazing job of adjusting as needed to ensure they could safely and successfully move forward with their study abroad semesters this spring, Marchwick says.
“They are an impressive group of students who showed a lot of maturity, adaptability and resilience in the face of ongoing uncertainty,” says Marchwick, noting that there are 62 seniors studying abroad this semester, an unusually high number since most students go abroad their sophomore or junior year.
While it’s encouraging that nearly 100 Blugolds currently are studying in a dozen countries, Marchwick says that’s about half the number of students who studied abroad pre-pandemic. She’s hopeful that numbers will increase in the fall as the world continues to reopen, she says, noting that CIE currently is accepting applications for study abroad programs for Winterim and spring 2023.
Enjoying the experience
After nearly two years of closed borders and very limited travel opportunities, the students who are abroad this semester say they are making the most of it.
“I have experienced so much already,” says Lucy Weld, a junior from Minneapolis who is studying at Linnaeus University in Växjö, Sweden. “I live in a dorm-like apartment building with other international students from places like Columbia, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, China, Ukraine and Armenia, as well as other students from all over the U.S. We’re all very close and have been doing everything together. It’s been so much fun getting to know people and learning about their cultures and lives back home.”
This is the first time Weld, a business administration major who also is earning a fine arts administration certificate, has been outside the U.S. So, she’s thrilled to be living and studying with people from so many different countries.
“My favorite part is getting to know everyone; people are so unique and interesting,” Weld says. “The city is almost the same size as Eau Claire, is surrounded by a lake, has lots of beautiful architecture, and fun pubs and restaurants.”
Schiff also is enjoying being part of a “tight-knit” group of international students who are “incredibly kind and helpful people.” He says he loves learning about their lives and cultures, while also sharing with them American culture and his own life experiences.
It’s especially interesting to talk with people from other parts of the world about American politics and history, and to be in classes that teach U.S. politics from new perspectives, says Schiff, a future teacher and a member of the Air National Guard.
“Three of my classes have to do with the American political system and it’s interesting getting a foreign viewpoint,” Schiff says. “Every day, I journal everything I’ve learned and the conversations I’ve had with international students. I write how I can relate what I learned from the day to my future classroom.”
Krautkramer chose the University of Limerick in Ireland because he’s “always been fascinated by the culture and landscape of the country.” The program also offers opportunities to explore other countries in Europe, and his classes will transfer to UW-Eau Claire, so he still can graduate on time.
Weeks into the program, he already knows that it was worth the wait to have this experience.
“It’s a strong global program, so I am meeting students from all around the world,” says Krautkramer, who has majors in operations/supply chain management and business finance and a minor in information systems. “I’m exploring the city of Limerick and attending local events. I’m visiting the medieval castles and cathedrals in the city and learning about their history. The University of Limerick hosts over 100 study abroad and Erasmus students, so I’m meeting students from different countries.”
Study abroad always a goal
Krautkramer already was considering studying abroad when he came to college, but he became even more interested after learning about the many international programs UW-Eau Claire offers.
“Listening to the stories of my mom and older brother, who both studied abroad in college, fascinated me and motivated me to study abroad myself,” Krautkramer says. “I most hope to gain a stronger understanding of other cultures, but also grow personal skills like adaptability and independence.”
Coming into college, Weld was “definitely interested” in studying abroad but wasn’t sure she’d do it. Finally, saying she “did not want to miss this opportunity of a lifetime,” she decided to study in Sweden, a program that was affordable and didn’t require a second language.
“I always knew I wanted to travel and explore the world,” Weld says. “I’d never traveled outside of the U.S., and I knew this would be a great opportunity to do it. I always hear people say it was the best experience of their life, so I want that experience, too. The biggest thing is that I want to meet new people and make new friends from different countries with upbringings that are different from mine.”
Studying abroad wasn’t on Schiff’s radar until his military supervisors and others said their biggest regret about their own time in college was not studying abroad. He didn’t want to make that same mistake.
Blugolds are “lucky to have a study abroad program that offers so many different options and resources to prepare you for the experience,” Krautkramer says. Weld agrees, saying that “it sounds so scary to drop everything and leave for a semester, but I’ve rarely heard anyone say they regret it.”
Initially, Weld worried she couldn’t afford to study abroad. After learning that costs vary depending on the programs and countries, she found one that fit her budget and other criteria.
“I know money is a big factor for a lot of students, which is totally understandable, but it’s definitely doable,” Weld says. “I’m not one to come from a lot of money at all, but I think this is 100% worth it.”
Valuable learning experiences
While he’s not certain what he will do immediately following his May graduation, Krautkramer knows his experiences abroad will help him be more successful wherever his life and career take him.
“I think the biggest takeaway from my experiences studying abroad will be adaptability,” Krautkramer says. “I’ve had to adapt my academic plan many times to try to make the studying abroad work. Now that we are here, not only do we have to be adaptable to changing COVID conditions and restrictions, but we also have to adapt to a different education system and numerous cultural differences.”
In Sweden, Weld is taking interesting classes, learning the Swedish language and becoming more aware of the people and world around her, all things she says will help her be successful in the future.
“Being exposed to so many different cultures and experiences will make me become more aware of other people’s differences, and to think more critically about my own culture and values,” Weld says. “It also will push me to get out of my comfort zone, make me more spontaneous and motivate me to explore even more parts of the world.”
Schiff, who will student teach in the fall, graduate in December and then look for a teaching position, is confident his semester abroad will make him a stronger teacher.
“This experience is helping me gain a better perspective of the world we live in, to appreciate the little things I have in the United States, to know that most people are kind and good, and to think about politics and history from different angles,” Schiff says.