Future teacher gains knowledge, confidence by studying abroad

| Judy Berthiaume

Like many teens preparing to leave home for the first time, Megan Dougherty was nervous as she was planning for life after high school.

A native of Hudson, Megan decided UW-Eau Claire was a safe college choice because it was just an hour from home and she knew she’d see familiar faces on campus.

“I chose UW-Eau Claire because it was close to home and many of my high school friends were attending there,” says Megan. “I was definitely a homebody and was nervous about moving just a short hour away.”

It didn’t take Megan long on the UW-Eau Claire campus to set her worries aside.

“As I was welcomed to the dorms with great staff, welcomed into classes with amazing staff and faculty, and welcomed into the community with wonderful people, I was no longer afraid of what life would be like away from home,” says Megan, now a senior who will graduate this month with degrees in elementary and special education.

While the entire campus community was welcoming, Megan says she was especially impressed with the reception she received from the people in the teaching program.

“I had absolutely no idea what I was doing regarding registering for classes, doing background checks and filling out a degree plan,” Megan says. “I’m sure they saw that lost look in my eyes. But throughout the entire program, the professors and staff have helped me grow into a young professional, giving me many great experiences along the way.”

Among the most exciting — and unexpected — experiences was a summer study abroad program in Scotland.

Special Education in Scotland is a six-week study abroad summer program that allows Blugolds to study and experience firsthand the Scottish special education system.

The program consists of two weeks of classroom observation at a Scottish special school, a three-week class at the University of Aberdeen taught by UW-Eau Claire faculty with guest lectures from Scottish faculty, and a five-day tour of the Scottish Highlands.

Blugolds live with host families during the classroom observation period of the program, and live at the University of Aberdeen during the class portion of the program.

Megan, a self-described homebody, never expected that she’d be among the many Blugolds who hop on planes to study in another part of the world.

Knowing that Dr. Rose Battalio, professor and chair of the special education department, and Arthur Brandt, a lecturer of special education, would be traveling with the students gave her the confidence she needed to go, Megan says.

“Those brave souls took 17 of us overseas and all around Scotland,” Megan says.  “Initially, being a homebody, I was terrified that I would be overseas for a couple months, but these two made the traveling and process of getting acclimated over in Scotland a breeze.”

In addition to helping her learn more about the field of special education and broaden her thinking about the world, the study abroad experience also helped Megan connect with her mentors in ways that go beyond what is possible in a campus classroom.

After all, it’s not every day you get to see your professor take their first selfie, tackle challenging hikes or dance the night away to traditional Gaelic folk music.

“Little did I know that by leaving the nest to go to Eau Claire — and to Scotland — I would be building relationships and creating lifelong memories with not only my peers, but also my educators,” Megan says. “UW-Eau Claire has given me the opportunity to branch out and explore different cultures, teaching styles and learn more about myself.”

In other words, being a Blugold has helped prepare her for her future wherever it might take her.

Photo caption: Megan Dougherty overcame her nervousness about being away from home to join her professors and classmates in a study abroad program in Scotland.