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Introducing 2009-2010 Wisconsin International Scholars (WISc)

November 3, 2009

The Wisconsin International Scholars (WISc) Program is an enrichment program offered by the Division of International Studies for undergraduate students in any college or major who are interested in adding an international dimension to their education. The program provides students with scholarship, mentoring, and networking opportunities. In 2003, the program began with 10 students, and currently, there are 100 student and alumni WISc scholars!

The new WISc scholars for 2009-2010 are: Tara Baumgarten, Laura Bechard, Kristof Didrickson, Andrew Dobies, Cameryn Ehlers, Kathryn Eszes, Sebastian Jankowski, Katherine Johnson, Thomas (TJ) Leahy, Victoria Little, Kristina Nielsen, Claire Poelking, Elana Siegel, David Stein, and Anoushka Syed.

The Division of International Studies asked three current WISc students to take the time to expand on their international experiences and define what it means to be a WISc scholar.

WISc Scholar Profile: Peter Culviner

Peter Culviner

Peter Culviner

What were your international experiences before coming to college?
My most significant international experience I had before coming to college was a summer trip to Japan through Youth for Understanding. It was a seven-week home stay experience with a family living in southern Japan. I still remember those seven weeks as some of the most interesting and exciting times of my life.

Why did you want to join the WISc Scholars group?
Well, this is kind of a complicated answer, but I guess I really just wanted to force myself to pursue my international interests. The major I intended to get (and still my primary major) was biochemistry. Majoring in sciences, it’s easy to push aside all other interests and devote all of your time just to your research project or your latest chemistry class. I wanted to make sure I didn’t fall into this trap. I joined WISc because I knew it would make sure I expanded my world beyond the bench and my petri dishes. Many interesting lectures, most of a Chinese major and a summer in China later, I’d say it’s worked.

What international experiences have you had since being at UW?
My most significant one so far has been a trip to China on the UW’s Tianjin program. Apart from that I go to the WISc events and take my Chinese classes. Also, just last week I signed up to get two conversational English tutees—I’m really looking forward to adding this to my too short list!

What was the best international educational experience you think you’ve had?
Undoubtedly, it was my trip to China last summer. It was the longest so far and I definitely learned the most.

What, if anything, would you have changed from your experience?”
I would make it longer!

If you were to tell a student one reason to live and study abroad, what would you say?
It humbles you a lot. It’s easy to get caught up in the way we do things here in the U.S. Studying abroad can help kill this self-righteousness and make us all understand that there’s a lot of different ways of doing things. While you’re abroad, you might even sometimes find you like your host county’s ways better!

What do you think is the benefit of learning other languages?
You can’t really begin to experience another culture to the fullest until you start learning their language. Language is irreversibly intertwined with the mind; it’s the method we use to express complex thoughts both internally and externally—the formatting of culture and society at its most basic level.

How will this education help you in your career?
I want to go to graduate school in a biochemistry-related field and hopefully end up being a professor somewhere. I guess I can’t think of an immediate application to my work, but I think it will help me in interpersonal relations (the sciences are international) and it will teach me to be a better citizen outside of work.

Where do you plan to travel next?
Well, continuing in the vein of places in East Asia, I want to head to Taiwan for a year or so after undergrad and before grad school. Teaching English? Doing science? I don’t know, but at least I’ll be abroad!

WISc Scholar Profile:  Mai Lee Chang

Astronaut Shannon Walker with Mai Lee Chang (right)

Astronaut Shannon Walker with Mai Lee Chang (right)

What were your international experiences before coming to college?
In high school, I participated in a short traveling abroad program in France.  A part of the program included a family stay which was my favorite part. The family stay had the most impact on me because it allowed me to directly learn about the French culture.  Overall, the experience increased my interest in international affairs and set my goal of at least studying abroad once during college.

Why did you want to join the WISc Scholars group?
I find the WISc Scholars group to be attractive because I wanted to enrich my educational experience with an international component through various activities within the group as well as on campus and within the Madison community.

What international experiences have you had since being at UW?

During the summer after my freshman year, I studied abroad in Toulouse, France at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Ingénieurs de Constructions Aéronautiques (ENSICA) which is now a part of Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace (ISAE).  I took two engineering courses.  In addition, I was able to improve my French speaking skills, saw the influence of culture on engineering, and acquired more knowledge about the French culture.  Then the following summer, I decided to visit a different part of the world and studied in Chiang Mai, Thailand at Payap University.  There I took a course about sustainable environment and the ethnic minorities of Thailand.  As part of the ethnic minorities course, we learned first hand about their culture by spending time at the villages.  I seized the opportunity to learn more about my roots, Hmong, and developed a deeper appreciation for my culture.  I also gained more insight about the Thai culture, especially Buddhism, and learned the Thai language.

What was the best international educational experience you think you’ve had?

All of my international experiences were amazing in their unique ways.  However, the application of the knowledge and skills acquired from my international experience is invaluable to my overall educational experience.

What, if anything, would you have changed from your experience?
One thing that I would have changed is the duration of the programs.  It would have been better to spend more time than a summer abroad.  However, a summer is still better than none. 

If you were to tell a student one reason to live and study abroad, what would you say?
Living and studying abroad is like a jumping off of the “flat” world to discover the unknowns, re-challenge your beliefs and assumptions, and create tons of fun memories!

What do you think is the benefit of learning other languages?
Learning other languages is priceless. One benefit is that it serves as the gateway to truly learn about a culture since some meaning and understanding are lost through translation.  Also, it makes learning multiple languages easier.  In addition, speaking other languages is a great advantage in the professional arena.  For example, my French skills came in handy when I worked at NASA because it allowed me to converse in French with European Space Agency astronauts and learning Russian was not too difficult.

How will this education help you in your career?
Coming from an engineering background, this internationally enriched education is one of the factors that make me unique from others.  It prepares me to be globally competent which is critical in today’s society.  With my passion for space exploration, this education is a great advantage because in order to make advancements in future space exploration, the need for international cooperation is greater than ever before.

Where do you plan to travel next?
After graduation, I will be teaching English in Thailand.  I’m also very interested in traveling to Africa in the near future.

WISc Scholar Profile: Allison Neumann

Allison Neumann
Allison Neumann

What were your international experiences before coming to college?
I took some Spanish, but more importantly, I spent a year studying in Japan with the Rotary Youth Exchange program.

Why did you choose to join the WISc Scholars group?

I was excited to find a group of intellectual, globally-minded students with which to discuss how big and awesome the world is!

What international experiences have you had since being here? What did these experiences bring to you?
I studied in Jerusalem (with some WISc funding) for a semester and spent two weeks in Egypt and one week in Jordan while I was there. My time there was invaluable in furthering my understanding of conflict– especially on a personal level. There are innumerable human facets of conflict that can only be learned through personal experience.

What was the best international educational experience you think you’ve had and why?
My single favorite day abroad involved taking a friend of mine with dual Israeli/American citizenship to “experience” the West Bank. (It’s illegal for those with Israeli citizenship to go to the West Bank.) We went without a very specific plan and everywhere we went (Hebron, Bethlehem, and Ramallah, mostly) we met people on the streets who were only too happy to talk to us; lead us around their homes; and give us food, tea, and hookah. I never learned more in a single day about what conflict and war means to people, and therefore what peace means as well.

If you were to tell a student one reason to study abroad, what would you say?
There is no better way to learn the language, culture, and history of a particular people or place– and enjoy (almost) every minute of it.

What do you think is the benefit of learning other languages?
Beside the obvious necessity of fostering global communication, language-its structure, its semantics, everything- offers a profound insight into the values of those who speak it. Furthermore, even if you’re meeting someone who speaks English well, showing the willingness to try and learn a language is also a great sign of respect.

How will this internationally focused education help you in your career?
My career is undoubtedly going to be “internationally focused.” I hope to take some part in the peace process, perhaps as a Non-governmental organization (NGO) worker or something similar. Obviously, international education is invaluable, but my experiences in these circles at home and abroad have afforded me important connections in breaking into this field.

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