Wayne State Study Abroad Programs Open Doors for Students
The first stages of the Wayne State College Study Abroad Program began in the 1980s, when it was called Danish International Studies (DIS). Through the DIS program, WSC language professors took students to Copenhagen, Denmark, in an effort to improve their international education.
This practice has since undergone many changes. Professor Gerald Conway, the faculty director of Wayne State Semester Abroad in Greece and director of WSC International Programs since 2011, has worked to facilitate a more organized effort for students to study internationally in more recent years.
Conway was asked to be the coordinator for the Nebraska Consortium in 2000, which gave him the opportunity to take students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska-Kearney, University of Nebraska-Omaha, Nebraska Wesleyan University and WSC to the Czech Republic. Conway and his wife, Kathy, took students to the Czech Republic in 2000 and 2008.
Since then, Conway has worked to develop a similar program at WSC; something affordable and credible for students. In March of 2009, Conway took his first group of WSC students to Greece to study at Thessaly University in Volvos. The Semester in Greece program, an 11-week session, has led to a four-week Spanish-focused Semester in Costa Rica and a 10-week Semester in Asia, and the possibilities for future countries of study appear endless.
Laura Burtwistle, a Wayne State senior and student worker for the Office of College Relations, met with Conway to discuss his development of the WSC Study Abroad Program and his impression of its benefits for students in a question-and-answer session. He discussed the benefits of a study abroad program, why studying abroad through WSC is affordable and efficient and how students can plan their own trip to study abroad.
Question: Professor Conway, what are some of the benefits students receive from studying abroad?
Conway: Study abroad is one of the most rewarding education opportunities you can experience while in college. Students who study abroad return with a new view of the world, a view that helps them better understand the nature of differences but also the degree of sameness. This view also helps them look inside of themselves and better understand who they are and where do they want to take their lives.
For six years in a row, I’ve been taking students abroad, and it’s unbelievable how these students can change their view of the world. These students grow personally, earn credit, gain cultural competence and build their résumés. The Journal of Studies in International Education reports that 96% of the students who have studied abroad report having increased self-confidence, 97% feel more mature and 98% understand their own values more clearly.
Question: How does Wayne State College succeed in offering an efficient Study Abroad Program and what benefits does WSC offer students who choose to study abroad?
Conway: First of all, generally speaking, study abroad at Wayne State is very affordable. The programs are designed so that if you can afford to live on campus at WSC for a semester, then you can probably afford to include a study abroad experience as you work toward your degree. Each program at Wayne State is designed with credit worthy quality in mind so that the credit earned can be a part of your 120-hour undergraduate degree. All experiences can be used for general education Block 3 requirements, or a minor in International Studies. Others choose to major in Business Administration with an International Business concentration or use their credit as advanced electives.
There is also an assurance aspect to our program. All trips are faculty-led. I just got back from China, ironing out all the routes and details for the trip to Taiwan and two weeks in Mainland China. Parents are often concerned with students traveling alone, and we do an orientation with the teachers and parents before the trips. Our programs are also designed so students can spend enough time there, so they are not just trips but are immersions into a culture, which greatly enhances the educational value.
WSC does well in consistently offering programs. We want to do programs that are dependable and consistent, and we want to encourage people to come to Wayne for the Study Abroad Program. We want programs to be strong and focused so we’re known for that program.
Question: What steps must a student interested in studying abroad take to get them scheduled for a trip?
Conway: The easiest way is to look at contacts listed on the website or contact faculty advisers for trips. Or they can contact me. We’re open to any students by virtue of communication, not just WSC students. For example, I have two students from UNO and one or two from a private South Dakota college going on our next trip to Greece.
Question: What kind of financial assistance can a student receive to participate in a WSC Semester Abroad?
Conway: Scholarships can be applied to the program. All expenses are academic expenses, so even loans can apply. Also, from the middle of December to the middle of March, students have the chance to work to get extra spending money. Students with financial aid can still work. For most other programs, you need other donor-based money. Not here. Even international study scholarships are available, such as the Gillman Scholarship, which 50% of students get, but the timing of applying is difficult.
Question: Professor Conway, you were a Nebraska State Senator for eight years. How has your history in state politics been useful in directing the WSC Study Abroad Program?
Conway: In a way, it got me started. While I was chair of the Council of Governments, it was about the time when the European Union was forming. I was invited over by the European Commission, and we went to many cities and were treated very well. I was amazed by the excitement and everything going on in the world. It really opened my mind. I realized what that did to me, and it caused me to be a cheerleader to get these opportunities for other students. I’ve been involved with students studying abroad since 1982.
Question: What are some of your favorite personal experiences or memories that you’ve made from taking students abroad?
Conway: As an educator, my favorite experiences are to see the excitement as students experience what they’ve never seen before. When these students come back, they will feel confident that they can go anywhere. If you don’t do it now, when are you going to do it? You have the financial support, credit and time to do it now.
Senior Joe Whitt and Junior Megan Miller are two WSC students who participated in the Semester in Greece program in the spring of 2011. They were asked to share some of their experiences from their studies in Volvos, Greece.
Question: What inspired or motivated you to pursue a Semester in Greece?
Megan: Probably the idea of seeing different cultures and broadening my mind to different opinions. And I guess I was looking for a life-altering experience at college.
Question: What places or sites in Greece did you visit?
Joe: We first flew into Athens, and then went to Volvos, which was our home base in Greece. It’s located in the Pagasitic Bay next to a Pelion Mountain Range. There was a big contrast of high and low lands. There were a lot of archaeological digs and ancient ruins around that area, and one of the oldest settlements called Sesco Domini.
We also visited Thessaloniki, which is the second-largest city behind Athens. We saw a lot of stuff there from Alexander the Great. Anywhere you go in Greece, you’re looking at history. But in my opinion, Athens is one of those places that has lost its Greek culture. The smaller cities had more of that. Outside of Volvos, there are very quaint and picturesque towns. They’re gorgeous.
Another big thing, on our way to Turkey we stopped at a place called Virginia and saw Phillip of Macedon’s tomb. They couldn’t find it for thousands of years. It was amazing. He wore a pure gold crown with fig leaves that fluttered when he walked.
Question: What are some of your most memorable experiences in Greece?
Megan: One thing is that Greece lets you enjoy life and be free-spirited, focusing on getting to know the people around you. They don’t work on a schedule. It’s just the idea of really enjoying a person’s company and the sites around you rather than material things.
Question: What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned or have taken away from your time in Greece?
Joe: One would be that there’s so much more to life than what we’re exposed to here in America. I realized I could do so much more with my life than what society dictates in the U.S. The Greeks value so many more simple things in life, like family, friends, a nice meal and conversation. Their society revolves around seeking truth and making close relationships and sharing ideas. I like this idea of sharing a very broad perspective on life.
Megan: I think one thing is that growing up in Northeast Nebraska, you have a limited amount of diversity. At college, it opens up more, but going to another country makes you understand and get to know different types of people. It makes you well-rounded. You develop interests and ideas they never thought before.
Wayne State seniors Kaitlyn Siemon and Collin Kroeger plan to attend the Semester in Asia trip in the spring of 2013. They were asked to share their excitement for the trip and what they hope to take away from their study abroad experience.
Question: How did you learn about Semester in Asia and what made you decide to take the opportunity to study there?
Kaitlyn: Actually, it was an article I wrote. I talked to Dr. Conway, and he told me all about it. It’s always been a dream. I did a Europe study abroad in the Czech Republic in the spring of 2009 with Dr. Ellis, and I’ve always wanted to go to Asia. I even plan to backpack Southeast Asia in a year and a half.
Question: What are you hoping to take away from your experiences in Taiwan?
Collin: Hopefully learn as much as I can about China. It will be a meaningful experience I can translate into job success. Since Taiwan is the second-largest economy and soon to be first, I think it would jump out to employers in the finance area and help me with career advancement. I also hope to learn Mandarin Chinese while I’m there.
Question: What places will you get to see while you’re in Asia?
Kaitlyn: We’re living in Taichung, and we’ll visit Taipei in Taiwan, and Beijing and Hong Kong in China. I’m also excited to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Terracotta warriors.
Question: Why do you think it’s important for students to experience a semester of studying abroad?
Collin: It’s good to have a program for students who are more globally minded. This trip is really going to cap off my college career and give my degree something more. It’s great for anyone who wants to travel the world.
Kaitlyn: I think that people need to realize that the world is bigger than WSC or America for that matter. It’s important to discover new cultures and societies and to be a well-rounded, worldly person.
The Study Abroad in Asia Program will take place from March 17 to May 24. For details on getting signed up for this trip or for more information regarding the WSC Study Abroad Program, contact Program Director Gerald Conway at (402) 375-7029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.