By Courtney Westlake
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience right out of National Geographic for graduate student Melissa Smith when she spent three weeks over the summer in Australia with one other student studying at Charles Darwin University.
"It was so much better than I ever thought," Smith said. "We got to camp out in the Outback for five days and learn from the Aborigines. You see that kind of stuff on National Geographic, but it was amazing to be able to go there and do that."
The Global Experience program at UIS offers students the opportunity to spend time furthering their education in another country and to experience that country's culture. The summer programs are oldest and most popular, said international programs director Jonathan GoldbergBelle, and in summer 2008, UIS will offer summer programs in Jamaica, Australia, Quebec, Japan and more, as well as an internship program in Romania.
UIS also has exchange agreements with universities in Japan, Mexico and Australia - and is in negotiations with China and the United Kingdom - to allow UIS students to study at those partner institutions for the same tuition paid at UIS.
"We didn't have Global Experience when I first came (nine years ago), so just the fact that we have an exchange program shows tremendous growth," GoldbergBelle said. "What we've seen is an increase of faculty who are interested in taking trips, and we've been seeing more interest from faculty and students in exploring different exchange programs overseas. We will work with a student to get them almost any place they want to go."
Leslie Reutter, a sophomore at UIS, said she jumped at the chance to study for two and a half weeks in Ashikaga, Japan. Her group, which studied Japanese language while there, stayed with a host family and traveled around the area, including Tokyo for two days.
"The people are very kind; they'll talk to you about anything," she said, adding that the Japanese enjoyed practicing their English with the UIS students. "The history was very eye-opening. We went to museums, city halls, shrines and temples; it was very different than anything I'd learned about."
The impact of studying abroad through the Global Experience program is extremely positive, GoldbergBelle said.
"The benefits are really gaining an understanding of the world; the state of Illinois has tremendous international connections, and it's important for our students to have some understanding of that, both on the economic side and on the cultural side," he said. "And what students come back and say is 'I really learned a lot about myself; I became interested in things I didn't know existed before'."
Both Reutter and Smith had no hesitation as they answered a resounding yes when asked if they would recommend the experience to other students.
"To be able to have that kind of opportunity to go to Australia, while you're still in school, I'd suggest to anybody to jump at the chance; whether it's Australia, Europe, Japan or any other place," Smith said. "Just the opportunity to travel while you're in school, I'd take the chance and do it."
To learn more about the Global Experience program, click here.