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study abroad

As shocking as it may sound, there is a thing called study abroad, and it is actually really neat. The program empowers students to travel to other countries and learn about local cultures while also staying in their field of study. I am currently preparing for a spring study abroad trip to Spain, and there is no feeling quite like it.

Wolfram Latsch, director of UW Study Abroad — along with his team of 10 — supports the many programs that send 2,500 students abroad every year — when there isn’t a pandemic, that is.

Located in Schmitz Hall, the UW Study Abroad office offers three ways for students to engage in global education; there are faculty-led programs where professors teach courses abroad, university exchanges — which are opportunities to study at a different university for a quarter up to a year — and partner programs with CIEE and SIT, which are nonprofit organizations for study abroad. 

The pandemic has brought to light several virtual opportunities, especially internships, that the study abroad office has connected students with. 

“We have received permission from the university to allow students to travel to countries even with the highest state department advisory levels, as long as those advisory levels are only related to the COVID-19 pandemic and not to physical or political insecurity,” Latsch said. “And that means the students that are going on winter departures are all almost exclusively going to Western Europe, because those countries are letting students come in fully vaccinated.”

I have been the victim of quite a few study abroad cancellations, and each one is just as painful as the last. The application process, though not redundant in the slightest, does require a bit of planning. Program offers are often given far in advance of the actual program, primarily due to related scholarship deadlines. 

My application deadline was in early November, even though I am not going until the end of March next year. The application allows for the recommendation letters to be submitted after the deadline, but it is a good rule of thumb to get it done ahead of time. Scholarships are often given on a priority basis, so the earlier the better.

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Latsch mentioned that over 4,000 students have not been able to go on a study abroad program because of the pandemic, and that a significant number of them will not be able to now, either because they have graduated or are now seniors and cannot fit it into their schedules.

“We generally advise students to start thinking about studying abroad when they are freshmen, and maybe go when they are in their sophomore or junior years,” Latsch said. “That is when they still have more flexibility in terms of fitting credits into their path to graduation.”

Considering the fact that most programs are not for particular majors, students have the opportunity to choose from a plethora of options, depending on their field of interest and location of choice.

“My key advice is: don’t exclude yourself from the possibility of studying abroad if that is an idea that you have in your head,” Latsch said. “Talking to us [and] talking to academic advisers is how you should start making plans, [as] assumptions about finances or if you will be able to graduate on time are often not true.”

Look at the long list of programs that the UW Study Abroad program has to offer and talk to your adviser or someone at the study abroad office before you decide it is too late for you or that you are not a “study abroad person.” I am slightly overwhelmed, but at the same time, thoroughly excited for my upcoming adventure to Spain.

Reach writer Niv Joshi at Twitter: @niveditajoshii

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