Touring Edinburgh, Scotland; visiting castles; wandering the Highlands and the Isle of Skye; and dipping a toe into Loch Ness. What more could a recent high school graduate want for a summer experience?
Twenty-three incoming first-year students at UW-Stout spent a month this summer living and learning in Scotland at Newbattle Abbey College, a renovated medieval monastery in Dalkeith.
JUMPSTART: Scotland is a new precollege study abroad experience offered through the UW-Stout’s Office of International Education. Students discovered cultures and met new people to build a better understanding of the world before they begin classes on Wednesday, Sept. 7.
With only a few universities in the U.S. offering precollege study abroad programs, JUMPSTART is a unique opportunity open to students from all majors.
Anna Nowicki, of Athens, Wis., is starting in the hotel, restaurant and tourism management program this fall. She hopes to one day help others with their travel experiences and has always wanted to study abroad in college.
“When this early opportunity came up, I was so excited. It sounded like a great way to meet friends and professors before school even started. Plus, I’ve always wanted to visit the United Kingdom,” she said.
Rylan Nelson, of DeForest, agreed. He joined JUMPSTART because he wants to go see the world.
“There’s no better time to start than now. My favorite part of the experience was how immersed you are in the culture, how you’re learning about it in class and seeing it when you explore,” said Nelson, an incoming mechanical engineering major.
“The most difficult part was deciding to go for it and apply. It was a little intimidating because I didn’t know anyone else going, but it was a great experience,” he added.
The group also earned credit for two Scotland-themed general education courses led by UW-Stout instructors: Design Thinking in Society with Dave Beck, associate dean of the College of Arts and Human Sciences and director of the School of Art and Design; and Scottish Storytelling with Associate Professor Mitch Ogden, program director of professional communications and emerging media.
“It was definitely a busy month,” Nowicki said. “We were going all day, every day, whether we were out in the city or having classes. There were times when I was so tired, but I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I didn't want to miss a thing.”
OIE offers short-term, faculty-led experiences and semester-long exchange programs. Students may choose from more than 200 programs in more than 30 countries. During a typical year, 200 to 300 UW-Stout students study abroad.
Students, families and supporters are invited to the Fall Study Abroad Fair to learn more about the variety of programs and meet with representatives from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 22, in the Memorial Student Center ballrooms.
A JUMPSTART for academic success
Beck and Ogden, along with Danielle Clarizio, assistant director of International Student and Scholar Services at UW-Stout, offered precollege guidance and mentorship. Clarizio lived in the United Kingdom for six years, five in Edinburgh, where she was a walking tour guide and managed local tour operations. She also worked for a study abroad provider based in Edinburgh. She shared local, in-depth knowledge with the JUMPSTART students and assisted them in navigating the local area and culture.
“Our hope is that this truly gives students a jump-start,” Beck said. “On paper, they receive credit for the courses. But they also receive an education you don’t see on paper – study skills and social skills; networking with other students; an understanding of time management while balancing academic, social and work life.
“These are skills they can carry on in their college careers to set them up for academic success. It’s like drinking from the cultural fire hose and figuring out how college works,” he added.
Intersecting with different people
The Design Thinking in Society course introduced students to brainstorming, creativity, user experience and empathy in considering others’ points of view. Through small lectures, hands-on activities, TED talks and projects outside of class, students learned to incorporate a cultural sense of place in their designs.
“Design thinking is used everywhere, regardless of a student’s major,” Beck explained. “I’m a very strong believer in collaboration and group work. By having students share workloads and learn to work with each other’s skillsets, we arm them with a creative outlook and empathy to put themselves in other people’s shoes when working with others at UW-Stout.”
For their final project, students worked in groups to brainstorm, play-test, design and present a simple board game with a Scottish theme.
Their themes ranged from industry and production in Scotland to tourism to culture and society, with games based on mining, gardening, postcards, a scavenger hunt and even getting “Lost in Edinburgh.”
“Edinburgh is such an international city. People are speaking different languages all around you – people from all around the world,” Beck said. “The students were one of dozens of nationalities, and it can cause anxiety at the beginning of the trip.
“But once we’re there, we learn we’re all connected. We intersect with all different people in a city that fosters diversity. Once they experience Scotland, they feel more comfortable.”
A deeper story experience
In the Scottish Storytelling class, students researched literary and oral traditions of storytelling, discussed contemporary Scottish films, found stories while they were out and about and built a Scottish history timeline of significant events and people to reference throughout the class.
“American students have no context for British or Scottish history – the Scottish Reformation and Enlightenment, Robert the Bruce and Mary Queen of Scots,” Ogden said.
After students toured the Parliament Building in Edinburgh to gain context for the movement of Scottish independence and the re-establishment of its Parliament in 1999, Ogden saw the students begin to appreciate the history more.
“This is a significant cultural site to Scottish heritage and their place in the world. Being at a place in person, with context, and to understand why a thing matters brings a sense of global awareness,” he said.
In their unit on Scottish films, students began to understand cultural references, nuances and jokes.
“Four weeks earlier, as a standard American audience, they wouldn’t have understood. Their time in Scotland gave them a much deeper story experience,” Ogden said. “It’s amazing how in a month’s time you can tune in enough to appreciate more of what a story has to say.”
The moment that surprised Ogden the most in his teaching was a new kind of openness shared among his students.
During a poetry analysis and reflection, Max Lamb reflected on a Robert Burns poem. He shared that he related to the poem because he felt the support of his friends in Scotland and felt more prepared for college than before.
“There was a strong sense of community within the class,” Ogden said.
Lamb, an incoming game design and development-art major from Prescott, struggled in high school and had trouble completing his homework. During JUMPSTART, however, he was able to turn all his assignments in on time and was able to pick up study tips from his classmates, he said. He also learned to be more self-reliant in his day-to-day tasks, like waking up on time, laundry or preparing meals.
“This trip really helped me grow and become a more responsible person and really prepare myself for school,” Lamb said. “While I am glad I was able to experience all the cool things I saw in Scotland, the biggest impact on me is the confidence I have gained in myself and the fact that I now know I can do the things I need to do in order to be successful in college and life after college.”
Nelson and Nowicki recommend study abroad to all college students and hope to travel again during their college careers.
“I would love to join a longer program because it was such a great experience, and I would like to have more time to explore another country,” Nowicki said. “But even if a student only feels ready to do a short trip, whether it be a week or a month, I would tell them to absolutely go for it.”