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UW's Global Classroom

UW’s Global Classroom

Study abroad opportunities take University of Wyoming students around the world to learn and grow.

By Leah Roesler

Standing in class, we strained our eyes to see what our guide was explaining. “Look across to the next hill—you can see the ruins of another settlement,” he told us in Spanish. My classmates and I were not looking at a projection screen in a classroom on the University of Wyoming campus; we were staring across a valley in Mexico, and our “classroom” was on top of an ancient Mayan palace.

Like many UW students, I went on a study abroad trip as part of my educational experience. During the 2012–13 academic year, 362 UW students traveled abroad through International Programs, according to Director Anne Alexander. Since 2000, UW study abroad programs have grown almost 1,000 percent. With all the opportunities available, it’s no wonder so many students participate.

Global Destinations

Students who study abroad have the opportunity to go to such diverse places as Japan, Kazakhstan, Peru, France and beyond. There are 140 different locations around the world that UW students can choose from. And when it comes to getting support for going on these adventures, UW students do not have to figure it out alone.

More than 90 percent of students who participated in study abroad programs last year were awarded scholarships, many of them from the Cheney Study Abroad Scholarships Endowment, according to Alexander. “Nearly $1.3 million in Cheney Scholarships have been awarded to nearly 1,100 UW students,” she says.

The Study Abroad Experience

Every study abroad experience is different. Short-term faculty-led trips last from three to six weeks during school breaks. There are even weeklong service trips during spring and winter breaks. These trips are planned by UW faculty and take place outside of traditional classrooms.

Students doing a semester or yearlong program can choose classes from one of UW’s partner universities located all over the world and are able to get credits to fulfill their majors.

“When our students have a global experience—whether it’s an alternative spring break, an international research experience, an experience on one of our faculty-led field courses, or a full study abroad year—their frame of reference and the way they approach problems is changed forever,” Alexander says.

My experience with a study abroad happened in Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico in summer 2014 with the help of a Cheney Scholarship and an Innovative Course Grant from the office of summer sessions. A group of 12 other students and I went on a six-week trip led by Assistant Lecturer Mary Katherine Scott from the Department of Modern and Classical Languages. We went to study the art and culture of the Mayans, to improve our foreign language skills, and to get hands-on experience conducting research projects and doing fieldwork.

We each worked with, and learned from, a local mentor to develop our projects and sharpen our Spanish. “I’ve been learning Spanish since I was in the first grade, and I wanted to see if I could actually use all that I have learned effectively,” says Caroline Boarini of Indianapolis, Ind., a senior majoring in history. “My project centered on stories, but I can now successfully use a machete as well as name most trees that grow in the yards in Yucatan.”

In addition to conducting our own research, the entire class learned about the art and culture of the Mayans. We studied in a classroom setting in the mornings, then we went on afternoon and weekend trips to see the ruins Mayans left behind. “Rather than simply learning about the architectural styles used by the ancient Mayan people in a classroom, I got to visit ancient Mayan sites so that I could see the pyramids with my own eyes and touch the stones with my own hands,” says Nicholas White of Douglas, Wyo., a junior majoring in physiology. “One cannot truly appreciate the size and elegance of these pyramids until they climb to the top.” 

Just like Alexander promised, our frame of reference has been changed. We have gained what she describes as “the value of having global experience in ‘real life.’ ”

The Study Abroad Experience

Students standing in front of a Mayan ruin in Mexico
“When our students have a global experience—whether it’s an alternative spring break, an international research experience, an experience on one of our faculty-led field courses, or a full study abroad year—their frame of reference and the way they approach problems is changed forever," says International Programs Director Anne Alexander.

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