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Education abroad is nothing short of life changing, offering students new perspectives and experiences.
By Micaela Myers
UW Education Abroad
Hundreds of University of Wyoming students study abroad each year. They travel to every corner of the world, buoyed by one of the largest education-abroad endowments of any public land-grand university. UW Education Abroad offers over 30 faculty-led programs annually as well as 400 other options, including 38 bilateral exchange partner programs. Students can study abroad for a full academic year, a semester or over winter or summer break.
“UW seeks to graduate students who receive a well-rounded education and are competitive in the job market,” says Education Abroad Director Shelley Jewell. “We live in an increasingly interconnected world and, in order to be successful, students should have awareness not only of our nation but of other cultures around the world. Studying abroad even on our short-term programs can impact students in so many positive ways by gaining flexibility, cross-cultural awareness, independence, empathy and problem-solving skills. These are the tools that not only give students a competitive edge when job seeking or applying to graduate school but also make them better human beings with a sense of mutual understanding.”
Sitting in his middle school French class, Karson Potter dreamed of studying abroad. As he was growing up in West Jordan, Utah, and Casper, Wyo., the dream never left him.
“UW and its offerings for programs and funding abroad were the biggest factor in deciding where to pursue my education,” says Potter, now a senior.
As an accounting major with minors in French and honors, he decided to do a direct exchange at École de Management Strasbourg, France. After COVID delays, he finally landed in August 2021.
“I lived in Strasbourg for four months. In that time, I genuinely feel that my life changed,” Potter says. “Primarily, for me, it was the relationships and the people. I was sharing space, words and good memories with people from all over the world. I learned about the Spanish government from a Spanish friend, I discussed U.S. politics with someone who was Russian and German, and I discussed apartheid policies with someone from South Africa. I stared in awe as Czech and Ukrainian friends explored the similarities and differences in the languages they spoke and understood. My global network of friends is my most valued and prized souvenir from my experience living abroad, and it continues to have a beautiful return of benefits as my semester came to a close and I embarked upon another education abroad experience with the College of Business.”
In January 2022, Potter took part in the faculty-led class “Cities of the Future,” which was based in Prague and Berlin. He quickly reconnected with international friends during the course. This past summer, he landed an internship with the finance and operations team of a Wyoming-based software company. The remote position allowed him to join friends in Belgium and to continue his international experiences as he worked.
Potter says: “These intercultural encounters, dynamics and friendships shaped who I am in such a short amount of time and taught me so much about the world, about the people in it and about myself — that is what I hope people are inspired by when I share my stories from my time in Europe. Yes, the castles and monuments are amazing, yes, the cities are teeming with amazing things to do, but truly, at the end of the day, being able to navigate a foreign country and intercultural friendships turns you in a strong, empathetic and brave soul who leads with love.”
Study Abroad Reunites Arapaho Student with Tribal Headdress
Imagine traveling all the way to England to view one of your culture’s important artifacts. That’s just what happened to UW College of Law student and Northern Arapaho member Alyson White Eagle-SoundingSides this past summer when she began working with law Professor Darrell Jackson and UW Art Museum Director Nicole Crawford to bring home from the British Museum a headdress that belonged to her great-great grandfather, Northern Arapaho leader Chief Yellow Calf.
The journey began when White Eagle-SoundingSides applied to take Jackson and Crawford’s summer 2022 course to Europe, called “Stealing Culture: The Intersection of Criminal Law and Museums.” Jackson and Crawford work with museums and universities around the world as they begin repatriating cultural items that were often taken without a community’s knowledge or permission.
In the case of the headdress, White Eagle-SoundingSides’s tribal elders told her it was likely taken from the tribe during the filming of the 1923 silent film The Covered Wagon. Her research shows that it was donated to the British Museum in 1939. It hasn’t been on display since 2001, so White Eagle-SoundingSides had to receive special permission for her, Crawford and Jackson to view the headdress at a storage facility outside London this past July. She became the first Arapaho to see the headdress in 100 years.
“I felt that sorrow in my heart because the headdress is not where it belongs,” White Eagle-SoundingSides says.
Yet she was incredibly grateful to be able to see it and speak with the curator in the department of Africa, Oceana and the Americas at the British Museum, who graciously made the experience possible.
“I walked in, and I was in awe,” White Eagle-SoundingSides says. “It was beautiful. The feathers and beadwork were perfectly intact. I leaned in close to look — I didn’t touch it. There was a long strand of black hair by the tail. I kept thinking about Yellow Calf and the life he led. I thought about what pride he took in the headdress, because these are sacred objects to us. I thought about how it must have hurt him to have lost it. I thought about how the taking of it was another thing done to our people.
“The day I got to see it was the day our big ceremony, the sundance, was starting, so I thought about my people and how all of these things have affected our lives and where we’re at today,” White Eagle-SoundingSides adds. “I said a prayer for my people and a prayer for Yellow Calf. I introduced myself in Arapaho, and I told this headdress that I came a long way to see it. I said, ‘I’m sorry you can’t go home today, but you’re going to someday.’ I was so thankful, humbled and filled with gratitude.”
Chief Yellow Calf (1861–1938) is considered one of the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s most important and respected historical leaders. The Northern Arapaho are one of four groups of Arapaho who originally occupied the headwaters of the Arkansas and Platte rivers. After signing the Treaty of 1851, the Arapaho and Cheyenne shared land encompassing one-sixth of Wyoming, one-quarter of Colorado and parts of western Kansas and Nebraska. Later, when the Treaty of 1868 left the Northern Arapaho without a land base, they were placed with the Shoshone in west-central Wyoming on the Wind River Reservation.
White Eagle-SoundingSides’s husband works for the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historical Preservation Office, so she has seen firsthand how repatriation affects their community in a positive way.
“It’s almost like a piece of us gets put back together when these things come back to us,” she says. “When they come home, it’s like we get to heal. That’s what I want for my people. That’s why I’ve done what I’ve done so far.”
Crawford and the Art Museum went the extra mile to help White Eagle-SoundingSides make the trip, funding her flight and working with the curator at the British Museum to get permission to see the headdress. Now comes the hard work of further research as well as relationship-building with the British Museum to perhaps one day bring the headdress home.
“This is the impetus behind Stealing Culture as a class and an organization,” Jackson says. “From the day we’ve started, it’s been about getting communities behind it.”
Jackson and Crawford have been working on the Stealing Culture project for several years. They taught an on-campus version of the class with law and honors students in 2019, and this summer was the first education-abroad version of the class. They visited museums and historical sites in Scotland, England and Greece. They hope to continue the project but need time set aside for it and funding. The developments with the headdress are exactly why they do this work, and they found the entire experience very moving and motivational.
The Northern Arapaho Tribe honored Jackson, Crawford and UW President Ed Seidel at the Ethete Celebration Powwow, where they were presented with honorary blankets.
“That was something I’ll never forget,” Jackson says. “It was one of the top experiences of my entire career.”
4-H: Taking Youth Abroad
Thanks to 4-H, which is administered by UW Extension, Wyoming high school students also have the opportunity to study abroad. Approximately two trips are offered each year.
“The International 4-H Exchange Programs are designed to advance cultural understanding, to prepare youth leaders to become responsible citizens, to spark an interest in learning about foreign cultures and to develop a cadre of Americans with cultural understanding who can advance international dialogue and compete effectively in our global society,” says Carbon County Extension Educator Emily Haver, who took a group of seniors to Belize this December.
The trip is part of a grant-funded partnership between Wyoming 4-H and a vocational agricultural high school in Belize. Twelve youth attended from eight counties. They stayed in Belize for 10 days, where they explored Mayan culture, interacted with host families and students, and learned about large-fruit cultivation.
This summer, another group of Wyoming high school students from across the state will visit Ireland, led by Laramie County Extension Educator Dawn Sanchez. “Youth will get their hands dirty as they experience the farm-to-table journey — an important part of life in Ireland — by visiting a variety of local farms around the country,” Sanchez says. “They will learn about the business of farming and organic and sustainable farming practices. They will also engage in hands-on projects.”
Haver says the trips let students experience new ideas, solutions and ways of looking at the world: “If we can fill our state with citizens who think without boundaries because they’ve been given a wider perspective to do so, our potential is limitless.”
International Social Welfare: A British Perspective
By social work student Maia Marces
Organized and led by Associate Professor Neely Mahapatra, the education-abroad course International Social Welfare: A British Perspective, took UW students to London for two weeks in late May 2022 to learn about the history of social welfare in Britain.
“In an increasingly multicultural and interconnected world, our study-abroad program offers UW students an opportunity to immerse in a diverse culture’s worldview and understand different perspectives as it aligns with the internationalization efforts at UW,” Mahapatra says.
The group of 14 students drawn from social work, political science, nursing, sociology and anthropology visited a number of iconic and lesser-known London sites. Each location was rich with history and the stories of different individuals who either worked for, created or experienced different forms of social welfare throughout history.
“Before going on the trip, my understanding of social work was restricted,” says criminal justice major Cody Johnson of Laramie, Wyo. “Having the ability to see social work firsthand made a world of difference than reading it out of a textbook.”
Social work student Rachael Riter of Cheyenne, Wyo., adds: “This trip has made me a better student and a better person and will make me a better social worker. Being able to immerse myself in a different culture and learn different ideas, ways of living and approaches to social challenges and their solutions has enriched my journey of cultural competence and creativity.”
Building a School in Peru
Not all education-abroad opportunities are built on research or a course. Some are crafted on making a difference. For example, this past summer, Shane Epping, who holds the Bobby Model Professorship in Photojournalism, took two students to help build an elementary school in a remote part of Peru that is only accessible by boat. There, they served with Be the Change Volunteers, a development aid nonprofit organization dedicated to creating better education opportunities worldwide.
“Three of the four goals for global engagement at UW are driving excellence, inspiring students and impacting communities,” Epping says. “Our work in Peru fulfilled all of these.”
Epping and seniors Vanta Coda III (an environment and natural resources and communication major from Duluth, Minn.) and Emily Smith (a communication major from Lakewood, Colo.) spent nine days helping build the school and documenting the experience via video and photography. (See Coda’s photos at vanta-coda-the-3rd.squarespace.com.)
“Not only did we connect with a very remote community in high need of educational resources, but we also experienced what the Amazon has to offer: tarantulas, piranhas, electric eels, leeches, sloths, monkeys, river otters, pink dolphins, etc. The students and I proved that we could do hard things in an uncomfortable environment. But, more importantly, we spent quality time and shared sweat equity with people very different from ourselves in the spirit of learning from one another and advancing the well-being of all involved.”
From Wyoming to India
Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center Research Scientist Ramesh Sivanpillai’s work with five universities in India has led to memorandums of understanding, allowing UW students to customize their education-abroad and research experiences in the country.
“The topics and the scope of research are all selected by the students,” he says. These topics have included human-elephant conflict, genetically modified crops and invasive weed impacts, among others, which the students write about at uwyo-enr3300.blogspot.com. Some of his students were so inspired, they decided to continue their studies in graduate school.
Recent wildlife and fisheries biology and management graduate Dylan Sollenberger from Peoria, Ill., took Sivanpillai’s Environmental Policy, Development and Conservation in India course in 2019 and went on to study at Amrita University in Coimbatore, India. There, he studied the connection between spirituality and conservation work.
“I had never traveled outside of the United States,” Sollenberger writes. “Whether spending my days studying the different plant and animal species near campus or learning from spiritual gurus who taught insight into the appreciation of these life forms … I was really starting to understand how having a certain view spiritually can affect how you treat other living organisms and subsequently acts of biological conservation. I received enormous help from students on campus, who I now consider good friends. Without my trip to India, I would never have had the opportunity to do research on such an important subject, and my own personal spirituality would never had been jump-started in such a way that continues to push me today.”
With support from UW’s Global Engagement Office, Sivanpillai will now take a cohort of UW students to India every summer, where they will take part in Live-in-Labs, a multidisciplinary experiential learning program through Amrita University. Each student can select a topic based on their interest and study at one of 300 sites. In addition, he is also expanding partnerships so that Indian students can participate in UW drone work and artificial intelligence projects.