Studying abroad provides lessons in culture

Upper Iowa University seniors Vanessa Westen, Anna Winter and Audrey Thai (l-r) discussed their international experiences with each other this fall at the Fayette Campus Student Center. UIU students can choose from over 200 international and study programs to further enrich their global education.

Goodbye tears, hugs and kisses. For some students achieving an education abroad, the separation from friends and family can last a year or even longer. Being able to study abroad may be considered a luxury for both international and domestic students, while for others it is a rite of passage. Conversely, there is no doubt that studying abroad provides an experience that participating students treasure for a lifetime.

Each year, Upper Iowa University plays host to a large contingent of international students from around the world. While obtaining a high-quality education, international students help provide a culturally-rich Campus environment. Meanwhile, U.S. students also have the opportunity to travel abroad and be exposed to a new culture.

An international student’s experience

Malaysia is one of the many countries represented by students attending Upper Iowa University. It takes two to three, long connecting flights to reach Iowa. From the city of Kuala Lumpur or Penang to small town Fayette, Iowa, the international students quickly experience culture shock. The northeast Iowa weather, people and traditions are typically much different from their homeland.

Not surprisingly, Audrey Thai, UIU senior psychology major from Bukit Mertajam, Penang, Malaysia, said among the first things witnessed by international students are the vast amount of Iowa corn fields and the friendliness of its people. Thai noted a cultural difference not often considered is experienced during most meals.

“Americans seem to usually use a fork to eat their food, but Malaysian students, like myself, typically use a fork to roll their food onto a spoon or a spoon by itself to eat a meal.” Thai said.

In regard to her UIU educational experience, Thai said, “I like the lectures here because they (faculty) are genuine in helping you with your studies. Students learn a lot and gain hands-on experience.”

Studying Abroad

Upper Iowa University students also gain valuable experience and expand their horizons as part of the University’s successful Study Abroad Program, which includes educational trips to England, Ireland and Spain. Among the American students to participate in the memorable experience were Anna Winter, Rochester, Minnesota, and Vanessa Westen, Washington, Iowa.

Winter said she quickly learned about cultural differences when she traveled to Spain. A senior, with a double major in mathematics and biology, Winter appreciates her personal space and is extremely time conscious.

“The people in Spain are definitely more laid back about things, and they don’t share a ‘personal space’ concept, which was difficult for me to comprehend,” Winter said. “Being late for class or other activities was considered normal there, and that was also surprising to me. You could show up ten minutes late for something and no one was going to care.”

Meanwhile, Westen studied in Ireland, where she not only learned more about the Irish culture but also discovered how small the world can be when she met another Iowan at Heathrow Airport in London, England.

“I didn’t know the girl before going to Ireland, but when I met her at the airport I found out that she is from Fort Dodge, Iowa, and our high schools are rivals,” said Westen, a senior elementary education major. “Now she is attending Augustana, so our universities are also rivals, but we consider ourselves best friends.”

Discovering new cultures and developing lasting friendships while acquiring a global education is experienced by students participating in Upper Iowa’s international and study abroad programs. With more than 200 programs to choose from, UIU students can unlock a treasure trove of opportunities.

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