Every semester, a new group of students at UW-Eau Claire get ready to depart on their study abroad adventures. Those students have a lot on their plates between packing, filling out forms and getting informed about their new location.
Another group of students, the peer advisers, help them prepare for their journey.
Each semester, the Center for International Education hires 14 to 18 peer advisers, depending on the number of programs and the number of students going abroad, Study Abroad Coordinator Cheryl Lochner-Wright said.
She added that the university sends about 200 students abroad in the spring and about 200 in the summer and fall combined.
“(The peer advisers) are the first point of contact with the students who are going abroad on their program the next semester,” she said.
The advisers help the students on their programs and have various responsibilities, Lochner-Wright said.
First, they participate in the study abroad orientation held in September or February where they talk more specifically about their programs. They also perform skits, answer questions and help students fill out forms.
The peer advisers also hold office hours two hours a week where students can come and ask questions.
In addition, they help promote the study abroad programs, especially in the fall.
“They organize their program’s table for the study abroad fair and they also speak on the study abroad spotlight panels that are a comparison of programs in a particular region,” Lochner-Wright said.
They also send out weekly emails to the students participating in their programs to remind them about important deadlines coming up, or about cultural tips and fun facts about their destination and personal advice from their own experience, she said.
Lochner-Wright added that every semester, the students going abroad evaluate the performance of their peer advisers.
“It is always very positive (feedback), she said. “They appreciate having someone they can go to who has recent experience at their program site.”
Without their help, Lochner-Wright said, the study abroad programs would not be the same.
“We couldn’t do what we do without them,” she said. “They are an integral part of the office and I think the level of service we can provide to students who are going abroad is much higher because we have the peer advisers.”
Senior, finance major
Peer adviser for the Semester at Sea program
Jade Schantzen spent 66 days last summer sailing on a ship around the world while taking classes as part of the Semester at Sea program.
The program started in the Bahamas and then went to Spain, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Morocco, she said.
It is the first year that the Semester at Sea program is affiliated with the university, so Schantzen didn’t have a peer adviser at the time she went, but wished she would have had one.
She said she decided to become a peer adviser because of her passion for the program and to help promote it to the students since it is not a traditional study abroad program.
“Since it is the first year that the program is affiliated with Eau Claire, I thought it was important to give a positive message and really get the program out there,” Schantzen said.
On of the challenges of being a peer adviser for Schantzen is wanting to be the one going abroad again, she said.
“It is hard because you go and have all your own experiences, and you go back to Wisconsin and you are like, ‘Gosh I really wish that I was back travelling,’” Schantzen said.
However, she said she loves seeing how excited students get as their time abroad approaches and the stressful parts of forms and financial are over.
“For me it makes me happy when I see them get excited and forget about all the forms and think about what they are actually going to be doing and the people they are going to meet,” Schantzen said.
Next summer there will be one student participating in this program. Five will go in the fall and four will do the short-term program for a month.
Junior, political science legal studies major
Peer adviser for Thessaloniki, Greece
Maureen Sullivan participated in one of the study abroad programs offered by Eau Claire. She went to Thessaloniki, Greece, in the spring of 2011.
“I had a lot of fun there and I thought I would be useful in giving information to people who wanted to go,” Sullivan said.
She said she enjoys talking about her experiences, but her roommates got tired of hearing about them, so she wants to share them with someone the information would be relevant to.
“When we had orientation I got excited for them that they get to do what I did, and experience what I did,” Sullivan said.
She adds that sometimes she find it challenging to answer some of the more specific questions students may have.
Two students are studying abroad to Greece in the fall.
Junior, public relations and Spanish major
Peer adviser for Valladolid, Spain
Andrea Trungale studied abroad in Valladolid, Spain, in the spring of 2011 and it is her first semester being a peer adviser.
She said she was inspired to be a peer adviser after seeing the work they do.
“When I was going to Spain, I saw that they had this role of people to help out the students and interact and communicate with them, and I was like, ‘I need to do this when I come back,’” Trungale said.
She was glad the advisers were there to help her and answer her questions especially about the culture of Spain because she didn’t know anything about it. She added that she appreciated the tips about how to live with a host family.
Trungale said when she same back from a study experience she knew she had to be a peer adviser because she had a great experience and wanted to share it.
“I literally think it was the best thing I did in my life,” she said.
To give tips to the students going abroad in the fall, she surveyed some people who went to Spain with her, Trungale said. From her survey she compiled some advice that she can give to the students in her weekly emails.
“I also try to put myself in their place and think about what kind of things they are wondering about,” she said.
One of the challenges, Trungale said, was orientation because she didn’t know what to expect. But she hopes next semester will be easier as she is reapplying for the position.
In the fall there will be 17 students studying in Valladolid.
Senior, actuarial science major
Peer adviser for Lismore, Australia
It is the second consecutive semester that Kristina Bleess is a peer adviser for the Lismore, Australia, program. She studied abroad there in the spring of 2010.
“I had an awesome time and a great experience and I wanted to get people excited about going abroad and share my tips and places that I saw,” she said.
Since it is her second semester advising students, Bleess said she is more comfortable answering the common questions.
She adds that most student have questions about packing and traveling, and she also answers questions about the best places to go and how to make their time abroad worthwhile.
But she said the best part of being a peer adviser is the orientation.
“It is the most fun part,” Bleess said. “You can actually see (the students) get really excited about it and get all of the relevant important information up to them face-to-face, which is really important because we do a lot of correspondence through email.”
In the fall, two students will be going to Lismore.