UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls

History of QA/SAE

 History of the Quarter/Semester Abroad: Europe Program


Dr. Sandra Soares, 2001
Updated by Brad Gee, 2013


Robert BaileyThe Semester Abroad: Europe program was initiated in 1963 by the late Robert B. Bailey, III. Dr. Bailey conceived of the Quarter Abroad program, as it was known then, as a special opportunity for University of Wisconsin-River Falls students to engage in experiential learning projects and independent travel in Europe.

Dr. Bailey did his undergraduate work at Talladega College in Alabama. In 1950 his sociology professor (and friend) suggested that he apply for a Fulbright scholarship. Bailey hesitated; he "was certain that the U.S. State Department of 1950-51 would not send [him], a southern black, to study overseas" (all quotations are from an article "The River Falls Experience: Custom-designing Study Abroad" that Dr. Bailey wrote for a CIEE publication, Black Students and Overseas Programs, 1991). He applied for and received a Fulbright scholarship to England in 1951-52. After studying in England for a year, he studied for three years at the Universities of Frankfurt and Munich, and then completed a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Dr. Bailey came to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (at that time Wisconsin State College) in 1957 as the university’s first African American faculty member. He did not really believe he would stay long in River Falls, but in fact he was there until his retirement in 1991. At the time of Bailey's arrival, UW-River Falls was a fairly isolated institution: "a trip to Minneapolis-St. Paul, some 40 miles away, was a rare occasion for most. Certainly no study abroad program existed, nor was there any thought of developing one." In the summer of 1961, Bailey took a group of non UW-River Falls students to Germany. This group was from "an American socio­economic class with which [he] had not had previous contact," but they "represented the  typical profile of American study abroad students in 1961 … upper- or upper-middle class white women from professional families who had  previously traveled abroad, and they had studied at least two years of a second language."

After this first trip abroad with university students, Bailey decided to establish an international program at UW-River Falls.

The profile of students at Wisconsin State College was quite different from those students I had led to Europe in 1961. The Wisconsin students were typically lower-middle class, from farm or non-professional families, who had not traveled outside of the Midwest and who had not studied a second language. However, they were also wholesome, unspoiled, diligent, possessed of great intellectual curiosity, and very excited at the prospect of going abroad.

Student near Eiffel Tower 1970sThe typical study abroad program at that time was the "Junior Year Abroad." Bailey considered the Columbia University-run Reid Hall in Paris to be an example of these elite programs. Former Semester Abroad program director Sandy Soares says she always understood exactly what Bailey was talking about. Coincidentally, she participated in a junior year abroad program in 1961, and she remarks that, as a west coast product of public schools, she felt very out of place among the upper-east-coast private school women.

Bailey consulted directors of programs at large universities about starting a program of his own at UW-River Falls, and they tried to discourage him. He was not, however, discouraged, and he began to develop a model for the student population at UW-River Falls. Since he felt that a year abroad would be beyond the means of most of the students, he created the Quarter Abroad Program.

From the outset the long orientation period was an important feature of Quarter Abroad. Bailey's belief, which has been proven to be right, was that "the success of study abroad is greatly influenced by the length and depth of orientation." One of the major parts of this orientation is sensitivity training in adjusting to other cultures. The following description of the orientation process was written by Bailey in 1991. It reflects some later changes, such as from quarters to semesters, but the philosophy behind the orientation has not changed since 1963:

At River Falls, we spend one semester of orientation on campus preceding the semester abroad. That is, we meet once a week for two hours of orientation for the entire semester. In these weekly sessions the students develop an undergraduate research topic with their major professor which they will pursue once overseas. Contacts are made with professionals and academics abroad in the preselected country of study. A large portion of orientation is devoted to cross­ cultural sensitivity training. Students are also encouraged to plan and structure a one-month period of free, meaningful travel.  They are expected to travel independently or in small, rather than large, groups.

The other important part of the concept of Quarter/Semester Abroad is that students do not form an American enclave in Europe, but function independently, out of the classroom.

The first Quarter Abroad group went to Europe in the fall of 1963.  At that time, Dr. Bailey assumed that River Falls students would rarely, if ever, have studied a second language, and the program focused on the Netherlands, the British Isles, and Denmark. Bailey still had many contacts in these countries, as well, and was able to provide family stays for many of the students.

As the program developed over the years, students branched out into other countries, partly because a greater number of River Falls students had studied another language in high school or college, and partly because more Europeans of the post-war generation spoke English.

Early Quarter Abroad groups went over by ship; a number of student ships existed at that time, and the days at sea were used for further orientation and to allow the group to get to know one another. When flying became more economical, sometime in the early seventies, the group began to fly to Europe.

Dr. Bailey led the group every year (some years were skipped in the mid-sixties) until 1975. Since then several faculty and academic staff have served as group leaders and program directors (see list below).

Some changes have been made in the program since its inception. The midterm meeting was originally held in Munich at the end of Oktoberfest. Since this festival ends the first week of October, the change to semesters placed the meeting too early in the term. In recent years the midterm meeting has shifted to the small seaside resort town of Levanto, Italy, at the beginning of November. Levanto was selected to steer the participants off the beaten track and away from the distractions of a large city (there is ample time to see Rome, Berlin, Barcelona, etc. after the Levanto stay). During the three-night stay the participants have individual meetings with the group leader, a dinner at a local restaurant, and informal time for sharing their experiences with each other and planning their month of travel.  

When the University was on the quarter system, the group left around the 25th of August, before the beginning of the academic term, and returned just before Thanksgiving. With the change to semesters, the group now leaves the first or second day of fall classes and returns around the 15th of December.

In 1982 the Paris stay was extended from five days to six. Currently the choice between five or six days in Paris lies with the group leader of that year. The midsummer meeting was added in 1986.

For the first twenty-five years of the program, clerical support was housed in the Sociology department, in the capable hands of Ms. Donna Arne, a pillar of the program. In a 1988 issue of Falcon Features, Bailey remarked that Donna was “always on top of the mammoth clerical job required to keep up with plane fares, tickets, hostel cards, international ID cards, Eurails, financial aid, registration, tuition, departure information, etc. In addition, she is excellent at comforting anxious parents." Currently these duties are shared by the program director, the group leader and other program staff, the Global Connections office, the cashier's office, and others.

With the exception of a few students who studied in Africa in the 1980s, participants have always carried out their projects and travel in Europe. The European focus was further emphasized when the name was changed to Semester Abroad: Europe in 2004.

Magdalena Pala from the Chemistry Department and Brad Gee from the Chalmer Davee Library became program co-directors in 2004, replacing David Heberlein and Katrina Larsen. Following Dr. Pala’s retirement in 2013, Brad has been serving as acting director until new program leadership is in place.

In 2008 the 6 credits of International Studies 377 were approved for two University/General Education requirements: Global Perspectives (GP) and Multidisciplinary Inquiry (MD). To satisfy these requirements, the students submit two shorter papers in addition to their longer, 40-50 page project papers. The program is seeking ways to permit these credits to count for other requirements—especially useful if a student has already taken a GP- and/or MD-approved course.

In 1991, Bailey wrote that over 700 students had participated in the program. By the time of the 50th anniversary in 2013, the figure is over 1000. In 1983, 1988, and 2003, hundreds of program alums attended reunions in Hudson and River Falls, Wisconsin—a testament to the important role this program played, and continues to play, in their lives. A similar turnout is expected for the 50th Anniversary Celebration in October 2013.

"Bailey's Folly," it was called in 1963. The program has stood the test of time. With its unique focus on directed research and independent travel, Semester Abroad: Europe faces a bright future on a campus committed to global engagement as an integral part of its mission.

Quarter/Semester Abroad : Europe Group Leaders


1963 -1974 - Robert B. Bailey, III
1975 - Edward Robins, Sociology
1976 - Bailey
1977 - Robins
1978 - Bailey
1979 - Robins
1980 - Bailey
1981 - Robins
1982 - Sandra Soares, Modern Language
1983 - Bailey
1984 - Soares
1985 - Bailey (Soares stayed for four weeks, due to a large group)
1986 - Soares
1987 - Charles Lonie, English
1988 - Bailey
1989 - Soares
1990 - Bailey (Quarter Abroad becomes Semester Abroad)
1991 - Lonie (Bailey retires)
1992 - Soares
1993 - Lonie
1994 - Katrina Larsen, Agricultural Education and University Outreach
1995 - David Heberlein, Art
1996 - Lee Karnowski, Elementary Education
1997 - Lonie
1998 - Soares (Lonie stayed for six  weeks due  to a large group)
1999 - Heberlein
2000 - Larsen
2001 - Wesley Chapin, Political Science
2002 – Magdalena Pala, Chemistry
2003 – Brad Gee, Chalmer Davee Library
2004 – Heberlein (“Europe” added to program name)
2005 – Pala
2006 – Dennis Cooper, Animal and Food Science
2007 – Gee
2008 – Ian Williams, Geology
2009 – Kerry Keen, Geology
2010 – Lynn Jermal, Art and Art Education
2011 – Pala
2012 – Cooper
2013 - Gee