UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls

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Celebrate with us: Summit on International Education and Engagement

Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019 | Dean Van Galen


This week, November 18-22, will be a very special one for our university and community as UW-River Falls hosts the Summit on International Education and Engagement. With over 30 events, most of which are free and open to the public, it will be a unique opportunity for global and intercultural learning. Our campus will also welcome some of our international partners, as leaders from Taiwan, Germany and the Netherlands join us for the Summit. A full schedule of events can be found here

I admit it—I am passionate about international education. I suppose it started in August 1994 when I landed at Oslo Lufthavn (airport) with eight very excited college students. As a young faculty member, I was leading my first three-week study abroad course, “Environmental Science in Norway,” and was probably as anxious as my students. It was only a year earlier that I had had my own first overseas experience, travelling to Norway to develop the course. 

I have many memories of that and subsequent trips with students to Norway— watching their amazement and their worldview expand on visits to cultural sites such as the Viking Ships Museum and Edvard Grieg’s home, the scare of a middle of the night trip to an emergency room (at a total cost of $30 for what turned out to be an allergic reaction to a Norwegian sweater), students grappling with how Norway as a socialist democracy can have both such a high tax rate and a very high standard of living, and the excitement of discovery and collaboration doing environmental research with Norwegian students in the western fjords.   

Like many others who have led a group of students on an education abroad experience, I deeply believe in the value of international education. Visiting important historical sites for the first time, experiencing the beauty of another part of the world, and learning about other ways of life are amazing. Yet I believe the deeper value is in how these experiences inspire students to reflect on their own lives and their place in the world, broadening and deepening their understanding of different cultures and people. This is an essential component of education itself, not to mention a key ability that today’s employers require in our graduates.  

For decades, UW-River Falls has been committed to international education. We are now among the national leaders for universities of our type. Many of our graduates speak not only about how important these experiences were to their college education, but also how they have shaped who they went on to become. A few years ago, Jamison Reichart, then a UW-River Falls student, was speaking at an event about the impact of her UWRF study abroad experience and shared the following quote by John A. Shedd:

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for…

Indeed, for many of our students, studying abroad involves “leaving a safe harbor,” but so too can be simply experiencing another culture by building a deep friendship with a student from a different country, or attending a cultural event sponsored by a community one knows little about. All of these growth experiences are the opportunities that students tell me, time and time again, have powerful impacts on them. 

As Chancellor, I am deeply grateful for the UWRF faculty and staff who, over the years, have committed themselves to developing global learning experiences for our students. I am especially excited to invite everyone to participate in this week’s Summit on International Education and Engagement. All are welcome—please join us for a great week of international learning, entertainment and fun!