Educational Exchange: Faculty Swap Lives for a Year of Scholarly Studies Abroad

Here in the Midwest U.S., it’s that time of year when people are taking advantage of the more leisurely summertime months. Area Midwesterners are happily planning and taking vacations, as well as enjoying the bounty of nature western Illinois offers for inhabitants and visitors, alike. One thing about time spent away from home—whether it’s a weekend a short distance from your house or a yearlong stint in a different country—it’s hard to argue with the fact a change of scenery can have a rejuvenating effect. Still, there’s nothing quite like that feeling of coming home.

Horstmann Family of Denmark

Horstmann Family of Denmark

For the Horstmann Family of Denmark and the Hancks Family of the United States, both are likely experiencing what can be a mixed bag of emotions that comes when you leave a special place—yet you are glad to be on your way home. The two families are about settle back into their home lives, in their home countries and, hopefully, reap the benefits of their living abroad experiences over the last year.

A “Scholar Swap”
Through WIU’s Center for International Studies and University Libraries, Jens has been a visiting scholar at Western since the summer of 2015. Through a unique “scholar swap” idea, Jens was able to “swap lives” with WIU Archivist and Professor at University Libraries Dr. Jeff Hancks. The exchange enabled Jens and his family to live in Macomb, and for Jeff and his family (with his wife, Meredith, who works in WIU’s Foundation and Development Office, and twin sons Anders and Torben and their little sister, Svea) to live in Rødding, Denmark for approximately one year.

Hancks Family of the U.S.

Hancks Family of the U.S.

On Saturday July 16, Jeff will share his experiences in Scandinavian culture in “A Taste of the Archives.” The event is set to start at 5:30 p.m. in the University Libraries’ Archives (located on the sixth floor of the Leslie F. Malpass Library), and the evening will feature a presentation by Jeff, who will talk about his sabbatical experiences at Denmark’s oldest folk high school, Rødding Højskole. In addition, attendees will be able to enjoy a five-course Scandinavian meal (see www.wiu.edu/libraries/news/2010s/2016/tasteofarchives.php for the menu and how to register).

The Horstmanns, too, will share their living-abroad experiences with their fellow Danes when they return there; but before they left Macomb, they shared some of what they learned while living here.

Q. Tell me about your family and how you became a visiting scholar at WIU.

A. We are Signe and Jens Horstmann from Denmark, and we have been living in Macomb for the past year with our two daughters, Kamille, 7, and Selma, 5. I have been a visiting scholar with Western Illinois University, and Signe has been working part time for her company back home—she is an attorney—and has also been a stay-at-home mom over here.

Selma, 5 (in WIU headband), her mother, Signe, and her sister, Kamille (7), enjoy a Leatherneck Football Game at Western.

Selma, 5 (right, in WIU headband), her mother, Signe, and her sister, Kamille (7), enjoy a Leatherneck Football game at Western during Fall 2015.

We came to Macomb pretty much out of coincidence. Two years ago, Jeff Hancks, a professor at Western Illinois University Libraries, wrote a letter to my school in Denmark, asking if we would be interested in having him teach and conduct research for a year since he had a sabbatical coming up and wanted to explore our form of school (a Danish Folk School). He would need a place to stay with his family, too.

My school jumped at the idea right away, and a few days later, I sent Jeff an email basically asking: “Ok, so this may be crazy, but what do you say we swap lives for a year?” My wife and I had always been talking about staying abroad for a period of time, and I, too, had the possibility to apply for a sabbatical—and here was the opportunity to solve a lot of practical questions. Jeff was in on the idea, so was WIU, and 200 emails later, here we are.

Q.What has your family been doing since you arrived in Macomb?

A. Signe has been doing a few hours of work every day online for her company back home, and has been a mom a lot too. Our girls are in [first] grade and Pre-K, but we both wanted to have a lot more time together as a family during the sabbatical. I have been a visiting scholar with a work station at the Archives in University Libraries. My field is political science, so I have been guest lecturing different classes. I have been doing research on how the American college tradition with students living on campus, getting involved in sports, etc., affects the academic output… in other words: Do you get better students if you get the students engaged in activities outside class as you do here in the U.S.—compared to the European tradition of universities being strictly a place for academia? I am writing a report on the subject for an organization back home.

Jens Horstmann at Western Illinois University, Fall 2015

Jens Horstmann at Western Illinois University, Fall 2015

I also  have spent a lot of time being a dad, exploring the U.S., meeting interesting people and generally living life!

Q. What have you learned about the United States and the rural Midwest after living here for the last year? Was living here different than you expected it to be? Why or why not?

A. This is not our first time in the U.S., and back home, I even teach a class called “Understanding America,” so we didn’t come unprepared. But being able to actually live here and be part of a community (not just visiting) has taught us something about the American sense of participation and contribution. We realize it might be different in big cities, but we have come to appreciate very much how much you all seem to want to contribute to your communities. You are very involved, spend time and money on a lot of organizations, churches, etc.—it seems as if many Americans have a better understanding of having society resting on your shoulders, rather than the other way around, than most Danes. So this is definitely a generous society.

It is, however, also a somewhat irrational society compared to our country; as a society, it seems, you guys tend to make rules based more on intuition and gut feeling than on research and facts. It ranges from funny details, such as in traffic (“all-way stops” are a waste of everyone’s time and gas compared to roundabouts) or in office layout (in Denmark, it is illegal to have an office without windows, because daylight is proven to significantly enhance well being and productivity; here, it seems you try to stay away from daylight because you think it is a distraction), to more serious issues like minimum wage and gun control.

Living here has actually been easier than we expected—and the next answer will explain why…

Q. Tell me about your favorite experiences in Macomb and at WIU since you arrived here.

A. The one thing that comes to mind is definitely all the people we have met. Everyone has been so welcoming, so inclusive—it has been much easier than we thought it would be to feel as a part of the city and the community. The number of people who have offered help and invitations to everything is just fantastic, and we will miss them very much. We have never before experienced such a massive warm welcome that has stretched throughout the year. We feel encouraged to return to stay in the U.S. again sometime—and we are grateful and humble! Our kids, of course, were thrown into school and new friends without speaking a word of English, so it has been a lot more work for them, but that also worked out perfectly (and making them bilingual was a major reason for us going in the first place).

Q. How do you think your time spent living in Macomb and working at WIU will impact your professional and personal lives when you return home?

A. On a personal note, we have already discussed how we can transfer some of the sense of community back home. What can we do better to be more involved and meet more people? The stay here has been such an inspiration. We are also more focused on work and career not being the most important thing in life—we have spent so much time together as a family, which is much more rewarding. Not sure our coworkers are going to appreciate that change as much, though.

We just want to thank the people at WIU and in the community that made our stay possible—from being in on the idea from the beginning and welcoming us into their lives all along. It will be hard going home.

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Aug./Sept. COAP Employee Spotlight: Pedro Bidegaray

Last June, Dr. Pedro Bidegaray brought his extensive international education expertise to Western Illinois University. As the new director of WIU’s Office of Study Abroad and Outreach, Bidegaray said the opportunity offers him the “chance to make a difference” and “to work with a group of committed professionals in the provision of international opportunities and perspectives to students at WIU.”

Pedro Bidegaray (center) during his time with Educate Tanzania.

Pedro Bidegaray (center) during his time with Educate Tanzania.

Before arriving in western Illinois, Dr. Bidegaray was based in Minnesota, in a position at Educate Tanzania (a non-governmental organization) and supported efforts to develop an academic curriculum for a new agricultural college in Karagwe, Tanzania. Prior to that (2011-14), he was the director of international programs at the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences. In that role, he was responsible for integrating an international perspective into the mission of the college, with an emphasis on internationalization of curriculum and global development. From 1995-2010, he worked for EARTH University in Costa Rica, serving as director of international academic programs from 2006-10.

As a new Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) member at Western, Dr. Bidegaray agreed to share a bit more about his background and goals for his latest pursuits in international education on this Big Blue Planet.

Q: What interested you in coming to Western Illinois University?

Dr. Bidegaray: I was born in Peru and studied anthropology. I was intrigued by the idea of working with rural communities in my country. Later, I came to the U.S. to get my Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, and after I was awarded my degree, I traveled to Costa Rica to work in a small international college. Five years ago, we (my wife and two children) decided to come back to the U.S.

Q: What does a typical day at work at Western look like for you so far?

Dr. Bidegaray: It is becoming busier day after day. Since I started at WIU, I have dedicated a significant portion of my time to visit administration and faculty, in an attempt to get to know about the institution, content of their academic programs, and their understanding of the role that international education might (should) play in WIU.

Our unit, the Office of Study Abroad and Outreach, is a unit that provides services to faculty and students. In order to achieve this goal, we need to understand what is academically meaningful and feasible, and translate that understanding into initiatives that will encourage the adoption of international perspectives into their academic programs.

To succeed, we are committed to be prompt communicating with students and faculty, trying address their concerns and finding specific solutions to challenges they might face as they look to enrich their academic experiences.

Q: What is your favorite on-the-job memory?

Dr. Bidegaray: My favorite on-the-job experience has been through my interaction with co-workers in Costa Rica. I worked for an institution at which the employees cared deeply for their students and their abilities to succeed as professionals and citizens. We were a tight group of professionals from all over the world and disciplines, forever discussing how to engage students creatively and meaningfully in the classroom or when they were in the field visiting rural areas. We were all part of a learning community committed to the ideal of the education of leaders of change. Sounds corny, but that is what we believed.

Q: What has been the most rewarding professional experience in your career so far?

Dr. Bidegaray: Regarding my most rewarding experience in my career, well, I don’t know… I have several. As a professor and as a person who has traveled extensively, I have always been moved by people’s generosity and ability to connect, irrespective of cultural differences. People have an incredible ability to surprise me with unexpected reactions of kindness and creativity.

Q: What are some of your goals for Western’s Office of Study Abroad and Outreach?

Dr. Bidegaray: I have several goals, which include: to extend the benefits of international education to most WIU students. This is something we will achieve by developing a program that not only encourages students and faculty to go abroad, but also by developing an academic program and a university culture that integrates international perspectives comprehensively. It is not necessary to travel to other countries to develop an understanding and addressing cultural differences. The world as we know it is here around us. Here on campus, we have students from close to 60 different countries. Do we know who they are? What do we know about their countries? Do we bring that experience to our classrooms?

Another goal is to work toward making WIU a preeminent professional development destination for young professionals and college students. This goal corresponds to the outreach component of our office. Our goal is to identify those jewels of knowledge, unique pieces of information, and transform them into training opportunities that can be marketed globally.

Q: Tell me a little about your favorite activities outside of your job (e.g., hobbies, family or friend activities, etc.).

Dr. Bidegaray: I am a father of four kids. Two of them are still with us and are very much part of what we (my wife and I) do every day. We enjoy family life, and the times we spend together doing sports or enjoying a good meal.

I love doing sports, all kinds of music (indie and classical), good books, and international cuisine. My wife is a great cook, so that is an easy pick.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

It is difficult to say. I like to tell students that “they should dare to dream big.” Also, I like to paraphrase John F. Kennedy’s speech of 1961, when he tells his audience: “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

I reference these words when I invite people to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

International Student Success Spotlight: Qi Qi

Qi Qi - WIU International Student

Qi Qi, an international graduate student in WIU’s MBA program, said her ability to study business abroad (outside of her home country of China) is a dream come true.

Qi Qi, a master’s of business administration (MBA) program graduate candidate at Western, is currently achieving one her dreams: studying outside of her home country (China) to pursue her advanced degree in business.

Before coming to WIU, she had worked in marketing and product management in China. Since enrolling in Western’s MBA program, she has found that she is particularly interested in supply chain management, so she has chose that area of concentration her advanced business administration studies.

For the March installment of the “International Student Success Spotlight” (sponsored by Western’s Center for International Studies), Qi Qi shared how and why she chose Western to achieve her dream of studying business abroad, as well as how the services and academic resources at WIU have helped her with her success so far as an international graduate student.

Q. How did you learn about WIU and why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Qi Qi: Studying business abroad was my dream, due to my working experience with various enterprises after graduating from a college in Beijing, China. However, I had to consider the most efficient and effective way to realize my dream, because I came from a working-class family. I have limited savings, and the tuition and living expenses are high in developed countries. My hope was that I could leverage my limited resources to achieve the best result for my studies, and my “dream” universities would have the best cost/effect ratio.

Then I started a comprehensive search, both online and offline. I finally narrowed it down to WIU, State University of New York, Texas A&M, Cleveland State University, and Pittsburg State University. With any effort and luck, I would be accepted by each school’s MBA program candidate.

Then, I compared the programs, environment, and the procedures at each school.

Firstly, WIU has been listed as a “Best Midwestern College” and “Top Tier Midwestern University” for many consecutive years. AACSB International [“the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business”] not only accredited WIU’s MBA program, but also ranked Western’s College of Business and Technology among the top 25 percent of business schools in the world.

I was also amazed by the many unique and creative arrangements for international students, i.e. Ambassadors Program, temporary housing, Western’s English as a Second Language (WESL) Conversation Mentors program, Conversation Partners, American Culture Night, etc. WIU has become the ideal university for me. I also think Western has the best student services. I am so glad I made the correct decision and came to WIU!

Q. What do you hope to do with your master’s degree in business administration once you graduate?

Qi Qi: I plan to work as a supply chain analyst after graduation, once I get more experience in the area. I hope to become a supply chain manager.

I am very happy to have discovered my career direction here, so I can be equipped for my future.

Q. How did you adjust to your new home as a person who had never traveled to the U.S. before?

Qi Qi: When I first arrived, I was faced with new study challenges, a new living environment, new social relationships, and a totally different culture when I just came to Macomb.

First of all, the language issue impacted my performance, because I couldn’t get used to each instructor’s speed and tempo when he or she was lecturing.

Secondly, I experienced serious homesickness, because I had never been so far away from home before.

Thirdly, everything was new to me; however, I did not feel lonely and helpless at all. The friendly and responsible professors answered my questions patiently, gave me a lot of useful advice, and helped me pick up information more quickly. In addition, the international student services staff arranged a lot of activities for me to get familiar with the community, meet a lot of new friends, improve my English, and learn about the culture. The International Neighbors program, particularly, makes me feel that I have another home at Macomb. The host family has become my second home, and I feel I am the part of the community. I can’t believe I have become accustomed to my new life so quickly!

Q. What have been (or are) your favorite courses and instructors and why?

Qi Qi: My favorite course is in small business management. The course covers how to operate a small business. In this course, there are many guest speakers sharing the experiences about their businesses. Mrs. Gates, the instructor, also provides information and cases about various interesting small businesses.

Although the assignments in this course are challenging, Mrs. [Janice] Gates is one of my favorite instructors. She is very nice and helpful. She likes students to raise questions, and she replies to their email messages quickly. Even on the weekend, she still provides feedback to students’ concerns in time.

Another professor I adore is Dr. Deboeuf. I took his two courses, “Introduction to Finance” and “Financial Management.” His classes are well organized, and he helped me understand the complicated financial concepts presented.

Q. Any additional information that you would like to include?

Qi Qi: I have to mention Macomb when talking about my feeling about WIU. It provides me a welcoming, friendly, convenient, safe, hometown, and rich atmosphere to pursue my study objectives. I love Macomb!

Broadcasting and Spanish student returns from study abroad

Western Illinois University student Karina Gavina was recently featured in her hometown paper after recently completing a three-month stint in Spain, (complete with Spanish-immersion courses and …a “struggle” involving shopping!). Be sure to check out the story above, and if you’re interested in study abroad at WIU, find out about all the possibilities here.

Kangaroos, emus, and ‘wine science’: WIU Ag students hit Australia

In a recent article from the McDonough County Voice, professor of horticulture Mari Loehrlein poses an interesting question:

“What do you get when you combine 24 college students, a boomerang, a world-famous opera house, and a major agricultural production region? Well, if you stir gently, bake in the hot Australian sun, season with fresh local flavors of your choice (e.g. rugby, fruit bats, and beaches right next to an urban center), I think you’ll get the idea.”

As Professor Loehrlein describes, 24 students from the Western’s School of Agriculture spent 10 days over spring break learning about Australian culture and agriculture, with tours including the Muru Mittigar Aboriginal Culture Center (see photo, below), a citrus orchard, and the wine science program at Charles Sturt University, among other highlights.

(more, below the photo)

image of WIU students visiting Muru Mittigar aboriginal center

Senior agriculture majors Mellisa Herwig (left) and Joe Dickinson (right) with tour guide at the at the Muru Mittigar aboriginal center

To learn more about the trip, read Professor Loehrlein’s highlights, or check out the entire page of trip photos from Professor Jon Carlson’s page!