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Interview with Ryan Swenson

Tell us a little about yourself!
I am a sophomore Biology major with a Pre-Professional Health Sciences minor. I am a pre-dental student and am a member of the Pre-Professional Health Club on campus. I transferred to UWEC from Chippewa Valley Technical College after one semester there. I am a member of the Pre-Professional Health Club on campus. 

When and where did you study abroad?
I studied abroad in South Africa at Stellenbosch University for the fall semester of 2017. 

How did you prepare for your study abroad experience?
I did quite a bit of preparation before leaving for South Africa. For choosing classes, I used the online course catalog from Stellenbosch as well as my degree audit and the Transfer Credit Wizard at UWEC to make sure the classes I chose would count towards my degree and would be of interest to me. There was a lot of paperwork and steps involved for applying and getting the visa that seemed overwhelming at first, but the Study Abroad office helped me through every step and assisted when I had questions. I also researched what life will be like there. I looked at the weather, pictures and maps of the city and surrounding area, and read up on some of the key historical and recent events in South Africa. 

Finally, I applied for many scholarships before I left. I am so grateful I was able to receive one through the biology department and one called the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. The Gilman scholarship is a grant program that enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad. The Gilman Scholarship took a lot of financial pressure off my shoulders and made the whole experience more enjoyable. I would highly recommend applying if you qualify for it!  

What were your fears before going abroad?
I really didn’t have any fears before leaving, I was just very excited for what was ahead of me. I had everything in place before I left and had been fully prepared for the semester thanks to the Study Abroad Office. 

How did your study abroad experience go?
Deciding to study abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I met and became very close with people from all over the world. We studied, ate, and traveled together which really made the whole experience amazing for me. I will never forget the people I met there or the things I got to see and do. I visited five different countries while in Africa, where I was fortunate to be able to see and experience the different lifestyles and cultures. 

How did you benefit from studying abroad?
 I really wanted to step out of my comfort zone while I was abroad. I didn’t want to turn down anything because it scared me. I believe I accomplished that! Studying abroad showed me how important traveling and seeing new perspectives is. I realized I’m more adventurous and confident in myself than I thought before I left. I also now have an international network of friends who I have been keeping in touch with since returning which has been really cool. 

Did you have any advice for other non-traditional students who are thinking of studying abroad?
I would say to absolutely go for it! There is nothing to be afraid of. The Study Abroad Office does a great job guiding you through the process, but it is very important to stay on top of all the steps and deadlines. Procrastinating can really make the whole process very stressful because some steps can take some time. Finally, apply for scholarships! They ease the financial stress and can really improve your study abroad experience!