Photo of the 2022 CETS cohort, which was led through the Prague leg of their journey by Blugold grad and Fulbright scholar Megan Henning (holding sign), and her familiarity with the city proved to be a tremendous bonus. (Submitted photo)

The 2022 CETS cohort was led through the Prague leg of their journey by Blugold grad and Fulbright scholar Megan Henning (holding sign), and her familiarity with the city proved to be a tremendous bonus. (Submitted photo)

As a high school student searching for the right place to land in a secondary education program, Megan Henning was very interested in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, given the excellent reputation of the teacher preparation programs. However, she also had other criteria to consider.

“Coming into my college search, I had a strong desire to study abroad, a challenge knowing that it’s often difficult to squeeze that into a four-year degree plan in education,” says the Germantown native.

“Right away at UW-Eau Claire, I was informed of the various summer immersion opportunities, a perfect way for me to work in travel abroad. After my campus tour and seeing details about a few of those trips, I was sold — it was like the best of both worlds and my decision was made.”

Henning was able to complete two-month-long international immersions during the summers after her freshman and sophomore years. The first was a public history study in England, and the second was the long-running Central European Travel Seminar (CETS), two programs run by the history department.

“Those immersion experiences allowed me to dip my toes in the water of living and studying abroad,” Henning says. “A month is a perfect length of time to truly get the sense of life in a place, a chance to learn about the people and cultures without disrupting my graduation date plan.”

For many Blugolds like Henning, studying abroad is a goal, and faculty-led immersion opportunities provide the right balance, according to Dr. Jeff DeGrave, senior lecturer in geography and UW-Eau Claire’s immersion programs coordinator.

“For those students interested in international study, these faculty-led programs are a great way to earn credit while taking in the history, landscape and culture of new, exciting places, all under the guidance of expert UW-Eau Claire faculty,” DeGrave says.

For students who have any interest at all in study abroad, this CETS trip is a great option. It’s not a full semester, but a month is enough to see and learn so much and it is such a financial bargain. Nobody could ever see or do this itinerary on their own for anywhere near our student cost. ~Stephanie Much, junior public history major from Neenah, ’22 CETS

Learn more at the Study Abroad Fair

Tuesday, Sept. 27, is the fall UW-Eau Claire Study Abroad Fair from 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. on the Campus Mall, and all students are welcome to come explore all the options, from full semester programs to the Winterim and summer faculty-led international immersion experiences (FLIIE).

Study abroad program managers, interns, program alumni and faculty, along with representatives from many program partners abroad, will be at the fair to answer questions and talk about their experiences.

Upcoming programs for 2023, including all FLIIE programs, will have representatives at the fair. Program directors can walk students through the application process and deadlines, as well as the registration information for potential affiliated courses, like the prep course required for trips like the CETS.

DeGrave points out that while next summer seems far off, interested students should act now in pursuing information on 2023 programs.

“Priority deadlines for some programs come up as soon as Nov. 1 this fall, and for the CETS program, the 21 students we can accommodate must apply, be accepted to the program and enroll in the prep course before the start of spring semester. Now is the time to plan these amazing experiences,” DeGrave says.

This immersion was very enlightening to me as a speech pathology major; the whole experience will impact the way I work in the future across a language barrier or with clients from different cultural backgrounds from my own. ~Samantha Ruppert, senior from Fall Creek, ’22 CETS

Program highlight: A history immersion program with a long history of its own

CETS is the longest-running of the FLIEE programs, and the one that has seen the highest number of student attendees since it began.

As DeGrave explains, the program has changed in scope and purpose, but it has stayed true to the founding mission of showing Blugolds the life and culture of these key locations in world history.

“This program was created by emeriti faculty Dr. Paulis Lazda (history) and his wife, Dr. Irene Lazda (languages),” DeGrave says. “The Lazdas were World War II refugees from Latvia, and as soon as the ‘Iron Curtain’ fell and the USSR collapsed in 1991, they helped to create a study abroad program in Riga, Latvia. The initial iteration of the CETS immersion was designed as a brief introduction to the region to prepare Blugolds for their semester in Riga.”

Dr. Teresa Sanislo, professor of history, helped to lead the trip with the Lazdas and has continued to run the program after their retirements.

After the Riga semester program was discontinued in 2004, Sanislo and DeGrave reimagined the CETS program and sought funding and additional faculty to sustain the program.

“We needed a team to make the program sustainable — we couldn’t let the program fall apart because it was no longer tied to a semester study abroad,” Sanislo says. “Jeff and I applied for annual financial support through the UW-Eau Claire differential tuition grant, and we got it.”

The “new CETS” program, as they began to call it, and associated spring semester class, began in 2010 with a four-week immersion with 12 enrolled students led by Sanislo and DeGrave. The trip takes students to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. Typical itinerary stops include Auschwitz, the Stasi prison, the Berlin Wall, the Museum of Communism in Prague, the Jewish Ghetto/Schindler factory in Krakow, art museums, history museums, medieval cities, synagogues, cemeteries, castles and more.

Each year since, the program has been built around three academic disciplines, creating an interdisciplinary program that appeals to a wide variety of majors and fields of interest.

The disciplines and faculty that have joined the program include the following:

  • Dr. Chia-Yu Hsu, associate professor of music composition.
  • Dr. James Obery, professor emeritus of history.
  • Dr. Gene Hood, professor emeritus of art history.
  • Dr. Ezra Zeitler, professor and chair of geography and anthropology.
  • Jill Olm, associate professor of art and design.
  • Dr. Karen Mumford, professor and director of public health and environmental studies.
  • Dr. James Rybicki, associate professor of physics and astronomy.

Hsu, who has been the faculty lead on the CETS four times, has enjoyed bringing music and the history of music into the CETS curriculum.

“I always enjoy sharing my passion about music to students,” Hsu says. “This region of Central Europe is especially rich in music culture. For many students, this program provides their first opportunity to listen to operas and orchestral concerts in major concert halls.”

“I’m so happy to see students become independent, navigating themselves to different places in new cities,” Hsu says. “For many students, this was the first time they were in a big metropolitan area and it could be intimidating and overwhelming, and seeing them overcome this always brings me joy.”

For the 20 students enrolled in the CETS for 2022, the added element of the war in Ukraine provided new opportunities to learn and observe, seeing the impact of war in a firsthand way.

The impact was of war in Ukraine was something we saw more and more the further east our travels went, but then in Hungary, it disappeared. It’s so interesting to see how different societies reflect the various ways governments are influencing the processing of information. ~Madalyn McCabe, senior social studies teaching major from New Berlin

“With the Ukraine situation, we have been able to teach the histories of imperialism, sovereignty and national independence, always part of this program, and tie it directly to what is happening today,” Sanislo says. “One of our former CETS students later became a Peace Corps representative working in Ukraine, married a Ukrainian woman and lives in St. Paul.”

That former CETS student is Brandon Walters, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2006, and he hopes that what students took from seeing this local-level outcome of a “war of oppression” will have lasting impact on their global thinking.

“Seeing things from a variety of perspectives throughout Central Europe hopefully changed how the CETS students see policy and government actions in other countries well into their futures,” Walters says. “I also hope it showed them there are opportunities to actively participate in supporting Ukraine right here in America. We have a lot to learn from Europeans, especially from Ukrainians themselves.”

Prior to the May departure, the 2022 CETS cohort decided to conduct some fundraising to benefit Ukrainian refugees in the region.

“There is a Ukrainian bakery in St. Paul and they baked cookies in the Ukraine colors for us to sell,” Sanislo says. “We raised several hundred dollars and donated to food relief through the Central World Kitchen, and other funds went to the Germanic-American Institute that helps support Ukrainian refugees settling in Germany. The current board chair of the GAI is a Blugold named Danika Hoffman.”

Hoffman, a 1995 human resources management graduate, says she was deeply touched by the efforts of fellow Blugolds.

“We are in regular contact with city leaders who have shared incredibly heartwarming stories of how our donations have helped refugees, nearly all mothers and their children, settle safely after their flight from Ukraine, surrounded by the support of the local German community who are helping them find work and welcoming their children into local schools,” Hoffman wrote in her thanks to the CETS program.

A Blugold grad added to the program success for ‘22

For Henning, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire amid the COVID-19 lockdown in May 2020, the CETS experience inspired her to apply for a Fulbright teaching assistantship for 2021.

“I was convinced to apply for this exciting international teaching program,” Henning says.  “After visiting the Czech Republic while on the CETS trip, it was my first choice of locations, and I got it.”

Henning recently completed a full year working as a Fulbright English teaching assistant at the high school level in a town called Roxycany near Prague. Henning keeps in touch with Sanislo, and the two made a plan to incorporate an itinerary item this year to spend a full day in Henning’s high school with the CETS students.

“Since many of the CETS group are often teachers, spending a day in a Czech school seemed like a wonderful addition to the program,” Henning says. “Along with Czech teachers, I planned a day that gave the students a whole day learning about Czech holidays, history and the basics of school life and education. Many of the CETS students, as well as my own, said it was one of their favorite days.”

Sanislo agrees that it was a wonderful program addition that she hopes to repeat.

Henning, who also spent several days in Prague with the group, was grateful for the chance to interact with Blugolds, but says she will not be back to the U.S. for a while yet.

“Apparently, I’ve truly caught the bug for international study,” Henning says. “I have been accepted into a master’s degree program in public history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland,” Henning says.

“That’s the thing with these kinds of immersion experiences — you never know where they’ll end up taking you, or who you might meet along the way. Whether it is a new friend or new path, or it all serves to reinforce decisions made long ago, the experiences are all worth it in multiple ways.”

Interested students: The CETS program will be holding two additional informational events, a table in the main floor lobby of Centennial Hall all day on Oct. 5 and an Open House session from 5-7 p.m. Oct. 12, room TBD. Contact Teresa Sanislo for the location.

Written by Denise Olson

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