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UK Education Abroad Peer Ambassadors Help Students "see blue." Abroad

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

After returning from an education abroad program, many students want to prolong their international experiences and stay connected to the country they temporarily called home.  Many also want to help their peers attain similar education abroad experiences. UK students are able to do this through the Education Abroad Peer Ambassador (EAPA) Program.

The EAPA Program is a credit-bearing internship open to UK students from all academic backgrounds who have recently returned from an education abroad program. These students are given the chance to stay engaged by helping other UK students navigate through the education abroad process.  In addition, the EAPA program also helps these ambassadors improve their public speaking abilities through classroom presentations, and strengthen interpersonal skills through one-on-one meetings with interested students.

“By far, our peer ambassadors are the most valuable resources we have here at Education Abroad,” Seth Riker, EA promotion and outreach coordinator, said. “Not only does each ambassador’s experience abroad help to expand the international competency of our office, but each one’s domestic background has become an integral part of their communication efforts with other UK students.”

After studying abroad, many students jump at the opportunity to take part in the EAPA Program, which was created in 2008. It has been largely successful as more than 60 students have participated in the program since its beginning.

While in a UK 101 class, Cassie Chaney was inspired to study abroad after a visit from a peer ambassador. 

“As an art history and French major I always wanted to study in France, so I decided to seek the help of a peer ambassador,” Chaney said. “Before going abroad I was shy, and I knew it would be a sink-or-swim experience. However, I used it as an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone by diving in and soaking up all that I could while I studied in Caen, France.”

Chaney was also able to travel to seven different countries while studying abroad during the Fall 2012 semester, providing her with a diverse European experience.

“Now that I am back at UK I am currently taking advantage of the EAPA internship opportunity, which so far has has been really great,” Chaney said. “It has helped me to feel a continued connection to Caen.  It has also provided me with a way to share my stories with my peers and help other students interested in studying abroad navigate their way through what can be an overwhelming process.”

Shelby Williams, a junior pursuing a degree in international studies, recently returned to UK after studying abroad during the Fall 2012 semester. Before deciding where to study, she knew she wanted to go to a nontraditional destination. Scholarships were also an important factor in determining where she would study; she was awarded the Gillman Scholarship and an Education Abroad Scholarship from UK. After receiving a scholarship from the International Studies Abroad program, Williams was set to study in Chile.

“The most important part of my experience abroad was being fully immersed in the country’s rich culture, and realizing how much emphasis the people of Chile place on relationships, which I found changed my perspective on life and my career goals,” Williams said.

Williams also described her time abroad and as a foreigner as one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences she has ever had.

“During my time in Chile I learned the value of relationships; I knew becoming an EAPA would give me an opportunity to form new relationships, share my experience with others and help my fellow students all at the same time,” Williams said. “Wanting to study abroad can be frightening and the process can be a challenge, but EAPAs offer support and guidance to students.  I think this program has been a successful and effective tool used by Education Abroad at UK.”

Nick Wideman, a junior double majoring in Spanish and mechanical engineering, studied abroad in Seville, Spain, from May to June in 2012. In planning his trip he was assisted by an EAPA; now he is repaying the service, as he is currently a peer ambassador. Now back at UK, he understands what it is like to be a “foreigner” and is eager to help students as an EAPA.

“Studying abroad is an invaluable experience; you will grow and change as a person for the better,” Wideman said. “I would love to be able to study abroad again, and I leap at the chance to help students interested in education abroad programs find their perfect fit. Anyone can study abroad – come in and talk to us.”

Riker feels there is nothing more exciting than to hear some of the peer ambassadors tell other students how they “broke the mold” by studying abroad as a bioengineering student, a transfer student or a first generation college student.

“Our peer ambassadors completely run the gamut of students here at UK; and collectively, their stories prove that there’s no reason to miss out on the international opportunities here at University of Kentucky,” Riker said. “Whatever hurdle a student must overcome to participate in an EA program, one of our peer ambassadors can relate and is there to help.” 

To learn more about the EAPA Program and Education Abroad opportunities, attend a First Steps Information Session and visit the Resource Center in 315 Bradley Hall.