Study Abroad Office hosts informational panel with study abroad alumni


Joseph Eichele

Four students partook in a panel on Nov. 17 to answer questions about their time studying abroad from Winona State. Pictured from left to right are: Sara Yager Allison Kleman, Annika Schultz, and Renae Ingalls.

Gabriel Hathaway, Editor-In-Chief

Study Abroad sends students around the world every year for opportunities of intercultural experience, enrichment and learning. On Thursday Nov. 17, a panel of study abroad alumni students talked about their experiences. These students studied in vastly different places like Costa Rica, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany and Rome, but they all agreed that their experiences were life changing.

Although COVID-19 shut down study abroad opportunities for over two years, the program has been working on returning to pre-pandemic conditions. Earlier this semester, there was the Study Abroad Fair on Sept. 8 that provided students with information on study away opportunities. Two of Thursday’s panelists, Allison Kleman and Annika Schultz, were of the first group of students to be able to travel through Winona State University after COVID, having gone to Costa Rica in the summer of 2022. 

Susan Niedzwiecki-Pham, Director of Study Abroad, commented that while there was a travel ban, recruitment, student applications and advising never stopped. 

“With every application deadline for every term that students were looking to go abroad, we were recruiting, students were completing applications, we were advising because we didn’t know, maybe [the travel ban] would be lifted that term,” Niedzwiecki-Pham said. 

One of the topics of discussion at the study abroad alumni event was how the panelists’ experiences affected them and how they grew from studying abroad. Renae Ingalls, fifth-year elementary education with an early childhood emphasis major, studied abroad in Ireland in Fall 2019. Ingalls talked about how studying abroad helped her get out of her comfort zone and become more confident. 

“I’m very much an introvert. I don’t like doing things that I’m not used to, but I was like, ‘I just need to do it,’ and I threw myself out of the comfort box. And ever since then, I have definitely been able to do it more and more as I continue to get older,” Ingalls said.

Ingall plans to travel abroad again in Spring 2023 through Educators Abroad to complete her student teaching hours in Berlin, Germany and Ireland.  

“I am so excited honestly, I hope that [Study Abroad] continues to get way more popular again,” Ingalls said.    

Winona State offers a variety of study abroad options that range in duration and location. These programs can be split into two main categories. First, faculty-led programs which tend to be shorter (2 to 3 weeks) and also earn fewer credits (3 to 6). Faculty-led programs also often occur over an academic break (winter, spring or summer break). The second category, semester/summer programs, are much longer and run the entire length of a semester, summer or academic year. These programs also offer more credits, but both give students opportunities to learn about another culture, language, their own culture and experience personal growth.

Susan Niedzwiecki-Pham, Director of Study Abroad. Niedzwiecki-Pham commented that many scholarships can be used to help cover the costs of study abroad – which sometimes cost even less than a semester at Winona State. (Joseph Eichele)

“Only about 10 percent of undergraduates participate in a study abroad during their college career.  This sets you apart from others with a same degree or work experience,” Niedzwiecki-Pham said.  

A common concern when thinking about studying abroad is the aspect of financing such a trip. It may come as a surprise, but some programs cost less than a semester at Winona State, and, of course, some programs cost more. When considering study abroad, Niedzwiecki-Pham commented that advising is an important part to personalize a trip to one’s needs. Further, financial aid and scholarships can be used to help cover the costs of study abroad.    

Annika Schultz, fourth-year student majoring in legal studies and Spanish, studied abroad in Costa Rica in Summer 2022 to fulfill her cultural immersion goal that is part of the Spanish major program. Schultz commented on how she grew a lot through study abroad, gaining new skills and learning about Costa Rica’s culture. Schultz also gave some advice to anyone planning on studying abroad.

“They should go in with an open mind and ability to be flexible,” Schultz said. “While you probably have some kind of program, itinerary, or guide, or might have some ideas of how a place might be, you will be surprised by something there and it is really important to be open-minded and accepting of everyone there. And then to be able to be flexible…in everything you encounter there because you can’t really anticipate everything you’re going to see.”

All the panelists at the study abroad alumni event agreed that any students thinking about study abroad should pursue it. The Study Abroad Office is in Maxwell Hall room 105. There are also opportunities for peer advising through appointment.

“If you even have any sort of interest, you should just go for it, don’t even hold back,” Ingalls said. “Going through college and studying somewhere other than your university, you can’t create that experience anywhere else. This is the time to do that.”