Skip Navigation

Reader Feature: Study Abroad Experiences

Wheels up! Alumni share memories from their study abroad opportunities.

Study abroad information booth

Photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison is, of course, the best place to go to school. But we understand that sometimes it’s nice to escape the hot and humid summers and frigid winters of Wisconsin’s climate. More importantly, study abroad opportunities give students a chance to experience different cultures, languages, and people. Maybe you picked your program by spinning a globe with the simple goal of expanding your horizons. Others may have planned their study abroad experience to fulfill needed credits or pursue unique research opportunities. Whatever the reason, everyone comes back with a story to tell. Share yours with us!

I took part in a study abroad program while a student at UW, a 1955 grad. I attended the University of Oslo in Norway in the summer of 1954. There was no official study abroad office at that time. However, I lived at Elizabeth Waters dorm and walked through the lower level of Bascom Hall on my way to classes. On the bulletin board there, I saw information about the Oslo International Summer School. I had thought about traveling abroad and was interested because of my Norwegian heritage. I followed through and attended the 6-week session, receiving credits for the classes I took. I joined the student group in New York and sailed over and back on Norwegian ships, the Stavangerfjord over and the Oslofjord back. On the trip over, as a group we learned the Norwegian national anthem, as well as introductory language phrases to prepare us for our summer in Norway.

Of course, the experience left a deep impression on my life and remains vivid in my memory to this day. I continue to encourage young people to take advantage of every opportunity to study abroad, even in these uncertain times.

Jolene Johnson Hansen ’55

Menomonee Falls, WI

The summer of 1964 I was an AIESEC exchange student with the University of Basel and interned at F. Hoffmann-La Roche & Co. Having never flown on a plane and never been out of the USA, it was an extremely enlightening and life-changing experience to live and work in Switzerland. As an aside, I spent the majority of my professional career working for Nestle, a Swiss company.

Al Stefl, BBA’65

Malibu, CA

I did the Institute for English-speaking students in Stockholm, Sweden in 1965–66. It was a wonderful opportunity, and I loved it.

Janet Nordstrom ’68

Le Sueur, MN

I studied in Freiburg, Germany, in ’69–’70. It was a life-altering experience that I will never forget.

Donna Wagner Backus ’71

Eau Claire, WI

In 1978, I attended the University of Melbourne Law School, Melbourne, Australia, under a Rotary Foundation Fellowship. Rotary took care of all expenses. What an experience that shaped both my professional and personal life. Thank you, Rotary!!

Cameron Cook ’76, JD’79

Bozeman, MT

In 1978, did an accounting internship at a student international travel company headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark, providing analysis to consolidate the company’s international financial statements. The company provided travel discounts and passes including the Eurail pass. Following completion of the project, the company provided me with a free student travel package to, at the time Leningrad, now St. Petersburg and to Moscow. I met a Hermitage curator who charged me with transporting art out of the USSR to send to their Jewish creators in the US, one of which I acceptably retained and still have. It was an amazing, beneficial and fun experience.

Daniel B. Langer ’78


My name is Tom Innis, proud UW–Madison alum and 1986 graduate of our great state university. In pursuit of my bachelor’s degree in Spanish, in the spring of 1985, I applied for and was accepted to study abroad at La Universidad Ibero-Americana (UIA) in Mexico City. All courses were intensive and taught in Spanish by UIA professors; further, I lived with a Mexican family near the university, whom, in addition to providing shelter and sustenance, and because they spoke very little English, provided the impetus to communicate in Spanish 24/7 throughout my two-month stay there.

In addition to establishing fluency in spoken and written Spanish, the study abroad program exposed me to Latin American culture, which literally and figuratively opened my eyes to world, and through which I developed the language skills, self-confidence, and inclusive mindset that have propelled me forth in both my personal and professional life.

I can say without hesitation that studying abroad in Mexico City was the single most formative experience in my life, and I’m grateful to the University of Wisconsin–Madison and La Universidad Ibero-Americana for providing this positively life-changing opportunity to learn and to grow.


Tom Innis ’86


I didn’t do the classical study abroad route through the university, but in the summer of 1992, I studied Basque in San Sebastian, Spain through the University of Nevada at Reno. I lived with a Basque family and had fascinating experiences like hanging out in my teacher’s second apartment that she had for “friends the police are hassling.” I was twenty and too naïve to realize she probably meant they were separatists who were wanted for quasi-terroristic acts. The Basques have some fantastic parties! All summer long there is one huge fiesta that travels from town to town, so every weekend it’s in a different mountain village. When the party was about to move on to the next village, a guy would run out with a metal bull on his head that shot sparklers out of its horns. He would run through the crowd, and we would all run away from him, laughing, while the band played an oompah-sounding song that I thought of as the “toro de fuego” song. 

In the summer of 1993, I took a class on Byzantine art history with the incomparable John W. Barker. We started in Istanbul and went all over Greece and Italy. At the time, I just wanted to visit those places and had no interest in Byzantine art, but ever since then, I am totally addicted to icons. Some highlights of that trip were the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the monasteries built on top of high rock formations in Meteora, Greece, and the stunning mosaics in Ravenna, Italy. The retsina wine in Greece seemed a little weird at first (it tasted like the rosin for my violin bow), but I developed a real taste for it by the end of our time in Greece, and the coffee, pizza, and gelato in Italy were so delicious! I especially loved the cute little Greek Orthodox churches in cities like Thessaloniki, that date to the earliest days of Christianity, and visiting the Vatican was amazing.

Rebecca Forbes Wank ’94


Featured News and Stories

This recipe was taken from Seasoning Secrets and Favorite Recipes of Carson Gulley.