WIU’s Study Abroad Program: I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane

Every year, I’d get asked, “How did you ring in the New Year?” It seems almost unreal, but this past New Year’s Eve, I was on a flight to Frankfurt, Germany…only halfway to my destination of New Delhi, India. I signed up as part of a study abroad group to stay at Navdanya Vidyapeeth, an organic farm, on the outskirts of Dehradun, India. I was scared, and I was nervous; but nonetheless, I was excited to see India. I was expanding my horizons…in every sense.

Office of Study Abroad Assistant Director Emily Gorlewski said only 2% of Western students travel abroad to study. Those who decided to study abroad, do so for many different reasons, but Gorlewski stressed that getting a fresh perspective is a big reason. “You gain a different perspective when you’re a student. To develop intercultural skills…to travel while you’re in school… It’s great exposure to another culture,” Gorlewski said. She further explained that currently, there are study abroad programs available in over fifty different countries. “A lot of students go to Western Europe and the United Kingdom…Italy, Spain…we are getting more students going to non-traditional places, like India,” she said.

The entrance towards Bija Vidyapeeth, the organic farm where we stayed

I signed on for a faculty-led study abroad anthropology and sociology course called “Stories of India;” I traveled with a group  of ten students and two professors. The traveling was arduous, and it took us all a few days to recover. After all, we had to adjust to an eleven-and-a-half hour time difference from Central Standard Time which created an incredible amount of jet lag. Once we landed in India, we had been on a plane for nearly eighteen hours total…and it was not even close to being over. When we landed, we stayed in New Delhi’s YMCA for breakfast (tea and bread), and then off we were again to ride the train to Dehradun. After a six hour train ride, we finally we arrived at our destination: Navdanya Vidyapeeth.

Culture shock was a topic that was covered in our pre-departure meeting. Gorlewski said that people experience culture shock in different ways. “I see students experience it all the time,” she began. “We have many students who get to their destination and feel shocked. It can be overwhelming, but it passes. When you go over, it’s new and different and romantic…exciting…then you come back [to America] and you’ve changed… How do you deal with that?” Gorlewski said.

At the beginning of the trip, I admit I was nervous. Here I was, a twenty-two year old American, riding a shaky bus to Navdanya Vidyapeeth without my family, friends, or the Internet. Hundreds upon hundreds of people were scattered in the markets and children were playing in the streets or playing cricket behind fences. I was in awe; this place…India, it held so many people. I was seeing a place that is completely different from the life I know in America. I thought, by the time I would return home, I knew I’d be different…and I was. All I could do was take it all in at that moment.

Over the next few days, the group and I adjusted to eating all-organic vegetarian meals. The organic part was easy. We all were afraid of eating a lot of curry-based food because we thought we’d get sick, but eating all organic food made us feel healthier than the food we eat in America. Rice, potatoes, and chapati (Indian flatbread) were the dominant foods in every meal. On top of eating the healthiest foods in my life, we participated in yoga sessions from a yogi every morning. A yogi is a spiritual practitioner of yoga and meditation. It was spiritual and enlightening. Drinking organic chai tea from real leaves, (which is actually hard to come by in the States because it’s powdered here) and doing yoga every morning was a real treat.

My group and I in front of the Lotus Temple in New Delhi, India

As the next few days passed, we visited Rishikesh (a town the Beatles visited in the 1960’s), Haridwar, Paonta Sahib, Dehradun, New Delhi, and the Ganges River. We saw so many temple and shrines all over India. We met many people who were elated to educate us. I learned so many things from my study abroad experience… and I could not have had this experience anywhere else.

My trip from India changed my perspective towards many things in America. I appreciate the hot water, the quick transportation, the internet, phones, heat, and clean water. These things can be hard to come by in India, and I have all these things within my grasp. My perspective towards businesses, politics, and school all seemed to morph. I am more enlightened because of my trip and I would only hope I get to travel again someday soon.

Gorlewski said WIU alumni who have studied abroad are always welcome to drop by the Office of Study Abroad. If you’d like to share your past study abroad experience with WIU, contact Gorlewski at EJ-Gorlewski@wiu.edu.

Do you have any Study Abroad stories that you’d like to share? If so, please post a comment below.

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Gobble, Gobble: WIU Celebrates Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Break officially begins on Monday; students and faculty alike can take a breather from the semester. Although, after stuffing our faces on Thanksgiving Day, we may need those few extra days to recover!

Michael Auz, a senior majoring in music, is greatly looking forward to going home for Thanksgiving Break. Like thousands of other students who live in the residence halls, Auz is preparing his Corbin Hall room for cleanup and move-out. Students are required to make sure their room is clean, the blinds are closed, and all their necessary belongings are put together. Auz said cleaning up is his main priority. “I like to clean up so I come back to a nice, clean dorm room…and that’s what you should do anyway. They told me, ‘Get everything off the floor!’, so I’m cleaning and taking everything off the floor,” he laughed.

Mark Schneider, a computer science major, said he’s doing a lot of cleaning in his apartment before heading home for the holidays. He said, “[It’s] amazing how many Coke cans have piled up around my desk over the last few busy weeks. I definitely [need] to tackle the fridge…nothing frightening in there yet,” Schneider said.

During this Thanksgiving Break, Auz explained what next week has in store for him. “I have three projects I need to do…and then I will do a lot of relaxing. I plan on sleeping a lot and I will decorate for Christmas. I need to do it before it gets too cold!”

Schneider explained the break will be a week of food, friends, and family. “We have a pretty traditional Thanksgiving Day; everyone comes over. We make food all afternoon… massive dinner in the early evening…and games and talking as the night goes on. It gets bigger every year,” he explained. “It’ll be nice to eat some food and catch my breath a bit.”

Auz explained that he is looking forward to eating on Thanksgiving. When asked what his favorite dish was, he said he is “particular to mashed potatoes and gravy. A close second is the turkey, which everybody loves. It’ll just be my parents and myself; we’ll get ready for Christmas and have a nice dinner,” Auz said.

As for your blogger, I have some intense papers to write before I head home. Preferably, I’d rather get that done now, while still in Macomb; I will want to enjoy the last two weeks before I graduate from WIU! Once I get home, I’ll go into hibernation. Sleeping is one of my favorite hobbies, after all.

I’ll spend a few days with my parents and the rest of my family before I leave to celebrate Thanksgiving with my significant others’ family. It’s the first time spending Thanksgiving without my family. I will miss them, but I know I’ll have fun.

Before long, WIU students and staff will all return to Western for the last gung-ho of the semester. In the meantime, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation: WIU’s Resident Assistants

Most WIU alumni and students have something in common: we’ve both lived in a residence hall and had a Resident Assistant (RA) head our floor. After today, another group of WIU students will be chosen to lead residence halls for next semester, leading a new group of students.

University Housing Complex Director Megan Thurston explained what an RA needs in order to be successful. Among the various traits an individual should have, Thurston said sincerity and comfortability in one’s skin makes an RA successful. “I think an RA needs to be themselves,” she began, “There isn’t one specific thing that makes a good RA; we hire a very diverse group of students to represent the student body. We’re just looking for people to be themselves and have the ability to [communicate] and relate to people on campus,” Thurston said.

For the past few weeks, 65 students have applied to be RAs for next semester. Once Thanksgiving Break is over and students return to WIU on November 26, RA interviews will begin. Soon after, the Fall 2013 RA application process begins. “We bring in about 200 applicants,” Thurston explained, “We employ 132 RAs; and that’s a combination of returning RAs and new staff. It all depends on the number of returning staff that is invited back,” she said.

Once the Resident Assistant positions are filled, they are assigned to a residence hall floor with approximately 40 resident students. RAs undergo training during January and August. Thurston said, “Training for RAs is during the summer for about a week and a half for about eight hours; but training really is continuous throughout the year,” she said. The university has great expectations of them; that’s why they undergo training throughout the year. Thurston explained that RAs are required to follow six core components. “They are to serve as a university representative, community facilitator, programmer, referral agent, team, member, and administrator,” she said. “Within those components, it breaks down more specifically in what it requires them to do: facilitate paperwork, be available on the floor, encourage students to get involved, as well as insuring the health and safety of residents at all times,” Thurston said.

Thurston explained that during staff meetings, they have a workshop covering whatever they feel is a campus-wide issue. This year she said her main focus has been on safety. “I brought in the Office of Public Safety (OPS), and we did different things concerning alcohol and drug education as well as personal safety,” she began. “Our specific teams’ officer here in [Tanner] trained them about things they can talk on their floor about…especially with [the] escort service here on campus and what OPS can offer their residence,” Thurston said.

Thurston said she was an RA herself at one time, and it was a significant part of shaping who she is today. “I was an RA for two years,” she said. “I loved being an RA. I became more confident as an individual. I became a better facilitator…comfortable speaking in front of large groups; and it honed in on my creativity,” she said.

Being an RA is a tough job, but it provides a lot in return. “The RAs are given a room and board stipend, so their housing and meal plan are covered for their position. We take our staff on retreats in the fall to reconnect and to spend time with one another,” Thurston said.

Resident Assistants are a large part of what makes WIU students successful, and they assist students in their transition to living on their own. Thank you to Western’s Resident Assistants for all you do!

How about you? Were you ever a Resident Assistant at WIU?

WIU Celebrates National Philanthropy Week

You have probably received a letter or phone call from WIU, asking for support. WIU alumni are very generous to their alma mater….and now students are getting involved in that action…the act of giving. This week is National Philanthropy Week. And for the first time, WIU is observing National Philanthropy Week as students celebrate alumni who have been supportive of Western.

The Director of Annual Giving Tim Hallinan said WIU not only wants to promote philanthropy but the university also wants to celebrate those who have donated to the University. “The alumni give back to the school every single year…scholarships and academic programs…other things that tuition doesn’t cover for students,” Hallinan said.

Alumni giving helps cover many expenses for students. What some people don’t realize is that tuition only covers about half of the educational expenses for the semester. “That is why gifts are so important; they fill in where state dollars fall short. [These donations] are what keeps [WIU] affordable. No matter where we go, tuition is high; but Western makes the better value. We want to promote students in that way,” Hallinan said. Therefore, National Philanthropy Week is organized so students can thank donors for their gifts and contributions towards Western.

Also this week, students can learn about the importance of giving back to WIU now…which they’ll hopefully continue after they graduate. Students were able to stop by the University Union today to visit with members of the Foundation Staff. They answered questions about the Annual Fund and the importance of giving back to Western. “We want to be a vehicle for students to participate in the Annual Fund if they want to. Students can give to any area in the university, just like alumni,” Hallinan explained.

Also in the Union, students learned about departmental featured philanthropy students. The individual students who are chosen to be featured philanthropy students are promoted in the departmental direct mail campaigns. He explained that “we felt it was important that when we mail donors and all alumni, that they meet someone who has been impacted by their giving,” Hallinan began. “It’s been very successful, and we’re getting a lot of good feedback from alumni. They said it’s nice to see where their money is going. The students are honored,” he said. Today, students were able to cast their votes for the spring departmental featured philanthropy students.

Some people don’t realize the importance of National Philanthropy Week, and that’s why Hallinan and the Foundation and Development Staff are hoping to highlight the significance of giving back to Western all this week. “Information will be sent out to students,” Hallinan began, “Students can text-to-give, and they can also do it online. Text-to-give is the most convenient way to give. Students want more of an immediate way to make an impact. We’ve never really done that before,” he said. Text-to-give is a simple way for students to donate. You text a number such as GOWESTERN, PURPLE, ROCKY, or WIU, with the following code number, 41010, and you send $10 to Western…it’s as easy as that.

Hallinan said that asking students to donate is more about participation than the amount raised. “Asking for $5 is quite a bit from a student. If twelve-thousand students donate just a dollar, or even $5, it makes a huge impact. They can donate at a level that’s comfortable for them,” he said.

National Philanthropy Week is happening all over the country, but right now is a good time for WIU alumni and students to give back to the university. “Philanthropy is voluntary, but a cool thing is that this is really student-driven. The students are the ones who are making this happen…and they are doing very well,” Hallinan said.

The marquee outside Macomb’s University Union scrolls the total donations towards scholarships every day! You can stop at any time to see how much has been donated to WIU. If you want to read more about National Philanthropy Week, visit http://www.wiu.edu/news/newsrelease.php?release_id=10262. If you are interested in giving or want to find out more information about giving, visit http://www.wiu.edu/giving.

Giving Our Thanks: WIU Honors Service Members and Veterans

Veterans Day is on Sunday, and WIU has been honoring service members and veterans all week. From handing out yellow ribbons at the University Union to hosting community luncheons, WIU has been showing its appreciation to all members of the military, both past and present.

Kathy Meyers, assistant director of the Veterans Resource Center, explained that instead of having the usual one-to-two day celebration, WIU has made it a week. “The sacrifices of our service members and our veterans get little in comparison to what appreciation they deserve,” Meyers said. “I hear stories, and I work every day with veterans…it certainly is a way to influence awareness. It’s a way for us to express our appreciation.”

Today at 11 a.m., WIU officially observed Veterans Day at Sherman Hall, where a tribute ceremony was given to honor veterans and service members. Several speakers were present including WIU President Jack Thomas, WIU Veterans Club President and Illinois Army National Guard member Carlos Ortiz, Vice President for Student Services Gary Biller, and others. Meyers said, “The awareness is very important. It’s just giving a little bit back to know more about the sacrifices they make. It’s also a great time to honor the fallen…their ultimate sacrifices they paid to defend our country,” she said.

Tomorrow, Saturday, November 10, there will be the inaugural Fallen Soldiers 5K Run/Walk. Meyers explained, “The 5K is phenomenal. The Veterans Resource Center, Employee Wellness, Alumni House, Campus Recreation, Veterans Club, and many other groups, departments, and organizations on campus are sponsoring [or helping with] our first Fallen Soldiers 5K run/walk.” Registration begins at 6:30 a.m. at the east terrace of the Spencer Student Recreation Center.

Meyers said that the run is in honor of WIU alumni Capt. Derek Dobogai and Lt. Col. Robert Baldwin who were killed in the line of duty. After registration, at 7:30 a.m., Meyers said a tribute will be given for all soldiers who have been killed at war. “We plan to present three wreathes in memory of the two soldiers,” she said. “The third will be presented for all fallen soldiers.” By 8 a.m., the run will begin.

Following the run, the WIU Leathernecks will be showing their appreciation. The WIU Leatherneck Veterans Appreciation football game begins at 1 p.m.  Meyers said the football team will be wearing special uniforms in honor of service members and veterans; the players will debut their new camouflage jerseys at tomorrow’s game.

In the community Saturday , the Elks Lodge will host a social for service members and veterans from 4-8 p.m. The Macomb Elks Lodge is located at 401 Deer Road, Macomb, IL. On Sunday, the Macomb VFW will have their own Veterans Day Ceremony and will be serving soup and sandwiches at 10:30 a.m.

All weekend at the University Union Bookstore, there will be a 20% discount for veterans or service members who show their military ID. They are invited to come by and get any Leatherneck gear at a great price.

As you can read, WIU is hosting a wonderful weekend with lots of fun events in honor of veterans. Everyone at the university thanks all our service members and veterans! If you see a veteran or service member this weekend, they are owed a thank you for their service to our country. For more information about this weekend’s events, visit http://www.wiu.edu/news/newsrelease.php?release_id=10243. If you want more information about WIU’s Veterans Resource Center, visit http://www.wiu.edu/student_services/veterans/.

Pleased to meet you, Mr. President: Election Day at WIU

After many months of campaigning, President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney vie to be President and lead the USA for the next four years. The American people have been following their trails for the past several months, and it all boils down to tonight. WIU’s student body has been following the campaign trail and we are anxiously awaiting the final decision.

WIU students have used different methods to cast their vote, including voting at WIU’s University Union. This is the second Presidential Election James Feliksik has voted in. As a WIU student, Feliksik plans on voting today at WIU’s University Union. He explained that it’s convenient, and he’s glad he gets to exercise his right to vote. “Let’s do this,” he strongly said. “Let’s get it done. We’ve been going through hard times. Let’s do this.”

The senior English major said that since this is his second time voting, he’s noticing a lot more about the candidates. “The arguing…it’s intense. The battleground between the two is very strong,” he said.

Feliksik said he primarily gets his news from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “I try to read the news online too,” Feliksik added. “Although… I’ve been feeling ready for this election season to be over…for like a month. I’m trying to look at what’s better for people,” he said.

Thomas Boyd, vice president of Sigma Tau Delta, explained that he votes because it is his right as an American. “I always thought I’d be the type of person to not vote, but then I realized the gravity of it,” he explained “I thought no matter which way I voted, it wasn’t going to make a difference- I tend to fall on the opposite side of the fence.”

Boyd explained he makes his decision by judging the genuineness of the candidate. He said, “I think, therefore I am. If you’re going to think about it… then you should do it. I mean, I don’t do a lot of research, but I look at what the candidate believes,” Boyd began. “I look at their integrity. I look at what they said they would do and see if they’ve done it. I judge by character; I try to look through the smog.”

Boyd, who is voting for the first time, said he is excited by the process. “I can’t wait to see whether I get to tap a button [on a screen to vote] or to punch a hole in my ballot,” he laughed. “I’ve always wondered what happens.”

Kevin Clymer, a music major, said he has already voted. He explained it was very easy and convenient for him. “I voted two or three weeks ago…I voted absentee. I did it all online,” he began. “I went on the Illinois website and filled out all the information and had my ballot sent to me…then I sent it back. I just didn’t want to wait in line on voting day,” Clymer laughed.

Being that it is Clymer’s second time voting, he said he’s realized a few more things about the voting process. “One of the things to realize is that there are more people out there than just the main two candidates. The government plays more of a part than what people think,” he said.

When it comes to why he votes, Clymer said the reason is simple. “I guess mainly I feel it’s my right. It’s simple, but it’s my main reason. Other people might think [voting] is not important, but it’s your right to do it,” he said.

This was my second time voting and I took advantage of voting absentee a few weeks ago. Since I first voted in the presidential election in 2008, I have found many different ways of obtaining my information. Making an informed vote is very important to me; with that, I have researched the candidates and their policies for several months. To see how the 2012 presidential election will play out is very exciting; and I am very eager to watch the results trickle on the TV as I tune in tonight.

WIU’s Own Paperback Writers

WIU’s University Writing Center has served students for more than twenty years. Since the mid-1980’s when the Writing Center opened, it has changed immensely…especially over the past year.

The University Writing Center offers one-on-one consultation for all Western students, both undergraduate and graduate; the Writing Center is available to anyone, including WIU alumni. Neil Baird, the Director of the University Writing Center explained that many types of students visit the Writing Center. Most of those students who frequent the Writing Center are enrolled in required first year composition courses like English 100 and 180. “About 59% of students [are in] English 100, 180, and 280; but we also serve a number of students in English as well,” Baird said. “We serve a number of students….all the way down from entry level to graduate level courses as well as many ESL (English as a Second Language) students,” he said.

I was a bit surprised to find out the types of students who seek out help the most from the Writing Center. Students from the Marketing and Management Department visit the Writing Center most frequently, followed by sociology and anthropology majors and then psychology majors, said Baird. The Writing Center student tutors each have their own area of specialty- making them more adept to help a wider range of students. Baird said, “We have folks that specialize in psychology, history, computer science, theatre, natural sciences, instructional design and technology, journalism, communications, and quite a few that specialize in career writing.”

During a Writing Center session, the student tutors focus on the writing assignment and understanding its rhetoric, as well as tutoring equally. “What’s offered by those one-on-one consultations is being able to learn how to read and decode a writing assignment,” Baird began. “Through tutoring equally, we hope to help students develop skills…not just for the paper they’re writing now, but other papers in the semester. We want them to feel comfortable about writing.”

Baird has served as the director since 2008; and since then, he’s accomplished most of the large changes he wanted to accomplish with the Writing Center. “The big [change] was trying to signal faculty and students on this campus that the English department does not own the Writing Center; it’s a space available to all writers, no matter what their background is,” he said. “The main difference I’ve made is making the Writing Center the center of writing…by centralizing the Writing Center and moving it to Malpass. Moving it out of Simpkins Hall and centering it in Malpass has helped a lot,” he explained.

With the Writing Center in Malpass Library, its services are more accessible for students. In Baird’s first year as director in 2008, only 2,800 students came in for help. “Last year (2011-2012), we recorded 3,751 sessions. We’ve gained almost a thousand more students since I’ve become the director,” said Baird. Although the number of sessions are increasing, Baird continues his work to make the Writing Center very accessible. “I want to be able to [schedule] online. It may be able to give us the opportunity to give online tutorials,” he said.

Baird continues to think about the future, and said if Writing Center services were accessible online, then distance learners and alumni would be able to take advantage of the free services. “Alumni who no longer live at WIU but still want collaboration on writing at the Writing Center would be able to do this. Our distance learners can utilize this,” Baird explained.

As for alumni, Baird said they can greatly help the Writing Center. “We have a number of undergrad and graduate students that present at Undergraduate Research Day or present at conferences,” he said. “Alumni, or Writing Center alumni, can help donate money to our foundation account and help take care of the Writing Center fee, phone costs, or plane tickets to present the original research we do in conferences. It’s called the Writing Center Foundation Account,” he stressed.

If you’d like to read more about WIU’s Writing Center, visit http://www.wiu.edu/university_writing_center/.