Educational Exchange: Faculty Swap Lives for a Year of Scholarly Studies Abroad

Here in the Midwest U.S., it’s that time of year when people are taking advantage of the more leisurely summertime months. Area Midwesterners are happily planning and taking vacations, as well as enjoying the bounty of nature western Illinois offers for inhabitants and visitors, alike. One thing about time spent away from home–whether it’s a weekend a short distance from your house or a yearlong stint in a different country–it’s hard to argue with the fact a change of scenery can have a rejuvenating effect. Still, there’s nothing quite like that feeling of coming home.

Horstmann Family of Denmark

Horstmann Family of Denmark

For the Horstmann Family of Denmark and the Hancks Family of the United States, both are likely experiencing what can be a mixed bag of emotions that comes when you leave a special place–yet you are glad to be on your way home. The two families are about settle back into their home lives, in their home countries and, hopefully, reap the benefits of their living abroad experiences over the last year.

A “Scholar Swap”
Through WIU’s Center for International Studies and University Libraries, Jens has been a visiting scholar at Western since the summer of 2015. Through a unique “scholar swap” idea, Jens was able to “swap lives” with WIU Archivist and Professor at University Libraries Dr. Jeff Hancks. The exchange enabled Jens and his family to live in Macomb, and for Jeff and his family (with his wife, Meredith, who works in WIU’s Foundation and Development Office, and twin sons Anders and Torben and their little sister, Svea) to live in R?dding, Denmark for approximately one year.

Hancks Family of the U.S.

Hancks Family of the U.S.

On Saturday July 16, Jeff will share his experiences in Scandinavian culture in “A Taste of the Archives.” The event is set to start at 5:30 p.m. in the University Libraries’ Archives (located on the sixth floor of the Leslie F. Malpass Library), and the evening will feature a presentation by Jeff, who will talk about his sabbatical experiences at Denmark’s oldest folk high school, R?dding H?jskole. In addition, attendees will be able to enjoy a five-course Scandinavian meal (see www.wiu.edu/libraries/news/2010s/2016/tasteofarchives.php for the menu and how to register).

The Horstmanns, too, will share their living-abroad experiences with their fellow Danes when they return there; but before they left Macomb, they shared some of what they learned while living here.

Q. Tell me about your family and how you became a visiting scholar at WIU.

A. We are Signe and Jens Horstmann from Denmark, and we have been living in Macomb for the past year with our two daughters, Kamille, 7, and Selma, 5. I have been a visiting scholar with Western Illinois University, and Signe has been working part time for her company back home–she is an attorney–and has also been a stay-at-home mom over here.

Selma, 5 (in WIU headband), her mother, Signe, and her sister, Kamille (7), enjoy a Leatherneck Football Game at Western.

Selma, 5 (right, in WIU headband), her mother, Signe, and her sister, Kamille (7), enjoy a Leatherneck Football game at Western during Fall 2015.

We came to Macomb pretty much out of coincidence. Two years ago, Jeff Hancks, a professor at Western Illinois University Libraries, wrote a letter to my school in Denmark, asking if we would be interested in having him teach and conduct research for a year since he had a sabbatical coming up and wanted to explore our form of school (a Danish Folk School). He would need a place to stay with his family, too.

My school jumped at the idea right away, and a few days later, I sent Jeff an email basically asking: “Ok, so this may be crazy, but what do you say we swap lives for a year?” My wife and I had always been talking about staying abroad for a period of time, and I, too, had the possibility to apply for a sabbatical–and here was the opportunity to solve a lot of practical questions. Jeff was in on the idea, so was WIU, and 200 emails later, here we are.

Q.What has your family been doing since you arrived in Macomb?

A. Signe has been doing a few hours of work every day online for her company back home, and has been a mom a lot too. Our girls are in [first] grade and Pre-K, but we both wanted to have a lot more time together as a family during the sabbatical. I have been a visiting scholar with a work station at the Archives in University Libraries. My field is political science, so I have been guest lecturing different classes. I have been doing research on how the American college tradition with students living on campus, getting involved in sports, etc., affects the academic output… in other words: Do you get better students if you get the students engaged in activities outside class as you do here in the U.S.–compared to the European tradition of universities being strictly a place for academia? I am writing a report on the subject for an organization back home.

Jens Horstmann at Western Illinois University, Fall 2015

Jens Horstmann at Western Illinois University, Fall 2015

I also have spent a lot of time being a dad, exploring the U.S., meeting interesting people and generally living life!

Q. What have you learned about the United States and the rural Midwest after living here for the last year? Was living here different than you expected it to be? Why or why not?

A. This is not our first time in the U.S., and back home, I even teach a class called “Understanding America,” so we didn’t come unprepared. But being able to actually live here and be part of a community (not just visiting) has taught us something about the American sense of participation and contribution. We realize it might be different in big cities, but we have come to appreciate very much how much you all seem to want to contribute to your communities. You are very involved, spend time and money on a lot of organizations, churches, etc.–it seems as if many Americans have a better understanding of having society resting on your shoulders, rather than the other way around, than most Danes. So this is definitely a generous society.

It is, however, also a somewhat irrational society compared to our country; as a society, it seems, you guys tend to make rules based more on intuition and gut feeling than on research and facts. It ranges from funny details, such as in traffic (“all-way stops” are a waste of everyone’s time and gas compared to roundabouts) or in office layout (in Denmark, it is illegal to have an office without windows, because daylight is proven to significantly enhance well being and productivity; here, it seems you try to stay away from daylight because you think it is a distraction), to more serious issues like minimum wage and gun control.

Living here has actually been easier than we expected–and the next answer will explain why…

Q. Tell me about your favorite experiences in Macomb and at WIU since you arrived here.

A. The one thing that comes to mind is definitely all the people we have met. Everyone has been so welcoming, so inclusive–it has been much easier than we thought it would be to feel as a part of the city and the community. The number of people who have offered help and invitations to everything is just fantastic, and we will miss them very much. We have never before experienced such a massive warm welcome that has stretched throughout the year. We feel encouraged to return to stay in the U.S. again sometime–and we are grateful and humble! Our kids, of course, were thrown into school and new friends without speaking a word of English, so it has been a lot more work for them, but that also worked out perfectly (and making them bilingual was a major reason for us going in the first place).

Q. How do you think your time spent living in Macomb and working at WIU will impact your professional and personal lives when you return home?

A. On a personal note, we have already discussed how we can transfer some of the sense of community back home. What can we do better to be more involved and meet more people? The stay here has been such an inspiration. We are also more focused on work and career not being the most important thing in life–we have spent so much time together as a family, which is much more rewarding. Not sure our coworkers are going to appreciate that change as much, though.

We just want to thank the people at WIU and in the community that made our stay possible–from being in on the idea from the beginning and welcoming us into their lives all along. It will be hard going home.

International Student Success Spotlight: Marloes van Eijkelenburg

International students find their way to Western Illinois University via many different pathways. One student, Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, had a bit of a unique experience that led her to the Midwestern region of western Illinois. She found her way to Western via a chance meeting in 2012 (in Europe) with students and faculty in the WIU sport management program.

For the Fall issue of Western News (WIU’s quarterly alumni newspaper), Marloes’ story was featured in the College of Education and Human Services‘ section, and the piece is also featured (below) for the September installment of the ongoing “International Student Success Spotlight.”

Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, a graduate student the Western Illinois University sport management graduate program, wound up as Western via a chance meeting with sport management faculty and students at a conference in Portugal.

Netherlands-native Marloes van Eijkelenburg, a graduate student in the Western Illinois University sport management graduate program, wound up at Western via a chance meeting with sport management faculty and students at a conference in Portugal.

Stepping Up the Game: Sport Management Program Offers International Student Multinational Perspective

Marloes van Eijkelenburg has hopes of again working at the Olympic Games. In 2012, before she came to the United States to study, the graduate student in Western Illinois University’s sport management program (offered through the WIU Department of Kinesiology) worked as a facility manager at the London Games. Although she described her job at the 2012 Summer Olympics as “amazing,” van Eijkelenburg admitted the sheer magnitude and pressure of the experience left her a bit depleted.

“I was very tired after that, so I took a little vacation by myself and I traveled to Porto, Portugal, to attend the annual conference held by the International Association for Philosophy of Sport [IAPS] in September of that year,” she explained.

It was the 2012 holiday that served as the catalyst for van Eijkelenburg’s trek to the U.S.–and eventually led to the pursuit of her master’s degree in sport management at WIU.

A Significant Score
Prior to coming to the Midwest, van Eijkelenburg had earned her bachelor’s degree in sport management from The Hague University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands), as well as completed postgraduate work in sport economics at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. While she wasn’t necessarily looking to come to North America to study, a chance meeting with Dr. Algerian Hart, assistant professor in kinesiology and graduate coordinator for the sport management program, and a few of his grad students, who were all attending the IASP conference that year, caused her to consider (and ultimately take) the path to WIU.

“I met Dr. Hart at a networking thing at the conference. We started talking, and I told him about working at the Olympics, as well as my undergraduate work in sport management. After hearing about my background, he thought it would be beneficial for me, and for the program, if I came to Western,” she noted. “There were six students with him, and he told me not to take his word for it, but to talk to his students so I could hear about the program from their perspectives.”

According to van Eijkelenburg, it was those conversations that convinced her to apply for the program so far away from her home in Europe.

“They really convinced me. I remember thinking, ‘Oh wow! If the students are talking so highly about this program, it must be good,'” she added.

After finishing up her studies at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, van Eijkelenburg worked another year (in 2013) and began her master’s program at WIU in August 2014. Now in her second year, she said the program continues to offer her valuable educational opportunities.

“My professors are extremely approachable here, and I really enjoy that. I am also a teaching assistant, and I have a little cubicle in same office space as my professors have, so they are accessible and easy to reach out to when I have a question or concern about my studies or my classes,” she noted.

Marloes (center) and some of the friends she's met as a student in WIU's graduate sport management program.

Marloes (center) and some of the friends she’s met as a student in WIU’s graduate sport management program.

Although van Eijkelenburg, who described herself as “very competitive,” had considerable knowledge about the study of sport management from her courses in Europe, she said her classes at Western offer practical application of sport management skills and philosophies.

“In Europe, the dominating sport is European football, or soccer, as it’s called here in the U.S., but since being here, I have been introduced to many of the American sports. I think it’s amazing how sports are organized are here, and in my classes, we get to discuss what’s happening in the industry here a great deal. I remember when I first got to Western, the whole story about NFL player Ray Rice’s assault case had just come out in the media, and it was my first introduction to American football. In our classes, we discussed this story from its different perspectives, such as from the fan’s point of view or from the organization’s management’s perspective. We talked about how we may have to deal with such issues in our own jobs,” she explained.

In addition to her studies and serving as a teaching assistant, van Eijkelenburg is also active in the Sport Management Association (SMA), a student organization at WIU with the mission to “expand upon students’ professional access and to provide networking opportunities and expose to increase students’ marketability.”

“Taking part in this student organization has been significant for me. I have met many friends through SMA, and we have been able to travel to different places to experience various sports venues,” van Eijkelenburg noted. “One experience, through my involvement with the SMA, included a trip to Kansas City, where I watched my first baseball game in person. Those kinds of activities have enabled me to get to know my classmates a little bit better on a personal level, and I think the opportunity to get involved like this is one of the biggest advantages of the sport management program at WIU.”

The graduate candidate has plans to finish her degree next May and has hopes of, again, working at the Summer Olympics, slated to take place next year in Rio de Janeiro. Through her experience in European sports (in addition to her undergraduate studies and work at the Olympics, she has coached field hockey), and the experience and understanding she now has of the U.S. sports industry, she said could be interested in working for an international sports organization.

“My experiences here and in Europe have been so rich, I really would like to stay international, to serve both the European and the American markets,” she said. “There’s a really high job placement rate within the program–I think everyone who graduated last May has a job right now. But it really depends on what opportunity arises.”

Aug./Sept. COAP Employee Spotlight: Pedro Bidegaray

Last June, Dr. Pedro Bidegaray brought his extensive international education expertise to Western Illinois University. As the new director of WIU’s Office of Study Abroad and Outreach, Bidegaray said the opportunity offers him the “chance to make a difference” and “to work with a group of committed professionals in the provision of international opportunities and perspectives to students at WIU.”

Pedro Bidegaray (center) during his time with Educate Tanzania.

Pedro Bidegaray (center) during his time with Educate Tanzania.

Before arriving in western Illinois, Dr. Bidegaray was based in Minnesota, in a position at Educate Tanzania (a non-governmental organization) and supported efforts to develop an academic curriculum for a new agricultural college in Karagwe, Tanzania. Prior to that (2011-14), he was the director of international programs at the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences. In that role, he was responsible for integrating an international perspective into the mission of the college, with an emphasis on internationalization of curriculum and global development. From 1995-2010, he worked for EARTH University in Costa Rica, serving as director of international academic programs from 2006-10.

As a new Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) member at Western, Dr. Bidegaray agreed to share a bit more about his background and goals for his latest pursuits in international education on this Big Blue Planet.

Q: What interested you in coming to Western Illinois University?

Dr. Bidegaray: I was born in Peru and studied anthropology. I was intrigued by the idea of working with rural communities in my country. Later, I came to the U.S. to get my Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, and after I was awarded my degree, I traveled to Costa Rica to work in a small international college. Five years ago, we (my wife and two children) decided to come back to the U.S.

Q: What does a typical day at work at Western look like for you so far?

Dr. Bidegaray: It is becoming busier day after day. Since I started at WIU, I have dedicated a significant portion of my time to visit administration and faculty, in an attempt to get to know about the institution, content of their academic programs, and their understanding of the role that international education might (should) play in WIU.

Our unit, the Office of Study Abroad and Outreach, is a unit that provides services to faculty and students. In order to achieve this goal, we need to understand what is academically meaningful and feasible, and translate that understanding into initiatives that will encourage the adoption of international perspectives into their academic programs.

To succeed, we are committed to be prompt communicating with students and faculty, trying address their concerns and finding specific solutions to challenges they might face as they look to enrich their academic experiences.

Q: What is your favorite on-the-job memory?

Dr. Bidegaray: My favorite on-the-job experience has been through my interaction with co-workers in Costa Rica. I worked for an institution at which the employees cared deeply for their students and their abilities to succeed as professionals and citizens. We were a tight group of professionals from all over the world and disciplines, forever discussing how to engage students creatively and meaningfully in the classroom or when they were in the field visiting rural areas. We were all part of a learning community committed to the ideal of the education of leaders of change. Sounds corny, but that is what we believed.

Q: What has been the most rewarding professional experience in your career so far?

Dr. Bidegaray: Regarding my most rewarding experience in my career, well, I don’t know… I have several. As a professor and as a person who has traveled extensively, I have always been moved by people’s generosity and ability to connect, irrespective of cultural differences. People have an incredible ability to surprise me with unexpected reactions of kindness and creativity.

Q: What are some of your goals for Western’s Office of Study Abroad and Outreach?

Dr. Bidegaray: I have several goals, which include: to extend the benefits of international education to most WIU students. This is something we will achieve by developing a program that not only encourages students and faculty to go abroad, but also by developing an academic program and a university culture that integrates international perspectives comprehensively. It is not necessary to travel to other countries to develop an understanding and addressing cultural differences. The world as we know it is here around us. Here on campus, we have students from close to 60 different countries. Do we know who they are? What do we know about their countries? Do we bring that experience to our classrooms?

Another goal is to work toward making WIU a preeminent professional development destination for young professionals and college students. This goal corresponds to the outreach component of our office. Our goal is to identify those jewels of knowledge, unique pieces of information, and transform them into training opportunities that can be marketed globally.

Q: Tell me a little about your favorite activities outside of your job (e.g., hobbies, family or friend activities, etc.).

Dr. Bidegaray: I am a father of four kids. Two of them are still with us and are very much part of what we (my wife and I) do every day. We enjoy family life, and the times we spend together doing sports or enjoying a good meal.

I love doing sports, all kinds of music (indie and classical), good books, and international cuisine. My wife is a great cook, so that is an easy pick.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

It is difficult to say. I like to tell students that “they should dare to dream big.” Also, I like to paraphrase John F. Kennedy’s speech of 1961, when he tells his audience: “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you ? ask what you can do for your country.”

I reference these words when I invite people to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

International Student Success Spotlight: Amin Akhtar

Amin Akhtar, WIU Alumnus

Amin Akhtar recently graduated from Western with his M.S. in computer science. While an international student at WIU, he served as a graduate assistant in Western’s Center for International Studies.

Many current and former international students at Western Illinois University may be familiar with Amin Akhtar’s friendly smile. Akhtar–who is from Iran and was, until last December, an international student himself–served as a graduate assistant in Western’s Center for International Studies while studying in Western’s School of Computer Sciences.

“In that role, I participated in six orientations for new international students. Each of them was an amazing experience. Helping other international students each semester was more than a job or a volunteer work for me,” he explained. “I would like to especially thank to Ms. Dana Vizdal [assistant director in the Center for International Studies], who gave me this chance to be a leader for the orientations.”

Akhtar finished his master’s of science degree in computer science in December. Recently, he shared with me a bit about some of his academic experiences and opportunities he had while he was a WIU student.

Q: How did you learn about Western Illinois University? Why did you decide to apply to and attend Western?

Amin: After considering different universities, I came across information about the School of Computer Sciences at Western. When I saw the profile of the professors and their fields of interest, I was sure I wanted to choose Western.

Q: What do you hope to do with your degree?

Amin: I am planning to work as a software engineer in one of the consulting companies. Finding a job in the computer science field is not that hard, especially when you have a computer science degree from WIU!!!

Q: How did you adjust to your new home as someone who had never traveled to the U.S. before?

Amin: The adjusting process from another culture to the U.S. culture was not that easy. All international students have culture shock when they come here, and I was not an exception. Making friends and not being alone was the best way for me to adjust myself within the new environment.

Q: Who was your favorite instructor and/or course and why?

Amin: My favorite professor and advisor was undoubtedly Dr. Martin Maskarinec [professor of computer science]. Dr. Maskarinec was so patient and helpful all the time, and I always used his advice. My favorite courses were my database courses, because I love working with data.

Q: Tell me about one or two of your most memorable experiences as a Western student.

Amin: The best moment of my life was when I got the news about being accepted as a teaching assistant in the School of Computer Sciences. Other memorable experiences include meeting my girlfriend at Western Illinois University and learning more about American culture.