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PatriciaKleine

Like so many people around the world, I was horrified by the recent tragic events in France.

But as the provost of a university that prides itself on giving its students opportunities to immerse themselves in cultures around the world, the news that one of those killed in the attacks was an American college student studying abroad hit me particularly hard.

This fall, we have three Blugolds studying in France, and hundreds more spending a semester or a year abroad in nearly 30 countries around the world. Dozens more of our students will travel to far-flung locations this year to participate in international research or service projects, or to immerse themselves in a new place as they try to better understand the world around them.

Fortunately our students in France during the recent attacks all are safe, which was quickly communicated to their families.

Our Center for International Education staff as well as our faculty do an outstanding job of vetting international programs, building relationships and partnerships worldwide, and monitoring political situations. We provide students with pre-travel orientations and connect them with resources such as the U.S. State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

Still, as we think about the young “shining star” from California who died as she sat in a Paris restaurant with friends, we are reminded how unpredictable — and oftentimes unstable — our world can be. While that’s an unsettling thought, I want to reiterate UW-Eau Claire’s dedication to student safety throughout their time abroad.

Now, more than ever, our students benefit from experiences that introduce them to new people and ideas, and immerse them in cultures far different from their own.

These students are our country’s future business, civic and education leaders. They soon will be leaders in the science and health care fields, as well as the social services and performing arts.

We will be charging them with the task of solving global challenges and asking them to address the complex issues facing this world.

To be successful, they will need to have the kinds of knowledge and insights that only can be gained through experiencing the world and building relationships with people whose cultures and beliefs differ from their own.

Simply put, by investing in international education we are investing in our shared future.

While our students return from their time abroad with their own memories and personal experiences, almost always they share that their international experience was life-changing for them.

They return with an appreciation and understanding of other people and places, an empathy and insight that was not there before, and an intellectual courage and curiosity that truly sets them apart from their peers.

After an international experience, our students come back to campus with the determination and confidence to reach across borders and overcome obstacles to make positive changes in the world.

Consider the nursing students who recently participated in an immersion experience in Central America, where they met an El Salvadorian farmer who also runs an orphanage, hostel and soup kitchen.

Years ago, the farmer brought a troubled boy to her farm and asked him to help her tend the crops. The experience was life-altering for the boy, who eventually went on to become a doctor. Since then, she’s regularly brought struggling youth to her farm, trusting that working the land and learning skills will help them grow in ways that will encourage them to build healthier lives. She calls her program “Farming Hope.”

The nursing students were so inspired by her story and the change she’s making in her part of the world that they’ve now created “Farming Hope” Eau Claire, a program that’s helping provide the homeless in our community with food as well as skills that can help them improve their lives.

Already, these students are making a positive difference in our community thanks to the knowledge and inspiration they found on a farm in Central America.

Imagine what they will accomplish once they graduate.

We know that whatever career path our students follow, employers who recruit our students tell us they will be more successful if they have an international experience to prepare them for today’s global workforce. This is true of nurses, teachers and scientists as well as those making their careers in the business world.

So as we celebrate International Education Week and tout the latest rankings that show that UW-Eau Claire is a national leader in international education, we remember the Paris attacks but also look to our bright and ambitious students with the hope that they will someday make the kind of change in the world that will prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening again.

Kleine is provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at UW-Eau Claire.