In the sea of University of Wisconsin students who returned to campus this fall, UW also welcomed hundreds of exchange students from around the world to begin their study abroad experiences in Madison.

Tamika Mtegha is among the 400 exchange students who flew internationally to reach UW’s campus for the first day of classes this year. A sophomore majoring in economics and sociology, Mtegha came to UW for the fall semester through an exchange program with the University of Cape Town.

After growing up in Pretoria, South Africa, Mtegha started at UCT in 2015. A fellow UCT student who studied abroad in Amsterdam encouraged her to look into the experience. She decided she wanted to study abroad in North America and, after reviewing several university programs, found UW’s website most easy to navigate.

While Mtegha arrived to Madison in August, Karina De-Bourne, originally from Essex, United Kingdom, spent her entire 2014-2015 school year studying at UW. When she was not enjoying her college experience at the University of Warwick in England she decided to spend the year abroad. To complete her philosophy major, De-Bourne had to spend an extra year at her home university to make up for her year abroad but said it was worth it.

“UW is so big,” De-Bourne said. “There were a lot more classes that I could do than over here and there were even more degree courses and module kind of things so I could literally do whatever I wanted which was really good.”

Draw to UW

In the 2017 U.S. News rankings, UW tied with three other universities for tenth best public school in the nation. These rankings often play an important role for international students during the decision-making process because they compare universities across the country, Zach Nelson, UW International Student Services program coordinator, said.

“International students, unlike domestic students, can’t do a bunch of college visits and pick the one they like the best or they felt the most at home at,” Nelson said. “That’s a strategy that a lot of domestic students use. For students who live abroad, that’s obviously not an option.”

Erik Brown/The Badger Herald

International students often say UW’s high quality of academics and affordable cost compared to other peer universities are reasons they choose UW, Argyle Wade, Division of Student Life associate dean of students, said in an email to The Badger Herald.

UW has historically been a good value when comparing ranking and tuition with its peers in the Big 10, Jason Jonely, ISS associate director, said.

According to a report from UW’s academic planning and institutional research office, UW 2015-2016 out of state tuition is $29,665 while the University of Michigan’s tuition costs $43,476 and the University of Minnesota costs $22,210.

UW also offers a “classic university experience” and that is an appealing experience for international students, said Andy Quackenbush, International Academic Programs adviser and exchange coordinator. 

The combination of UW’s highly-ranked academics and the city of Madison’s reputation makes UW an appealing exchange partner, Quackenbush said.

Many international students are also attracted to UW because of the good experiences they have heard from past and present international students, Wade said.

“UW is a world renowned university so we have a pretty good reputation a world over in terms of academics and research,” Quackenbush said.

Moving in

De-Bourne and Mtegha both knew one other student from their universities who were studying at UW, which they said helped them with their transitions. Since De-Bourne’s University of Warwick classmate arrived on campus with her family before De-Bourne, they gave her a ride to campus from the airport and helped get her settled.

Prior to traveling to campus, Mtegha stayed with her aunt for a few weeks in Minnesota before coming to Wisconsin. Mtegha said after arriving at UW, help from the study abroad office was limited.

“I just moved in like any other student … got my keys, moved in and then had to go to the study abroad offices to check in for the visa and stuff but they don’t really do much beyond that,“ Mtegha said.


Photo courtesy of Tamika Mtegha

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She partially credits her initial good experience at UW to living in the dorms. Mtegha said socialization in UCT dorms was limited and she was happy to discover at UW that most students leave their doors open and look to meet new people.

De-Bourne said she struggled initially because there was no one living in her dorm when she moved in and she did not have access to internet, which helped connect her with friends and family from home.

She said the first week before orientation started was hard and made her question her decision to attend UW. Once classes started and she met other people, however, she said she was glad she chose UW though.

“I think after about a week I was a lot more settled than I was at first because the first couple days … I stayed in my room watching Gilmore Girls … most of the time, “ De-Bourne said.

International students on campus

ISS primarily serves and assists degree-seeking international students who study at UW for their entire program, whether it is a bachelor, masters, Ph.D. or professional degree, Nelson said.

Exchange students are a subset of international students, Quackenbush said. IAP serves exchange students who study at UW for one or two semesters.

“UW is a world renowned university so we have a pretty good reputation a world over in terms of academics and research.” Andy Quackenbush

IAP maintains approximately 60 inter-institutional exchange agreements with universities across the world, Quackenbush said. IAP sends UW students outbound to study abroad at UW’s partner universities and in return those universities send their students to study at UW.

“IAP doesn’t send an exact number each semester but within a couple years we balance the numbers going outbound with the numbers coming inbound,” Quackenbush said.

The Wisconsin School of Business, College of Engineering, UW Law School and School of Pharmacy all have individual exchange offices but IAP is the largest study abroad office on campus, Quackenbush said.

Approximately 1,300 UW students study abroad each year thorough IAP and approximately 150 students from partner universities come from abroad to study at UW, according to IAP’s website.

Across all of the offices that have exchange programs, approximately 400 exchange students were present at UW’s fall orientation this year, Quackenbush said.

UW experience

Mtegha and De-Bourne both said the professor-student relationship at UW is different from their home universities. While UW professors often encourage students to reach out to them for help, De-Bourne and Metgha said there is less of a focus on forming relationships at the University of Warwick and UCT.

“Quite different [from] back home, I found [faculty and staff] took a lot bigger interest in having one to one discussions,” De-Bourne said. “They were really good at giving you individual feedback on things and on wanting to meet you and see how you are doing.”

Photo courtesy of Karina De-Bourne

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Mtegha said the amount of homework assigned is also different at UW from UCT. She said while it is too early to tell how grading will compare to UCT, UW professors assign far more reading assignments than her home university’s professors.

Outside of class, Mtegha is a member of Badger Volunteers and paired with a UW student through Building Relationships in Diverse Global Environments, a program that helps create friendships between international students and UW students.

Mtegha said she is still enjoying the experience of everything being new but one thing she misses is knowing her way around campus.

“I leave for class and I pull up Google Maps,” Mtegha said. “[I] just miss knowing where everything is because it takes quite a while to adjust to everything … It’s small things like taking the longer route to class when there’s a short cut.”

While studying at UW, De-Bourne worked at the Sett in Union South and wrote for Moda, UW’s fashion and arts magazine.

Both Mtegha and De-Bourne said they like the combined city-campus atmosphere Madison provides. De-Bourne said the University of Warwick is located in more of a “bubble” so she had fun taking advantage of State Street’s close proximity for socializing with friends.

De-Bourne said the thing she missed most while living in Madison was proper British tea while Mtegha said she misses the cost of living in Cape Town.

“It is so expensive,” Mtegha said. “When I first came here I would do the calculation in my head [or] on the calculator with the exchange rate [but] I don’t even do it anymore because I would buy literally nothing. Even grapes — I look at them twice.”

Problems international students face

International students face problems similar to the ones other first-year students at UW face, Lisa Chambers, ISS interim associate dean of students and director, said. Both international and first-year students struggle with finding a community, meeting new friends, being further away from family support and adjusting to a new culture.

“I leave for class and I pull up Google Maps [I] just miss knowing where everything is because it takes quite a while to adjust to everything … It’s small things like taking the longer route to class when there’s a short cut.”Tameka Mtegha

At times, however, it can be unclear to international students who can help them resolve issues they have, Quackenbush said. Students often have to navigate UW’s multiple offices and programs in a language that isn’t their primary language.

“It’s maybe a language they’ve learned a little bit later on and so it’s navigating all of that decentralization, potentially in their second language, and also navigating a university system that may not be at all similar to what they’re used to,” Quackenbush said.

Nelson said one challenge international students have to navigate specifically is that academic language is much different than everyday conversation.

“Even if they’ve taken English for years and years and can get around social situations just fine, the language that’s used in lectures and textbooks is often very field-specific and maybe much more specialized and difficult and things they wouldn’t necessarily always have had previous exposure to that way,” Nelson said.

Growth at UW

While Mtegha’s study abroad experience has only just begun, she said the best takeaway from her UW experience would be international friends. She said getting past the surface level with people would be the most rewarding part of her experience.

De-Bourne said through her time at UW she gained a greater appreciation for her home, London and the University of Warwick. She came to better understand who she is as a person and wanted to be through UW.

“I felt better about myself as a person and I felt a lot more worldly and I knew a bit more who I was … I came back a lot more confident person, a lot more open minded about things,” De-Bourne said.