Assistant Director of International Studies Helps Students Make the Most of their Study Abroad Experience

Gail Winter, assistant director of International Studies, says between 45 and 50 percent of Wesleyan students spend at least one semester studying abroad.
Posted 09/06/07
Q: Gail, how many years have you worked at Wesleyan?

A: It will be 14 years in November. I started working at Wesleyan as a long-term temporary administrative assistant in 1993, first in Academic Affairs and then in the Office of International Studies. I became the permanent OIS administrative assistant in October 1994 and was promoted to assistant director in 1999.

Q: What is the main purpose of the Office of International Studies?

A: Our primary work is to oversee study abroad at Wesleyan. We work with students, faculty, administrators, and program providers to ensure that students participate in substantive educational programs while studying in other countries. We are also involved in the internationalization initiatives on campus, and our office oversees the application and nomination process for a number of post-graduate fellowships and scholarships including Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Luce, St. Andrews, Keasby and Gates.

Q: What percentage of Wesleyan students study abroad and at what point in their undergraduate career do they go?

A: Between 45 and 50 percent of Wesleyan students study abroad at some point in their undergraduate career, which means that between 300 and 350 students study abroad each year. This does not include those students who study abroad in the summer months. Most students go abroad during their junior year, although a few sophomores and first semester seniors are part of the mix. We encourage students to start thinking about study abroad in their frosh year, because they may need to start a new language or continue with one they have already begun in order to participate in their program of choice. We like to start working with a student a year or so before the planned period of study abroad. This gives the student time to review all the programs and narrow his or her options to make the most out of their study abroad experience.

Q: How do you publicize study abroad and the OIS?

A: We hold a study abroad fair every fall semester which gives students the opportunity to meet with program representatives from the options on our Approved List. This year’s fair will be on Monday, Sept. 17 in Beckham Hall in the new Usdan complex. In addition to the fair, we hold study abroad information sessions throughout the academic year, including sessions specifically tailored to groups within the general student population.

Q: In which countries can students study abroad?

A: Our Approved List of programs includes 140 options in 40 different countries. Wesleyan has four administered programs in Paris, France; Regensburg, Germany; Bologna, Italy; and Madrid, Spain. Many programs require proficiency in a foreign language, but there are also programs for students who do not have a second language. More information is on our website at

Q: Have you personally visited any of the programs?

A: Yes. I’ve visited programs in Denmark, England, Ireland and the Czech Republic.

Q: How do you stay in touch with the students while they are abroad?

A: We communicate mostly through e-mail. We send them several letters each semester, updating them on campus news and providing them with information they will need at various points during their time abroad as well as when they return to Wesleyan. We require that each student send us a postcard, and award a prize each semester for the most outrageous one.

Q: What are the benefits to studying abroad?

A: Students who study abroad face the challenges of adapting to a different culture, different teaching styles, and different modes of assessment. Students on programs taught in a foreign language have the opportunity to improve their language skills dramatically because they are living in the language. Students who go on English-speaking programs also face adjustments as they acclimate to a new culture and different academic expectations. For many students, this is the first time they have been abroad and the experience has lasting effects on how they view themselves in the world.

Q: How do you prepare a student for going abroad, and returning?

A: Once students have selected their programs, we encourage them to become familiar with the country’s political, economic, and social issues by reading on-line newspapers. We also recommend that they see movies, read books, speak with someone who is from or has been to that country, and in general learn as much as possible about their destination before they go. All returning students must complete an evaluation questionnaire about their programs and these are available for students to read as they prepare for their study abroad experience. We hold pre-departure orientations at the end of each semester for the students heading out and a Re-Entry Workshop when they return. We remain in contact with returned students to help them use their abroad experiences in future endeavors.

Q: Where is the Office of International Studies located and when are drop-in hours?

A: We are located in 105 Fisk Hall. Our drop-in hours are 10 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Students who cannot come in during these times can make an appointment to meet with me, Carolyn Sorkin, director of International Studies, or Caitlin Zinser, our administrative assistant.

Q: Where did you attend college?

A: I graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in English and secondary education.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: I enjoy needlework, flower gardening, attending Center for the Arts events and watching sports. I’m a fan of the Boston Red Sox and the University of Connecticut Women’s basketball team. I also love to watch figure skating. I see a skater execute a triple Salchow and think, ‘I wish I could do that!’

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor