It’s snowing in Boulder, Colorado and early morning classes on campus have been cancelled. Buzzing with excitement, UOW fourth year student Mikayla Dennelly watches the snowfall and talks about life as an exchange student at the University of Colorado (UC).
“The school spirit is just amazing, everyone is very involved on campus,” she says. “I absolutely love it. Plus there’s so much to do beyond studies.”
Thanks to UOW’s USA Foundation Travel Grant, Mikayla is immersed in a semester at UC, where she’s taking journalism, psychology, theatre, and cinema studies. The grant allows UOW students to take a semester exchange at several major North American universities.
“It’s defied my expectations in terms of classes, you really have to be on top of your stuff all the time here,” she remarks when asked about the academic program. “It’s definitely made me more productive in terms of my course work. My journalism class is very small, only 13 students, and really close knit.”
Born and bred in the Illawarra, Mikayla had never travelled outside Australia before her student exchange. It took a dose of courage to move out of her comfort zone and she admits to being a little nervous about the whole thing.
“I was stepping into a totally new experience, I’d never been overseas before, never travelled far from home before,” she recollects about landing in Colorado not knowing anyone.
Despite waves of homesickness, Mikayla has actively embraced the required role of UOW ambassador, speaking at events and student gatherings. Her passion for UOW and the region has sparked interest amongst many of her peers at UC, Boulder.
“If you want to go on exchange you need to do the work, maintain a credit average and remember you’re representing UOW,” she says. “Lots of my fellow students at UC are looking into studying at Wollongong because I’m passionate about it.”
As the snow continued to fall, this UOW student was still surprised that one travel grant had introduced her to a wide network of friends from many parts of the world.
“I’ve made friends I’ll keep for a lifetime, I have been invited to visit Spain, England, Brazil and other parts of America,” says Mikayla who had dreamed of studying overseas but didn’t know how to make it happen.
“I kept putting it off and believed I couldn’t afford it. I put it off for three years. And when I finally applied in my fourth year I still didn’t believe I’d get the scholarship,” she explains. “I was already stretched paying rent, bills, running a car and working three or four jobs.”
Having experienced the impact the experience has had on her own life and others, her advice to UOW students wanting to study in North America is to put your hand up for the travel grant.
Just apply, just try, you never know … people are always willing to help if you reach out
When the snow season is over and Mikayla returns home, she’ll bring with her a rich academic experience, a solid international network and new ideas for her future.
“I have a career path in marketing when I graduate but this experience has given me many more options to think about,” she says. “I’m also the new president of the UOW snow sports club,” she adds, with the 2020 Australian national ski competition clearly in her sights.
“Once I start earning, I’d really like to donate to a scholarship like this,” she says. ‘Whoever you are, your gift, no matter how small, made a big impact on my life. Thank you, I’m really incredibly grateful.”
This year a dream came true for Jordan van Berkel, a Geology student from the University of Minnesota, when he landed at UOW to study Australia’s landscape and geological terrain. Thanks to a travel grant from the UOW USA Foundation, Jordan was able to gain international experience with a semester at UOW. “Not only did it add to my skill set for future employment, it expanded my passion and knowledge of earth science globally,” Jordan says. It was an unforgettable experience all made possible by a UOW travel grant.”