In September, Badgers from around the globe arrived at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but they weren’t here to attend an international conference or to study the latest cutting-edge research. They were here for a reunion.
Alumni of the Visiting International Student Program (VISP) and their guests reunited on the UW–Madison campus to celebrate the program’s 10th anniversary — and to reminisce about their time as Badgers. Attendees hailed from Brazil, Germany, Chile, Denmark, China and Taiwan. Faculty and staff involved with VISP over the past 10 years and current students joined the festivities as well.
Since its inception, VISP has invited students from around the world to UW–Madison on a short-term, nondegree basis — typically one or two semesters. To date, the program has admitted more than 3,000 students from 42 countries in noncredit, undergraduate and graduate courses. Students are supported during their time in the program with tailored advising services and social events.
Martin Rouse, who started the VISP program and serves as associate dean and director of UW–Madison’s Adult Career and Special Student Services, says the program’s five-day anniversary celebration offered a special time of reconnection, particularly after COVID.
“It was great to learn what our alumni have done in their careers and personal lives and to see them share those experiences with their families, our staff and the current VISP students on campus,” Rouse says.
Jeff Russell, dean of continuing studies and vice provost for lifelong learning, lauds the unique impact VISP has made on the university in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea.
“With around 20 percent of VISP alumni returning to UW–Madison for a graduate degree program, VISP is often just a first step in a student’s Badger journey,” Russell says. “During their time on campus, students are exposed to all that UW has to offer: a vibrant campus culture, intellectual rigor, world-class research and much more. We’re proud that VISP creates a remarkable Wisconsin experience for students from all over the world.”
From Taiwan to Camp Randall
Yu-Li Wang was one of the alumni on hand for the program’s anniversary celebration, which included tours and activities on campus and around Madison, a trip to Devil’s Lake State Park, a Badger football game and a dinner reception.
Yu-Li attended VISP during the 2014–2015 school year as part of a program sponsored by the Ministry of Education in Taiwan that encourages students to attend and conduct research at American universities. A fellow student who had studied at UW–Madison convinced Yu-Li to attend the program here.
“In Taiwan, we’re familiar with the Ivy League schools in the U.S., but I quickly learned about UW–Madison and how it’s one of the top public universities here,” she recalls. An English major, Yu-Li was pleased to find she could explore a variety of humanities and social science courses through VISP.
“The education I received during VISP was much more intense than my coursework in Taiwan,” Yu-Li says. “And the courses here gave me a more flexible framework through which to explore my interests in Asian American history and literature.”
Beyond academics, Yu-Li describes her personal experience in VISP as “surreal.”
“Everything I knew about the United States was from TV or movies,” she notes, “and it was a strange experience to live in a world I had only seen on TV — and to participate in American activities. I still get overwhelmed when I go to a Badger football game,” she laughs.
She eventually returned to UW–Madison to start a PhD program in history, but after a few years decided to take some time to reevaluate what she wants to do. She currently works as a program coordinator with UW–Madison’s Professional Degrees & Certificates program.
Yu-Li says the VISP anniversary celebration offered a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with program staff and alumni — and to give her some perspective on her own experience.
“I had put pressure on myself to complete my graduate program, but speaking with other VISP alumni reinforced to me that there’s no single, linear path,” Yu-Li says. “Some alumni have gone on to PhD programs in the U.S. or other countries, while others started working right away in their home countries. The VISP program is a wonderful experience, and the staff wants its students to be successful and happy whatever their path.”
Globalization on a personal level
VISP’s journey over the last decade might best be described as you would any international voyage, not without its unexpected twists and turns but unequivocally rewarding.
“Any sort of international program is bound to be a little bumpy,” Rouse says, “but we adapt because we believe it’s important for international students to experience the UW and Madison and for our domestic students to learn from international students. It’s the best way for all of us to see how interconnected and similar we are.”
Opportunities for connection continue to grow at VISP. In collaboration with departments and faculty across campus, the program has established partnerships with more than 240 universities worldwide, creating an exchange of people and ideas that might not otherwise exist. Not all international students have the time or the finances to study abroad for a full degree program or even a year.
All of this, Rouse says, has laid the foundation on which VISP will continue to build over the next 10 years. “We’re eager to help UW–Madison faculty develop connections with international universities and students. Even a semester here can make a real difference in how these students — and our campus community — see the world.”