Through the Student Lens – Oh, the Places WheaGo!

Annemieke Buterbaugh (Mieke for short) ’27
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Major: Design Environmental Studies / Minor: Environmental Studies

What’s it like to spend your very first semester in a different country? Meet one of WheaGo’s talented students to learn how the experience laid the foundation for her years at Wheaton while setting the global stage as you take a look “Through the Student Lens.”

Can you describe WheaGo and tell us a bit about your experience last semester?

WheaGo is a study abroad opportunity for highly motivated first year students coming to Wheaton. It offers placements for students in the amazing destinations of: Barcelona, Spain; Lugano, Switzerland; Sydney, Australia; and Paris, France. All of the destinations have an intended curriculum of study to help students expand upon their pre-existing interests. 

I studied in Lugano, Switzerland for my first semester which offers a focus on sustainability, culture and the sciences. This particular program places students at one of Switzerland’s first liberal arts schools, Franklin University. Here, students are able to be involved in campus life and reside in the heart of Europe. Lugano, being a short train ride to Milan as well as many other destinations domestically in Switzerland, allows for students to take advantage of all the expansive travel opportunities that Europe has to offer.

For me, WheaGo provided the perfect opportunity to figure out how to best balance the important things in my life, as I felt like they were askew. My senior year of high school brought about a lot of transformative realizations for me. 

Particular to being in a boarding school setting for all of high school, I felt a compulsion and a need to redefine my relationship between school, work and play. It was all about timing for me. I was ready to go somewhere without the structures that I was familiar with—a place where I’d have a clean slate to figure out what balance looked like to me. It might sound surprising to some, but I wanted to go to a place where I had no idea what to do for fun, how to get around, what my extracurriculars would look like, how I would spend my time and what kind of friends I would make and how.

How did you stay connected to other Wheaton students taking part in WheaGo and how have Wheaton staff members supported you during this academic year?

As part of WheaGo, our cohort of students had a class that met weekly. “Learning from Intercultural Experiences,” taught by Dean Gretchen Young in the Global Education office here at Wheaton, was our space to connect via Zoom to reflect, talk, and grow as our individual global experiences continued to take shape. Aside from this, we connected regularly—especially those of us in Switzerland as we were in the same community. 

Back on campus, I am now rooming with one of my peers who was abroad with me. Dean Young has been pivotal to not only my experience this fall, but moreover with connecting me with opportunities to further enrich my global experience during my time here at Wheaton as a whole. 

Additionally, this would not have been possible without the support of my coach, Emily Kiablick, and my lacrosse team here at Wheaton who consistently reached out to me without me even setting foot on campus yet. I am truly grateful to have an athletic community that supported me so far away from the field.

What do you think studying abroad contributes to your college education and how has this experience impacted your desire to potentially take part in a future study abroad experience?

There is so much to be said about how studying abroad significantly enriches a college education. First, I am proud to be at Wheaton where a global education is prioritized and encouraged. I firmly believe that while an education is readily achieved in the classroom, the bulk of tactical learning occurs outside of the classroom. Engaging with intercultural experiences in particular provides a wealth of knowledge that cannot be accessed at the hands of any textbook or lesson—not to discredit their importance as well. Understanding culture in all of its depths requires niche skills such as the ability to listen more than speak, to set aside a lot of preconceived ideas, and to practice humility for what you do not understand.

Experiences abroad are key to fostering global learners and creating beautiful moments of cross-cultural understanding. In this day and age, we face a globally connected world, and it is incredibly important to have the right tools to confront and move through it. Globalization has the potential to connect people to each other and to resources and knowledge in a revolutionary way. However, if we do not make connected decisions with the understanding of how they impact everyone, we face avoidable inequities, divisions and polarizations. My hope is to enrich my own understanding of different walks of life, and evaluate how I can serve to create positive change and growth on whatever scale that may be. I am enthusiastic to say that I will be going abroad again next fall semester as part of Wheaton’s Bhutan program!

What was your favorite aspect of spending your first college semester abroad?

There were a multitude of moments that made this fall semester memorable. At large, the time I was able to spend outdoors was an immense highlight. I went on numerous ventures hiking through the Swiss Alps and Italian Dolomites. Surreal doesn’t even come close to describing the experience. Aside from hiking, I visited eight countries during my time abroad—which is pretty awesome.

Now that you are on campus this semester, what excites you most about the on-campus experience and how do you feel WheaGo set you up for success here at Wheaton and beyond?

By far, the ability to travel. I feel like the value in being abroad really comes from taking advantage of how accessible other countries and cultures are. Being abroad is about learning about yourself as much as it is learning about the people around you. Learning from the people around you enlightens you and informs your own positions—where your ideologies, values and goals lie relative to other peoples. For this reason, I think traveling is so important while abroad, and it’s where I got the bulk of value and learning in this experience. 

As I start the spring semester, I have a better sense of self and of what’s important to me. I feel confident in my ability to navigate challenges and unfamiliar situations as that was a consistent aspect of my time abroad.

Photos by Mieke Buterbaugh

Mieke is just one of the many engaging students here at Wheaton. As parents, guardians, and families you are an integral part of our community. “Through the Student Lens” brings the campus to you, as seen through the eyes of our students, the many roles they play and the experiences they gain during their time here at Wheaton.