When UNW students want to study abroad—or are curious about the possibility—Kendra Sundeen is the person they see. Her enthusiasm for the students and the programs available to them is infectious. In this Q&A, Kendra explains why she’s passionate about international education and unpacks a number of the many places, programs, and ways students can study abroad—no matter their major—to earn credit and transform their lives.
What is your position at Northwestern?
I’m the Director of Global Programs and Fulbright Program Advisor. I work with students to explore study abroad opportunities and help them determine where they want to go, what they want to learn, and what programs will meet their goals and credit needs. Sometimes it’s even encouraging them to set goals to begin with.
Has this been your only role at UNW?
I’ve worked at Northwestern six years and have been in this role a little over two years.
I began at Northwestern as an international and V.A. student advisor, assisting students with educational benefits and all of the compliance and federal regulations they need to navigate.
I enjoyed serving international students as they came onto campus, and now supporting outbound students is an extension of who I am. It has been rewarding to support students in these various roles.
To see how our students grow while abroad—not just academically, but personally, spiritually, and even in their future careers—has been amazing.
Are you a Northwestern alum?
I am! I studied psychology as an undergrad and earned a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership at Northwestern.
When I was considering the Master of Organization Leadership program or a program focused on international education, I chose organizational leadership because it encompassed a lot of different areas of business and focus.
What fueled your passion for the study abroad experience?
I would say my passion for study abroad happened after living and working in Peru.
My husband and I decided we wanted to do more than just short-term mission trips or vacations, so we committed to serving in Lima, Peru for two years with a nonprofit Christian organization. We lived with a host family in Ecuador for almost five months, learning the language and going to daily Spanish classes. Then we lived and worked in Lima with youth aged four to almost 18. We served in a variety of ways in that setting.
When we returned to the States, we hosted international students in our home. It was a great way to bring the world to us and share with people from all over the world since travel was more challenging with a young family. We’ve had more than 20 students live with us over the years. And we returned to Peru as a family this year to visit friends and loved ones.
I love that my husband and three kids are likeminded in appreciating how beautiful the world is and how travel and learning from others of different backgrounds is so rewarding and beneficial for all of us. It’s part of our family values.
What do you love most about your work with international education at UNW?
The individual student. What are they called to do? What’s their big picture? How can a global experience and off-campus study opportunity help them realize their full potential academically, personally, spiritually, and professionally? It’s all about them.
What do you feel makes Northwestern’s study abroad program unique?
Northwestern’s community is unique in that all of the departments support one another in the study abroad process to make it as easy as possible for students to participate. A student studying aboard has the support of the Registrar’s Office, the Financial Aid Office, my office, and Student Accounts.
We work with department chairs and academic advisors to make sure that where the student goes is a good fit for their degree and major.
Why do you feel an off-campus experience is so valuable for students?
Students continually give testimonies of how they learned so much about themselves abroad. Two students who just returned from overseas talked about how they realized they could do what they never thought they could do. For example, learning the transportation system in a giant city where they didn’t know the language well taught them how resourceful, smart, independent, and street smart they really were.
Little things learned throughout a time away really add up and build confidence. That is a common theme that I love to hear. There’s a sense of satisfaction as students see that they have grown in a new way.
Can any student study abroad?
Students in any major can study aboard. It’s best for them to plan earlier in their college career than later, but there are options for everyone: Any student. Any major. Any degree. One of our international students studied in Japan this past summer!
What off-campus options are available to Northwestern students?
Every department at the University of Northwestern offers off-campus study opportunities! There are a lot of fantastic opportunities for STEM students that they might not realize are available, including engineering, mathematics, and even data analytics! One of our data analytics majors is currently studying at South Bank University in London.
Students can participate in:
- Short-term, UNW faculty-led programs
- Semester programs with other universities
- Summer programs
- Full-year programs (with special approval)
- Internships (domestic and international)
Students can study in a small setting with peers, or with program partners in large universities, in faith-based programs or secular. There are so many opportunities and options for them.
Northwestern also offers domestic study options, correct?
Yes! We offer some domestic programs through the “Best Semester” as a CCCU school (Council for Christian Colleges & Universities). A few of our most popular Best Semester programs are the L.A. Film Studies Center, the Contemporary Music Center in Nashville, and the American Studies Program in Washington, D.C.
Our biology students often study off campus at one of Au Sable Institute's program sites, and some of our ministry majors have gone to Forest Springs Camp and Conference Center in Westboro, Wisconsin. There’s something for everyone.
I’ve seen posters for a new program in Italy. Tell me about Italy Abroad.
What’s great about our new Italy program is students of all academic majors can get core credit requirements done (art and literature) with a Northwestern faculty-led program. It’s just four weeks in mid-May and June, so even students who can’t commit to a full semester away can still study abroad.
Because it’s a Northwestern program, students will be taught by Northwestern professors, study with their peers, and get summer credits toward their degree.
The Italy program is also unique because students will experience non-tourist areas of Italy. They’ll stay at Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy, which is in a smaller town where they won’t see tourists or hear English spoken. Instead, they’ll see little kids racing down the hill on homemade scooters, see the same people in the coffee shop and on the piazza (plaza) each day, and get to practice Italian. It will give students a more authentic experience and a slower pace, which is helpful for observing and engaging with locals.
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Have you seen a study abroad transform a student’s life or entire trajectory?
A lot of students that have a global experience through Northwestern want to go back; they want to figure out how they can live or work abroad. A number of these students will apply for the Fulbright Scholarship with the hope of going abroad as teaching assistants or graduate assistants for an entire year as a Fulbright Scholar.
The Fulbright Scholar Program is an extremely competitive national scholarship, yet a number of Northwestern students have received the scholarship. We currently have a Fulbright Scholar in Spain! She returned to the same region of Spain where she studied abroad.
To see a student who is curious about the idea of studying abroad (“I’m not sure I want to study abroad or not”) walk through the process, experience time abroad, and then come full circle—able to articulate how it changed them, what they learned about themselves and others, and to make a difference in the world as believers and encourage others to experience time abroad—is the best part of my job.
To be able to support that and see how our students grow while abroad—not just academically, but personally, spiritually, and even in their future careers—has been amazing. It’s a fantastic job. I love it!
Are you interested in studying abroad?
The best way to learn more about off-campus study opportunities is to talk with Kendra Sundeen, Director of Global Programs.
Kendra can be reached at 651-628-3240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.