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University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students studying abroad in January packed quite a bit more than what their suitcases contained.

That’s because students who signed up for the “Leadership and Culture in Australia” experience brought a classroom full of fifth-graders with them through an interactive learning project that connected the two groups of students through a blog.

College of Education and Human Services instructor Courtney Bauder led the contingent of 13 UW Oshkosh students and one UW-Platteville student, which spent Jan. 8 to 27 exploring education, healthcare, biology, businesses and environmental issues in Australia.

“I worked with the Office of International Education to put together a trip that would combine unique aspects of the geography and plant and animal life as well as the aboriginal and nonaboriginal experience,” Bauder said. “I also thought that it was critical to add a service-learning component, and so each year we either do an environmental service or human service project.”

Bauder’s students had a unique opportunity to pass along what they discovered to young learners back in Wisconsin.

Blog abroad

Bauder met John Thompson at a conference in Milwaukee two years ago and kept in touch through Friends of International Education, an organization devoted to strengthening global education in Wisconsin and beyond.

When Thompson, a fifth-grade teacher at O.H. Schultz Elementary School in Mishicot, learned that Bauder took groups of UW Oshkosh students to Australia and Greece, the two of them developed the Dreamtime blog (

“The Dreamtime blog is unique because it provides my students with a window into Australian life through the eyes of UW Oshkosh student travelers and as a means to communicate with them as their journey unfolds,” Thompson said.

Prior to departing for the city of Cairns, University students visited the elementary school to meet their future pen pals. Throughout the trip, the younger students posted questions about Australia culture, and the travelers replied with notes, photos and videos.

“It is amazing to witness both the adventures of the UWO travelers and the excitement that their communication generates among our fifth-grade students,” said Thompson, whose students receive a global perspective by studying the lives of journeys of explorers such as James Cook and Sir Francis Drake.

Experiential education

Highlights of the “Leadership and Culture in Australia” course included snorkeling and scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, exploring the Daintree Rainforest with an aboriginal guide, meeting U.S. Consular General Judith Fergin, and learning to surf and play the didgeridoo.

Derek Brixius, a special education major/history minor, signed up for the course in part to visit friends he had made as a powerlifter on the U.S. Junior World Team. He also was eager for another opportunity to travel abroad, having studied in Greece in June.

Of course, learning, not leisure, was the focus of the trip. Each student had to read a book and make a presentation in Sydney as well as write several papers about their experiences. The assignments varied by major.

Brixius, a senior from Neenah, was fascinated by the Australians’ attitude toward work. Minimum wage is higher there, and 9-to-5 jobs are less common.

“People there work to live, not live to work, like here in the States,” he said.

Brixius’s most rewarding experience was with people at a Special Needs home in Sydney. He also enjoyed the interaction with the O.H. Schultz Elementary fifth-graders.

“I really look forward to meeting up with them again and telling them about our experiences firsthand,” Brixius said.

“The program is amazing. It is a great way to earn college credit and see the world,” he said.