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To say she’s excited is an understatement.

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh education student Tori Hagen, of Markesan, has been awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to fund her student teaching placement in Norway for the spring 2018 semester. She’s thrilled she’ll be working at the location of her family’s Norwegian roots.

As a senior and a dual elementary education/special education major, Hagen is participating in the Educators Abroad Student Teaching (EAST) program, allowing her to do a 10-week portion of her student teaching abroad.

Tori Hagen

“This program allows (Hagen) to get the same (United States) teaching license, but has the added benefit of being able to student teach in a different country,” said Kelsey McDaniels, Office of International Education (OIE) study abroad adviser.

Hagen’s participation in the unique student teaching opportunity is made possible through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, scholarships are given to students seeking to study abroad while attending a two- or four-year college or university, but lacking funds to do so. The Gilman Scholarship is a national program with approximately 20 students in Wisconsin being awarded the grant per year. Hagen is the ninth UW Oshkosh student to receive the award in the past five years.


The chance to study abroad

Scholarship recipients are chosen based on financial need, study-abroad location of choice and major, among other components. Hagen was introduced to the Gilman Scholarship at the UW Oshkosh Office of International Education and was guided through the process to study abroad, including how to finance the endeavor.

A trip to a zoo is part of a summer school teaching experience.

“We are very excited for Tori, and I hope her story will encourage other students to explore more unique study-abroad destinations,” McDaniels said.

The process of applying for the Gilman Scholarship was lengthy, “requiring background checks, transcripts, proof of financial need, and multiple essays,” Hagen said.

The scholarship requires that Hagen create something at the end of her trip that informs other students about the benefits of the experience.

“I am excited to work on this when I get home because I think more students from UWO should apply for this award,” she said. “It has taken so much stress off my planning process when it comes to finances.”


Going home

For many students, the study-abroad planning process also includes the important decision of where to go. In Hagen’s case, however, the destination was obvious. Norway is the country of her ancestors and the birthplace of her “oldefar and oldemor,” also known as her great-grandfather and great-grandmother. They settled in Minnesota after immigrating from Norway in search of new opportunities, leaving much of their family in the rolling hills of Scandinavia.

Sig Hagen, left, inspired her granddaughter, Tori, to become a teacher.

As only the third generation from her family to be born in the United States, Hagen feels a profound connection to Norway, inspired by her family’s celebration of their Norwegian heritage.

“Every Christmas until I was six included a 12-hour trip to Fergus Falls, Minnesota, where we visited oldefar and oldemor in the nursing home,” Hagen said. “After we had a visit there, we would continue to my great aunt’s home where we would sit around in her living room under quilts hand-sewn by oldemor, eating lefse and kringla from recipes she brought over from Norway. During these cozy evenings, I would hear stories of my great grandma Martina, who is also my namesake, and the life she lived in Norway.

“Because each of the characters in these novel-worthy stories were so close to my heart and real to me, she said, “I have been drawn to visiting Norway for as long as I can remember.”


Career choice

The influence Hagen’s grandmother, Sig Hagen, has had on her also is noteworthy. Tori Hagen describes her grandmother as the person who inspired her to pursue a career as a teacher.

“When I was growing up, my grandma shared countless stories with me about her 35 years of experience as a teacher. The positive impact she left on her students and our community helped me to understand the importance of teaching,” she said.

Hagen also cites many of her professors at UW Oshkosh as major influencers in her academic career. Most notably, Hagen mentions members of the special education department as “going above and beyond” in their education of students.

“Dr. Lou Chicquette and Dr. Tom Fischer were my professors during initial practicum and advanced practicum for special education, and they were constantly making sure that we were prepared to walk confidently into our clinical placements and now, into the job hunt this spring,” Hagen said.


Hagen, left, with some local children during a trip to Haiti last May.

UWO noted for study abroad program

The UW Oshkosh Office of International Education has played a major role in Hagen receiving the Gilman Scholarship.

UW Oshkosh is ranked by the International Institute of Education (IIE) as No.  19 in the category of “master degree-granting universities that have a short-term duration study abroad program,” according to IIE’s 2017 Open Doors data.

The data solidifies that UW Oshkosh is, “strong in developing international programming that meets students’ curricular needs,” said UW Oshkosh Office of International Education Director Jenna Graff. “The ranking allows us to tell students that we value international experiences here.”

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