WheaGo Global offers early cultural and academic journey

A scenic view in Lugano, Switzerland
A scenic view in Lugano, Switzerland

Mieke Buterbaugh ’27 hails from Maine and attended boarding school in Connecticut for her four years of high school. Before arriving on campus, to begin her Wheaton College journey, she wanted to go somewhere to broaden her perspective.

WheaGo Global was just the ticket. The new program allows students to tap into study abroad opportunities at the start of college rather than waiting until junior year.

“My senior year of high school brought about a lot of transformative realizations for me. Having been in a boarding setting on a campus for all of high school, I felt a compulsion and a need to redefine my relationship between school, work and play,” said Buterbaugh. “When WheaGo presented itself, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to do so.”

“It was all about timing for me. I was ready to go somewhere where there were no predispositioned structures that I was familiar with—a place where I’d have a clean slate to figure out what balance looked like to me. As crazy as it sounds, 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. Also, to state the obvious, Switzerland [where I went] was too picturesque to pass up.”

Buterbaugh was one of the seven students who participated in WheaGo, which was launched in the fall semester of the 2023–24 academic year. Studying abroad contributes to intellectual and personal growth as well as cultural understanding and global connections, thus providing students with a great start to their liberal arts education.

Treassy Jasmin, Mieke Buterbaugh and Anella “Nelly” Bolster; Clara Cortright, Sylvia Lamphere and Mima Germain
Six first-year students are studying abroad at Franklin University in Switzerland through the WheaGo Global program. They are (left to right, front row): Treassy Jasmin, Mieke Buterbaugh and Anella “Nelly” Bolster; (back row) Clara Cortright, Sylvia Lamphere and Mima Germain.

“WheaGo is bold and innovative, just like the Wheaton curriculum. It allows students the opportunity to start college differently. Wheaton’s Compass curriculum is designed to allow students to create their own pathway; that now includes deciding to start with study abroad,” said Gretchen Young, dean of Wheaton’s Center for Global Education. “Students often point to their study abroad as one of the most impactful experiences of their college career. Why not start with that and see how it will enhance the rest of your education?”

WheaGo offers four options—international business and management in Sydney, Australia; communications and international relations in Barcelona, Spain; art, design and fashion in Paris; or culture, sustainability and the sciences in Lugano, Switzerland.

“This new opportunity invites adventurous students to dive into immersive cultural and academic experiences in some of the world’s most vibrant cities and to focus on specific subjects that interest them—all within a possible honors framework. That’s an exciting way to engage with global perspectives and diverse students that will serve them well during their time at Wheaton,” said President Michaele Whelan.

Students study at Blanquerna–Universitat Ramon Llull in Spain; the International College of Management, Sydney; Paris College of Art; and Franklin University in Switzerland. Courses count toward the Wheaton bachelor’s degree and the program fulfills requirements for the college’s honors designations.

“My greatest personal insight was how much I truly enjoy learning about new cultures. I always thought that I would, but coming from a small farming town that is not diverse at all, I didn’t really know how much it would affect me,” said Anella “Nelly” Bolster ’27, who studied in Switzerland. “I learned that I could listen to people talk about their culture and what they think of other cultures all day and that it truly is more interesting to me than I ever could have guessed.”

Ari Renzi-Surprenant ’27, who studied at Paris College of Art, said living in France while learning French enhanced her language comprehension skills. Also, she said, “Being able to study abroad helped me hone my independence and fulfill the dream and desire I have to become a more global citizen and to learn more about those around me.”

WheaGo adds to Wheaton’s study abroad offerings that encompass more than 100 programs in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and beyond. Most students traditionally study abroad during their junior year.

Research shows that students who spend time abroad return to campus with a more sophisticated understanding of their place in the world and an enthusiasm for different perspectives that contribute to the learning environment, said Young, who taught the virtual course “Learning from Intercultural Experiences” for all WheaGo students.

In addition to coursework, assignments required students to explore surroundings, observe and reflect on their experiences.

“Being abroad is about learning about yourself as much as it is learning about the people around you,” Buterbaugh noted. “Learning from the people around you enlightens you and informs your own positions—where your ideologies, values and goals lie relative to other people’s.”