• October 24, 2014

Study Abroad's New Focus Is Job Skills

Colleges strive to translate students' experience for employers

Study Abroad Gets an Image Makeover 1

Brandi Simons for The Chronicle

Cheryl Matherly, associate dean for global education at the U. of Tulsa, has built bridges between study abroad and career services with programs like a summer research trip to Japan.

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close Study Abroad Gets an Image Makeover 1

Brandi Simons for The Chronicle

Cheryl Matherly, associate dean for global education at the U. of Tulsa, has built bridges between study abroad and career services with programs like a summer research trip to Japan.

Cheryl Matherly was going through résumés with a hiring manager for a major consulting firm when she had her "aha" moment.

Like many employers, the campus recruiter put a premium on the ability of potential hires to succeed in unfamiliar situations with co-workers from different backgrounds and cultures. Ms. Matherly, then assistant dean of students for career and international education at Rice University, thought she had the perfect candidate, a history major who had won a scholarship to conduct three months of solo research in Spain. The value of his having navigated working alone in a foreign country, she thought, was obvious.

But the recruiter pushed the résumé aside, dismissing the student's experience as a "backpacking trip through Europe," Ms. Matherly recalls. "That's what it boiled down to for him."

"It spoke volumes to me about how employers commonly view an overseas-study experience," she says.

The discrepancy isn't unusual. Even in an increasingly global economy, few companies set out to hire recent graduates who have studied or interned abroad. More than one survey of employers ranks international study low among cocurricular activities in its relevance to the workplace.

One problem, argues Ms. Matherly, who is now assistant provost for global education at the University of Tulsa, is that students don't know how to talk about their time overseas in a way that is meaningful to employers. So, she set out to design workshops and seminars to help students do just that.

"The value isn't that you had the abroad experience itself," she says. "It's what you learned overseas that allows you to work in a cross-cultural environment. Students have to learn how to talk about that experience in terms of transferrable skills, how it relates to what an employer wants."

Combating Perceptions

One challenge is the nature of the hiring process. While executives may recognize the importance of hiring employees with international experience, recruiters typically have more focused goals.

"They're looking for a dozen engineers, a dozen accountants," says Ralph Brigham, global director of campus relations at Southwestern Company, a company that sells educational products and a past president of the National Association of Colleges and Employers. "They're not thinking about how, in the long term, an international experience might pay off."

The roots of study abroad's perception problem, many in the field agree, is that it has historically been seen as an add-on, a perk for wealthy students at selective colleges. That view is reinforced by the demographics: Although students from a wider swath of majors are going overseas, and to more diverse destinations, the typical participant still is a white woman in the humanities or social sciences. Europe, rather than Asia, with its growing business and economic clout, remains the top destination.

It's not just employers' attitudes that must be changed. College career-office staff members often know little about overseas study or its employment value. And study-abroad advisers typically focus on getting students overseas, not on what happens once they return.

What's more, colleges' organizational structures can mean that interaction between study-abroad and career counselors is rare. Frequently, the two groups are housed in different offices and report to different supervisors.

Because study-abroad and career staffers are unlikely to meet over the water cooler, colleges need to be deliberate in their efforts to build connections, says Martin Tillman, a former associate director of career services at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. "Campuses have to be proactive," says Mr. Tillman, a higher-education consultant and longtime expert on career development and international study.

Developing a Narrative

At Rice, an unusual administrative setup meant that both offices reported to Ms. Matherly. Even there, however, Ms. Matherly says she had to work to build bridges between the two, through small but concrete steps, like inviting career counselors to contribute a section to the university's study-abroad handbook about doing a job search from overseas. Employees from each department also attended relevant workshops put on by the other.

A number of institutions and some third-party providers are getting involved in similar efforts to help students translate their study-abroad experience into terms employers can understand. One of those companies, Cultural Experiences Abroad, has fashioned a semester-long career-development course, now offered as a pilot at two of its European sites, in Florence and Paris. The optional program includes pre-arrival reading assignments, Webinars with career consultants, and regular meetings that incorporate experiential exercises and journal writing.

For example, students might participate in business simulations or be asked to do specific tasks, such as applying for a local library membership; they then reflect on cultural distinctions they encountered and the skills they used to navigate those differences.

If the pilot takes off, CEA administrators plan to check back in with students after they return to their home campuses and help them connect with career offices there, says Kevin J.F. Murphy, the Italy academic dean and campus director.

Some colleges have developed their own programs to better integrate international study and career planning. The University of Michigan, for one, offers a dozen panel discussions each year on what it calls "international career pathways," most of which focus on how students can put their overseas experience to use in particular fields, such as global health or the environment.

At the Georgia Institute of Technology—where nearly half of all students have a cooperative-education experience, many overseas—the Work Abroad Program helps place students in international internships and jobs and advises them on marketing such study and work to global employers, says Debbie Gulick, the program's director.

When Ms. Matherly began her work at Rice back in the mid-1990s, she says, she had few models to emulate. Rather than requiring formal training for career and study-abroad staff members, she says she encouraged them to learn more about each other's roles through working together: co-sponsoring panel discussions on international careers, compiling print materials to help guide students in internship and job searches, and leading re-entry programs for students back from overseas study.

A development that helped spur further cooperation, Ms. Matherly says, was growing student interest in working overseas, both before and after graduation. At Rice, she hired students to serve as advisers to their peers who sought internships or work abroad. That's a position she hopes to replicate at the University of Tulsa.

Out of that interest grew a conference and study tour that exposed students to global careers in Asia, which Ms. Matherly continued when she moved to Tulsa in 2006. Another effort, a summer nanotechnology-research program for freshmen and sophomores in Japan, earned National Science Foundation support.

Built into the NanoJapan program, as the latter is known, are weekly sessions aimed at getting students to think about the real-world skills they are learning overseas. As part of discussions and writing assignments, Ms. Matherly and other leaders encourage students to think about questions such as, "Why do research abroad, rather than at a well-regarded university closer to home?" (One answer might be to understand how people may bring different sets of assumptions to research problems, depending on their cultural background.)

In one instance, a missed tram in a small Japanese town became a lesson in using problem-solving skills in an unfamiliar environment, in which students knew little of the local language.

In workshops and in one-on-one advising, Ms. Matherly and her advisers try to break down overseas experiences to help students see how what they learned abroad can been adapted to the workplace.

"We want to help students develop a narrative for employers, not just give them a list of internships and activities," says Jacqueline Hing, interim director of the Center for Student Professional Development at Rice. "It puts their experience abroad in terms of what an employer is looking for."

Adapting Perspectives

Ms. Hing's own experience abroad, helping Rice's then-sister institution, the International University Bremen, set up its career-placement office, made her more attuned to opportunities overseas and gave her firsthand insight into cultural and workplace differences.

A growing number of career counselors are going abroad, through the Fulbright International Education Administrators Program. When Ms. Matherly won a short-term grant to study in Germany through the program, in 1996, she says she was the only one of her group of 15 from the career side. Last year one of her staff members at Tulsa went on the same program; that time, half of the participants were from career services, she says.

Still, Ms. Matherly says it can sometimes be easier to get career counselors on board than study-abroad advisers, because it is a natural extension of career-services work to help students put their experiences in terms relevant to employers. Study-abroad advisers have been slower to adapt, she says, because they tend to deal with students on the front end of the process.

But Mr. Tillman, the higher-education consultant, says that may be changing, as students focus more intently on job prospects in the economic downturn. "We're moving from the idea that study abroad is inherently a good thing—which it is," he says, "to thinking more about the utilitarian benefits of going overseas."

Comments

1. archman - October 18, 2010 at 12:05 am

A VERY important point which was completely overlooked in this article is that many study abroad programs *are* in fact nothing more than a "backpacking trip through Europe." Thus the problem of students not being able to well articulate their course's learning goals and objectives isn't the problem, it's that such learning objectives simply weren't realized or were never there to begin with.

The "study" component of study abroad is one that I belive is in need of extensive reform in most U.S. schools. Far too many instructors do not meet contact hour requirements (as their own school defines them), and there is little/no academic oversight to ensure that students are getting an education and not just merely a vacation. Most study abroad offices (that I know of) focus on the logistical and financial aspects almost entirely. The academic component is often not examined at all, or is summarized to a course syllabus and a trip itinerary. In my experience, this is most insufficent.

I believe that if academic rigour is brought back into the majority of study abroad courses, this problem of employer perceptions will partially if not mostly solve itself. Students will be much better to articulate the academic aspects of their study abroad experiences, if they actually *have* such experiences.

2. ljakiel - October 18, 2010 at 10:31 am

When I was an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to be advised by a faculty member in my major that I should study away (I went to Canada rather than overseas) but not for a vacation. He worked with me to find an undergraduate fellowship program and get me a chance to study at the best university that I could. I do not think that most students get this kind of advisement. I was able to spend a year being challenged academically and navigating a major North American city, I was also funded in this endeavor. (My professor and I chose York University in Toronto for my study away opportunity). More students need to see studying away as a chance to go to a great university, not to go on vacation. There is plenty of time for that during breaks.

3. patbush - October 18, 2010 at 04:33 pm

The academic rigor of study abroad programs at many colleges and universities is missing. As a 20 year administrator, I've coordinated many study aboard programs that lacked structure curricula and learning assessments.

Colleges and universities are not capturing the cultural and international value of study aboard programs to enrich students' learning experiences. Faculty and administrators must do a better job developing global curricula that will prepare institutions and students to be globally competitive and pursue international careers as well as entrepreneural opportunities aboard.

Teaching students how to transfer their study abroad experience to skills and abilities should be apart of every program.

4. dfacchinetti - October 19, 2010 at 10:42 am

It's difficult to say (and probably perpetuates the very stereotype this article addresses) that all study abroad programs are only fun, freewheeling backpacking vacations for students. Such a view necessarily lumps the good programs in with the bad ones. I finished my master's degree requirements abroad as part of a summer study abroad program. It was both an adventure and a rigorous academic experience, and I was able to attend one of the most prestigious universities in Europe (for what that's worth). The intellectual work I did and the great fun I had made it one of the best experiences of my life.

While it may be true that some study abroad programs don't offer much in the way of education, if employers end up dismissing such programs as frivolous, that perceived lack of rigor must arise from how students/potential employees portray their experience. In other words, just about every study abroad program I know of advertises itself as both educational and fun, and most probably are. If a student in those programs has a difficult time articulating exactly how new cultural experiences translate into job readiness, I think its misguided to lay the blame with the programs and claim that they lack real intellectual and academic rigor. In the end, like any experience in higher education, the student really gets out of it what they put into it.

As such, the efforts of Cheryl Matherly seem very worthwhile. The problem, as I see it, isn't that study abroad programs on the whole don't offer a real education; it's just that students (who often have a difficult time articulating how varied experiences translate to the working world) haven't learned how to describe those experiences in a way that sounds appealing to employers.

5. archman - October 19, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Dfacchinetti, of course all study abroad programs will *advertise* themselves as educational as fun. However, those advertisements are where the educational component commonly stops.

The vast majority of study abroad programs are not traditional classroom courses, where an instructor commits a certain amount of time and expertise into direct teaching and assessment of students. Academic contact and coursework hours are more difficult to quantify, as the "abroad" component may entail work-study, service-learning, or independent study.

However, the instructor of record still must direct his/her course, provide academic expertise, and ultimately supervise and assess learning outcomes. What I have found throughout most U.S. based programs I have examined (either through direct participation, records examination, or student interviews) is that the instructors are dropping the ball. Too many of them lack academic credentials to actually teach the courses. Contact hours (even calibrating for non-lecture models) do not stack up. Learning assessment (in the form of exams, reports, or projects) is not rigorous (or yes, even lacking entirely).

The study abroad programs that REALLY irritate me are the ones that are most on the rise, where instructors finagle a paid recreation/research vacation via enrollment of a study abroad "class". In this model (for a model it truly is becoming), students are literally dumped into their hotels/dorms with a trip itinerary and basic area information, and left on their own throughout most of the trip. Meanwhile, the instructor is off doing his/her own thing. This is truly apalling, yet this happens, and happens more and more. So long as all the students make it back home, the instructor submits the trip receipts and enters student "grades", and the study abroad office (may) give the students a crummy boilerplate "exit evaluation", that is often the extent of academic assessment and records keeping.

Imagine being a student in such a scenario. What would they get out of such an experience? And how would they communicate the "value" of their program to a potential employer?

6. jourdept - October 19, 2010 at 12:47 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

7. lorilawson - October 19, 2010 at 03:23 pm

We need to fundamentally re-think the study abroad model. Two elements are needed to create global competency: exposure to a new culture PLUS the academic scaffolding to make it meaningful.

Simple classroom instruction without experience is not enough, nor typically is simply spending time in another culture. At my institution we are in the midst of designing certificate programs that will allow students to prepare for an intercultural experience and to de-brief after it in order to find meaning . . . still lots of details to work out - but ultimately, not only will we be helping students find international careers, I believe we will also be creating more globally competent citizens . . . which may be less quantifiable, but vitally important.

8. 11336803 - October 19, 2010 at 04:41 pm

The one month faculty led program where students learn from a home campus faculty member is the fastest growing kind of study abroad. The field of study abrod is promoting this and in many campuses I have seen administrators pushing this and forcing out "traditional" study abroad where language/cultural/academic learning over the course of a semester or year. This allows the Dean or Provost to give faculty "trips" abroad, it allows faculty to go places, students get credit for fun, and the Dean/Provost can add a line to their cv that says they increased international study by 80 percent. Anybody who does not go along is pushed out.

9. raymond_j_ritchie - October 19, 2010 at 06:36 pm

On paper a semester or two overseas should greatly benefit undergraduate and graduate students in the Arts and Sciences, in particular if they show imagination in where they go. Like most things in life you make of it what you will.
As an Australian PhD I did the usual thing and did stints as a post-doc in Britain, USA (twice) and Canada. I always seemed to end up in places with cold miserable climates and bad cafeteria food. I found Canada particularly inhospitable climatically and also socially. In all three countries, I learnt a lot in Science but also in anthropology. For example, I learnt that Homo americanus was a much more alien species than I thought. English may be the common language of the countries where I worked but the cultures were rather different and you can get some cultural shocks.
Only in the last few years have I discovered SE Asia. I have found Thai universities to be very welcoming, hospitable and eager for international programs. The students have very good morale and are quite hard-working. Many faculty have PhDs from overseas. The food and company is much better. A much more interesting experience and cultural differences do not surprise you. I have heard good accounts of student visits to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Sth Korea; mixed experiences of universities in Malaysia and Indonesia. The Philipines is far too dangerous.
My experiences with american students in Australia. I am afraid not many of them are much good academically. Most treat coming to Australia as a very good holiday. But that is OK, some decide to stay, for good reason. Americans have been jumping ship here since 1793 when the first yankee whaler turned up in Sydney Harbour.

10. kekica11 - October 19, 2010 at 08:37 pm

I'm surprised that everyone is dismissing the "fun" part of study abroad (or even backpacking) as something totally useless and unapplicable to work. Just because something is fun doesn't mean that nothing was learned from it.

I've both traveled and studied abroad, and I strongly believe that my exposure to different cultures, languages, and lifestyles has made me a more accepting and well-rounded person, which definitely translates to my ability to work with various ethnicities, age groups, and personality types.

Also, organizing travel itineraries, figuring out transportation, room and board, and communicating with locals despite language barriers are all challenging exercises in problem-solving (which I think we can all agree is a valuable job skill). Planning a smooth trip requires vision, research, and great organization. On the other hand, for those whose trips don't run smoothly, how they react to obstacles and surprises can also tell a lot about their leadership skills and their ability to solve problems under pressure.

Ultimately, I think it's not the classroom experience that really makes studying abroad so valuable (not to say that it should be altogether discounted). I had rigorous classes and spent lots of time at school while I studied in Italy, but I don't think it was any more enriching than taking the same classes at my Californian university. Instead, the true learning experience came from taking initiative to plan a major trip on my own, saving up money for it and budgeting, navigating unfamiliar places, communicating with locals to improve my language skills, and dealing with new challenges independently.

Ideally, if all citizens of the world could have (and take) the opportunity to study abroad (or at least live in a foreign land for several months), not only would there be more compassion between cultures, but the exchange of ideas would greatly encourage innovation and progress - and I don't think classroom experience has much to do with that.

11. wdabc - October 20, 2010 at 02:29 am

Study abroad programs are nothing more than a vacation. Now, Ms. Matherly wants to spend precious few resources on sending career counselors and study abroad counselors overseas? And, e student is expected to take a course to learn how to articulate what they did not learn. When the recruiters know the study abroad program is a joke, the whole university loses credibility.

A student can attend a semester abroad at a real university studying real courses. That is still no guarantee that the effort is not a vacation. After explaining the syllabus during orientation at a foreign university, I had three European students say "This course has the same rigor as my home university. We didn't come here to study."

12. engageabroad - October 20, 2010 at 04:29 am

It seems little has changed from a survey of US employers many years ago that revealed how little they valued study abroad experiences. It's great that career offices are seeking to help students tease out marketable skills from their time abroad. However, in the long run it will be more important for both colleges and students to have a strategic view of the skills that should be part and parcel of the study abroad experience and plan programs accordingly. Fluency in a foreign language or in the culture of the language (if it is English) should be one. Intimate knowledge of the political system and politics in the country or the health system or another specialized area might be another. These are the kinds of areas that separate excellent study abroad programs from tourism. It might also be useful to recognize that not all US based job applications need be to American companies and that foreign employers are more likely to appreciate the foreign study credentials of Americans.

13. carmenscarpati - October 20, 2010 at 05:43 am

As Registrar of an American, accredited, University in Rome, Italy, I can say that not all study abroad programs are lacking in academic rigor. We offer a vast range of courses to many top tier university programs in the US and host over 300 study abroad students every semester (at times more).
However, many students are not culturally prepared for such an experience, nor do they tend to make the most of it. A strong pre-orientation program administered to the students before they arrive would be quite helpful, but it will not solve all the problems tied to study abroad (drinking, lack of good academic performance, etc.)

14. alan_a - October 21, 2010 at 12:20 am

There are clearly two different types of study abroad experiences being discussed here: (1) Faculty-led summer study tours (which most people denegrate) and (2) Foreign university study experiences of a semester or more (which most people are supporting based on their own experience).

I personally know faculty who work very hard on their summer abroad courses, which I respect. However, the horror stories they tell of unruly American students really makes me wonder about the overall value of the experience, which never really allows the students to escape their "American cultural bubble". This somewhat supports 11336803's very depressing comment on this form of study abroad.

On the other hand, I plan to send my own son to Japan for a year of mostly language study, similar to what I did in Hong Kong some 35 years ago, because I know it can be a life changing experience. I just kind of wonder if modern technology will make it harder to break that "bubble", so that a full emersive learning experience can take place, that is was in the olden days...

15. lolabn - October 21, 2010 at 08:42 am

I was surprised to see virtually no mention in this article of learning a *foreign language.* Is this not one of the main reasons students should go abroad? If students who do go abroad don't learn a language, no wonder they don't have much to show future employers. Yes, the cultural experience is of great value no matter where you travel, but a language can be a huge asset in the workplace and students would be well advised to look at study abroad as a chance to gain a valuable and employable skill.

16. archman - October 21, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Lolabn, I do not believe most people with study abroad experiences bring up the foreign language immersion models, because we generally accept that that model is actually quite effective. It is much easier for students to self-direct themselves in language immersion, as they literally *have* to speak the foreign language in order to get around.

I am personally a huge fan of language immersion study abroad. Even if the academic instructor is totally incompetent or disinterested in leading the trip, students can still accrue a great deal of academic learning. Contact hours can actually be applied in regards to certain logistical or recreational functions (e.g. shopping, traveling, partying). Weird but true!

17. apistudyabroad - October 21, 2010 at 06:48 pm

I work for a third-party study abroad program provider, and we make a point to select academically-strong international partners, create programs to suit a variety of interests and niches, and to offer as many culturally enriching activities, events, volunteer opportunities, language reviews, and excursions as possible to round out the experience for our students.

I do agree that too many students do not realize how studying abroad can not only benefit them personally (learning a new language/culture, broadened worldview), or even their degree (taking courses for their major), but how it can be a major professional development tool. In addition to the extensive support and advice that we provide students in all three phases (pre-departure, on-site, and reentry), we've developed relationships with study abroad and travel blogging sites that help students to take advantage of the experiences gained from their time studying abroad for their future professional lives. The following blog posts reinforce this idea, and are worth a read if you are interested in this topic.

http://www.academicintl.com/blog/how-to/market-study-experience/

http://www.academicintl.com/blog/cultural-immersion/share-study-experience/

18. carlinrob - October 21, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Very interesting article. The "Lessons from Abroad" symposium series in San Diego, California draws upon qualified professionals from all of the major colleges and universities in San Diego to produce an extremely beneficial event for returnees by providing them guidance on "how to articulate" their experiences abroad as well as pursuit of international career choices.

19. bcbailey64 - October 23, 2010 at 01:24 am

I would have to say that anyone criticizing the value of international experience does not have any. It is incredibly valuable and life-enriching. I taught ESL in Japan for 6 years and they were by far, the most incredible years in my life. My sister attended the Sorbonne in Paris for a year and she has often said to me that that was the best year in her life. I attended junior high school in England for a year and that was also an amazing experience. I learned things I NEVER could have learned had I stayed in my own country and culture. In the grand scheme of things, what you learn when you live in a foreign country is of infinite more value than anything you can learn in an educational institution. Anyone who does not understand that is someone who has never had the privledge of the experience. It is that simple.

20. bcbailey64 - October 23, 2010 at 02:39 am

In reference to my comment above, my blog post details why I think international experience is so invaluable - very much in alignment with comment 10 by kekica11 -

http://rrubailey.wordpress.com/2010/08/01/13/

21. 11336803 - October 25, 2010 at 04:04 pm

bcbailey64: Your first comment is difficult since the implication is that all study abroad is equally valuable and any criticism is uninformed. There are in fact people with a lot of experience who have questions about study abroad as an educational enterprise. It is not that simple.

22. studentroads - October 26, 2010 at 02:12 am

I applaud the lively discussion.

One additional angle on this topic is that we cannot overlook the fact that students have to take the initiative to select the right programs and to maximize the benefit of the program. Merely electing to study abroad is no more informative to an independent party (e.g. recruiter, grad school admissions officer, parent, etc.) than electing to take ECON101. The student must be able to articulate why they chose the program and what they got from the experience, just as they should be able to discuss the coursework and theory covered in the econ class. The student should be savvy enough to know that whereas traditional classes have a transparent grade system, the study abroad experience will have 'softer' results. Language ability can clearly be demonstrated, where appropriate, as can the civics of the country as @engageabroad points out.

There is a time and place for each of the study abroad modes, the students have to hold the programs and themselves accountable.

@ lorilawson what school are you at? Your certification program sounds very interesting.

Robin (studentroads)

23. studentroads - October 26, 2010 at 02:32 am

@lolabn - you may find this blog post and discussion interesting: "foreign language programs are the only aspect of the humanities that really “rewire” your brain in a serious way, akin to learning the play a musical instrument"

http://itself.wordpress.com/2010/10/16/language-acquisition/#comment-14600

24. espears - October 27, 2010 at 09:21 am

I have been a study abroad director for a decade and I empathize with Archman's Oct 18th concern about the academic component of study abroad (and now at my institution, international service-learning). My office answers directly to the provost and is in the heart of academic affairs. This line of reporting placing study abroad in the central acacemic unit of the university and provides administrative latitude for my office to partner faculty on program AND curriculum design. My concern build's on this initial comment to include the pressure on our offices to increase student volume, which risks translating into less effective international learining experiences if the study abroad office becomes too focused on student recruitment versus meaningful program design.

25. archman - October 27, 2010 at 09:50 am

Bingo to espears! The essentially unchecked growth of study abroad initiatives at many U.S. schools is certainly creating concerns regarding curriculum rigour.

It is hard to find U.S. universities that presently are *not* ballooning their study abroad offices. These programs generate tuition dollars to the university without usually utilizing valuable classroom space. They also don't tend to impinge on traditional faculty teaching loads in spring and fall semesters. Another great incentive to universities is marketing and advertising. Study abroad is RED HOT right now as a student recruiting tool.

One should see how slippery a slope this can be, if left to propagate unchecked by accreditors and concerned faculty. I have found that the majority of university administrators (and study abroad office staff, unfortunately) either don't know (or don't want you to tell them) that study abroad *is* a college class, and has to evaluated and monitored for academic rigour. I have had quite a few heated discussions with study abroad personnel over the years trying to hammer this point home... the study-abroad private businesses (that accredit through a university) are especially notorious.

26. drj50 - October 28, 2010 at 09:05 am

Students will be able to articulate the value of their study abroad experience when institutions articulate it first. Unfortunately, we focus too much on the process without being clear on the intended results. It will be better still when institutions require students, as part of the experience, to evaluate their own learning in the light of anticipated outcomes. True, the "missed tram" in Japan was not an expected part of the curriculum, but using creativity to solve problems in an unfamiliar environment is a probable outcome of almost any study abroad experience.
I hate to say this, but what we are talking about here is "outcomes assessment." And assessment people have said for years that student learning is enhanced when schools and instructors articulate for students in advance what they should learn from an assignment, course, etc. In this sense, study abroad is no different than British literature, biochemistry, or Brazilian art -- students learn more when those with greater experience help them frame and interpret their experience.

27. sadza - October 31, 2010 at 01:21 pm

Though the student in the story does sound like her independent foreign study deserves a bit more respect, I have to agree with those who say that most American 'study abroad' 'experiences' are pointless holidays.

The lack of academic rigour has been gone over already.

But what about the fact that most American study abroaders are socially cossetted too? They go on programmes organised by their American unis, live in 'international' dorms, hang out with other Americans, and even take special courses that the locals don't take. I have no respect for these people, if they want employers to respect their 'international experiences' that seem to mount up to ordering beer in an American bar in Paris.

Of course, not every study abroader is like this. I'm sure that people who directly enroll in a foreign university, organise their own flights and accommodation, and deal with the local beaurocracy are learning some skills.

But 'backpacking through Europe' probably provides *more* international skill than the average American study abroad programme. At least whilst backpacking you have to book your own hostels.

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