Opening the Door Wider is Not Enough

As an alumnus of World Learning’s SIT Graduate Institute , I was pleased to read this story in the Boston Globe: A lot of the data the authors [senior administrators at SIT]  cite will be familiar to professionals, although appearing in a mainstream media outlet, they needed to explain their point of view for a more general audience:  that American students need to diversify their study abroad destinations to include more of the developing world.   Something international educators have been trying to do for decades…

What I find troubling in the story is when they say, “As our students prepare for careers in our globalized economy, they need a more nuanced understanding of the world…”  And “A deeper appreciation of these places [countries in the developing world] may well give students the experience and insights they will need for international and professional collaboration in the future.”  Maybe.

Opening the door wider and having more undergrads walk through is a goal all international educators support.  But it is not enough.

What is really needed is more money and staff on campus supporting deeper and more integrated approaches to advising students at the time they make their decision to study abroad (thus more engagement of the career office advising staff) along with purposeful methods of engaging students while they’re in-country and upon return to campus.  I’ve written here about this before and in research for a forthcoming publication, I’ve identified many campuses that do just this –however, I think most campuses are understaffed to offer students the quality of advising which would realize the goals cited above my colleagues at SIT.

Adapting and making sense of a cross-cultural experience of any kind in a highly complex non-western culture is difficult and takes time; and it demands a more sophisticated effort by campuses to both prepare students for such an experience and to help them make meaning of their experience upon return to campus.  Especially if one of the goals is to have students apply what they learned abroad in their job searches in order for their international experience to showcase their skills and capabilities in the workforce. 


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