Study Abroad in West Africa: An Interdisciplinary Program of International Education

Article excerpt

This article describes development of an interdisciplinary study abroad program to West Africa at the University of Georgia to help students gain a global perspective. The program is interdisciplinary with several disciplines including social work, clothing and textile, history, and teacher education. -This article discusses/highlights a need for a study abroad program to West Africa, development of an interdisciplinary program, program content, learning activities, benefits/outcomes, and challenges in developing an interdisciplinary program in a developing country.

Introduction

As the need for a globally sophisticated workforce grows, the demand for study abroad programs has emerged as one of the nine top trends in higher education (Dennis, 2003; Lane, 2003). Consequently, there has been a 250 percent increase in the number of United States (U.S.) students completing study abroad programs in the last ten years (Institute of International Education Network[IIEN], 2005; Krisantas, 2005). Study

abroad programs are defined as all educational programs that take place outside of the geographical boundaries of the country of origin (Kitsantas, 2004). Most study abroad programs typically involve a combination of course work, demonstrations, experiential activities, and tours. Students may choice to participate in programs sponsored by a U.S. college/university, a non-educational organization, or directly in a foreign university; these programs may vary in length from a full year to a semester, or even a mini semester. However, emerging reports indicate that students are increasingly interested in short-term (i.e., less than 8 weeks) program models (Arenson, 2003; IIEN, 2005; Lewis & Niesenbaum, 2005). Students from both public and private institutions are participating in short-term and long-term study abroad programs.

Students at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens are no exception as the university is among the leading public institutions in the nation enrolling students in study abroad programs. UGA founded in 1875 is one of the nation's oldest state-chartered land and sea-grant institutions in America. With an enrollment of over 32,000 students, the university is ranked among the nation's top public research universities. As the state's flagship university, UGA has a critical role in preparing the next generation of leaders for global competence. To meet these challenges, UGA is committed to offering international study abroad experiences. With more than 1400 students participating in study abroad programs in 2004, UGA currently ranks eighth in the nation among public university's sending students abroad (IIEN, 2004). The among public university's sending students abroad (IIEN, 2004). The West Africa Study Abroad Program (WASAP) is among the study abroad programs at UGA. The WASAP is short-term interdisciplinary, summer study abroad program that is housed in the School of Social Work. The program is open to all undergraduates and graduate students at UGA as well as any institution of higher education in the U.S. This paper includes a discussion of the need for study abroad in West Africa, the development of the program including content and learning activities, benefits, and challenges.

Need for the Program

There are and remain challenges in attracting students to programs in developing countries. Despite growing national interest in study abroad programs, the demand for studying in developing regions in Africa lags behind other developed regions (Pires, 2000). The continent of Africa as a region with many developing countries rates seventh out of the top ten host regions for U.S students (IIEN, 2005). On the other hand, Europe as a region currently host at least 60 percent of U.S. students studying abroad, whereas Latin American is a distant second at slightly more than 15 percent (IIEN, 2004). Widely held views of political instability, language barriers, limited resources of institutions, and down right ignorance of African culture are issues associated with this reluctance found among American students (Burn, 1985; Pires, 2000; Sobania, 1994). …