Students' Pre-Departure Expectations and Post-Sojourn Observations in a Short-Term International Program Abroad on the Culture, Music, and Art of Brazil

Article excerpt

Globalization has certainly had an impact on how young adults are educated. Over the past three decades, higher education institutions have developed and offered educational experiences that acknowledge the inherent values of cultures around the world. In order to provide first-hand learning experiences, many universities have initiated numerous international programs with related course work.

Traditionally, U. S. universities offering such programs have focused attention on courses that are related to Western European cultures. Recently, however, universities have developed and are offering long- and short-term international programs in a number of countries in Asia, Africa, and South America. This more expansive approach provides greater possibilities for appreciation of non-Western European cultures.

Globalization fosters a greater demand for people who understand and can apply the complex processes of global communication. It is expected that today's world citizens will be proficient in foreign languages, familiar with economic systems, aware of political and social structures, and show an appreciation for the historical, cultural, and artistic traditions that have molded the thoughts and behaviors of those with whom they will interact on the international scene. Study abroad programs have had a significant role in accomplishing this goal (Carlson, Burn, Useem, & Yachimowicz, 1990).

Many of the benefits provided by study abroad programs are based upon convictions and assumptions administrators and faculty have made over the years. Until the 1980s, little hard evidence and comprehensive research existed that documented the actual contributions such programs made to students and their educational growth. The Study Abroad Evaluation Project (SAEP) conducted in 1982 was one of the first attempts to provide a comprehensive research document that proposed future guidance to the role of study abroad programs. The project is divided into two parts. The first is devoted to study abroad programs; the second to their impact on students (Burn, Cerych, & Smith, 1990). The SAEP revealed that since the 1980s, universities and colleges across the United States have made substantial investments in international education. It seems that university administrators and faculty alike recognize that study abroad programs provide invaluable contributions to students' foreign language proficiency and understanding of the world's cultures.

Burn et al. (1990) categorized the study abroad programs surveyed in the SAEP and found some shared characteristics. For instance, programs may be unilateral or bilateral, entailing reciprocal exchange of students; offered in a single field of study or open to students from all fields; mandatory or elective; short or long term; and so on.

The findings of the SAEP (Carlson et al., 1990) seem to support the conventional wisdom about study abroad programs and show the impact they have had on American students. For example, study abroad students tend to be financially more independent. Students enrolled in foreign language courses also progress with greater success from the intermediate to the advanced level in language proficiency. Furthermore, low interaction with American peers is positively correlated with international learning, integration into the host culture, strong academic performance, and lower incidences of problems while studying abroad.

The Study Abroad Articulation Project (SAAP) was launched in 1987 and grew out of the SAEP (Burn, 1991). Its overall objective was the identification of factors, conditions, and attitudes that might prevent American undergraduates from making study abroad a central and integral part of their total degree program. It also focused on the identification and encouragement of institutional strategies and policies aimed at eliminating and reducing these obstacles. These objectives were based upon earlier findings by the SAEP revealing that most American undergraduates are under the impression that a study abroad program "is in addition to, not part of, their degree programs and would prolong their degree studies - and even cost more" (Bum, 1991, p. …