Using Post-Study-Abroad Experiences to Enhance International Study

By Dean, Kevin W.; Jendzurski, Michael B. | Honors in Practice, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview
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Using Post-Study-Abroad Experiences to Enhance International Study

Dean, Kevin W., Jendzurski, Michael B., Honors in Practice


Everyone likes to get a joke. Those who catch the humor feel included among the others who find it funny. Conversely, those who fail to catch the punchline can feel excluded, leading to frustration, resentment, or even anger toward those who got it. Like a well-timed joke, many study abroad experiences offer opportunities for all people at a university to get it: a broadened global perspective gleaned from interpersonal engagement with cultural others in an international setting. Unfortunately, and far too often, the campus majority who do not have this firsthand travel experience remain disengaged and might feel excluded. We contend, though, that participants are not the only people to benefit from international study; veterans of study abroad, as they share their experiences through multiple channels with others, enhance the campus and community in new and transformative ways.

Student interest in international study is growing among both students coming to the U.S. and U.S. students studying in other countries. Brain Track, a popular site assisting international students coming to the United States (US), reports data from the Institute of International Education (IIE) indicating "the number of international students in the US reached an all-time high at over 600,000. Additionally, annual inquiries from prospective international students sent to the US Department of State have recently reached 25 million" (2011). The Christian Science Monitor published results from a 2010 report by the IIE documenting 270,604 American students studying abroad in the 2009-2010 academic year, a rise of nearly four percent over the previous year. "This figure has more than tripled in the past two decades, with the number of students studying abroad increasing every year" (Mach).

Despite increased participation, the actual number of students who experience study abroad remains a small fraction of the whole campus population. Scholars acclaim multiple values derived from international education (e.g., Haynes; Braid and Palma de Schrynemakers; Karsan; Otero; Hoffa; Lewin), but frequently the value of these opportunities remains sequestered. The broader campus community is not afforded the chance to "get it," and thus study abroad remains unfamiliar or elusive to many within campus communities. Akin to those on the outside of a joke, uninformed individuals can harbor negativity toward study-abroad opportunities and outcomes.


Detractors of international study contend that educational practices involving study abroad can be described in the following negative ways:

1. Elitist because they are highly selective and not typically available to the general campus population, with only a small percentage of the campus community participating.

2. Extravagant because the low number of students directly served and the high costs for the participants do not justify the institutional support or expenditures.

3. Elementary because of a lack in academic rigor, with international programs resembling holidays more than activities meriting academic credit.

4. Ephemeral because participation can produce an interruption of an individual's progress toward a completed degree, with international study becoming tangential and distracting students from their commitment to academic study.

The cry of elitism often comes from those who consider international experiences as activities which promote privilege. Indeed, many early university study-abroad programs were offered by "privileged liberal arts colleges with a tradition of sending students on the Grand European Tour" (DeWinter 56). While many such programs encouraged language acquisition, they involved little direct engagement with the culture and people of the host country. This lack of connectivity can seem elitist, particularly when American students pass judgments through the eyes of class privilege in developing countries.

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