Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Getting to Know the Neighbors: Library Support for Study Abroad Programs

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Getting to Know the Neighbors: Library Support for Study Abroad Programs

Article excerpt


The practice of sending young people abroad to "finish" their education was common primarily among well-to-do families in the 1800's and well into the 1900's. We see examples of this practice in the fictional families that inhabit Jane Austin's novels, and we see travel play a pivotal role in the development of Henry James' character Isabel Archer, in Portrait of a Lady. Ideally, these characters aim for broadening their horizons to become citizens of the world. Though this practice of travel abroad for students in their late teens and early twenties was perhaps a little less likely to happen in the United States' early history, by the end of World War II, many people were becoming aware of the need for such travel for a larger portion of the student population (Bjerkness 2). The heart of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor Policy," put in place in 1933, not only sought to "distance the United States from earlier interventionist policies" (US State Department), but also implied the need to understand other cultures more fully (Bjerkness 2). The huge impact of the war brought home the importance of diplomacy to many in the United States, and in recognition of that need, Senator J. William Fulbright proposed a bill in Congress that "called for the use of surplus war property to fund the "promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science'" ("Fulbright Program"). The passage of this bill, in effect, formalized study abroad for United States higher education.

What started as primarily a security concern, as a means of promoting peaceful relationships between countries, evolved over time into an economic concern, as the marketplaces of individual countries have become more intrinsically tied to each other. Students in the United States, in particular, are noted for their lack of understanding of global market issues; studies have found students able in specific disciplines, but lacking in "important cross-cultural skills" (McCarthy 68). Worse, one study found that "'only a very small proportion of American students command a level of knowledge necessary for even an adequate understanding of global situations and processes'" (Hayward qtd. in Altbach 31). With the disastrous events of September 11, 2001, the emphasis on study abroad swung back more towards educating younger citizens for security reasons (Lane 11). Presently, travel abroad programs aim to balance economic and security concerns. Goli Ameri, Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs observed:

US students recognize that our world is increasingly interdependent, and we at the US Department of State are committed to providing many of them substantive international experiences that increase mutual understanding and provide them with direct knowledge and career relevant skills. Our Fulbright and Gilman program numbers are at all time highs, and hundreds of American students receive National Security Language Initiative scholarships. ("US Study Abroad")

US students who travel abroad not only increase their understanding of global issues, they are seen as young diplomats, representing the best of the United States' national character (Bjerkness 5) and showing "'America's respect for other cultures, a cornerstone of our public diplomacy efforts'" (Hughes qtd. in "American Students").

Acknowledging this range of benefits of formal study abroad, colleges and universities increasingly focused on creating study abroad programs within their own institutions, thus expanding on the Fulbright Act. To support these programs within the academy, a number of institutions have developed specific curriculum goals which travel programs must meet. Ideally, these goals aim for increasing students' understanding of global systems--the ways in which countries' political and economic systems intersect. Good programs incorporate global language efforts and research on global cultures, on different countries' terrain, and on countries' market and technology strategies. …

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