Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Overcoming the Study Abroad Hype

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Overcoming the Study Abroad Hype

Article excerpt

Within recent years, a remarkable groundswell of support for study abroad has emerged. In 2001, the American Council on Education reported that 75% of the public believe that study abroad should be included in a student's college education (Hayward & Siaya, 21-25). Three years later, the NASULGC (National Association for State Universities and Land Grant Colleges) Task Force issued A Call to Leadership urging university presidents to focus on international education as a means of enriching student learning and achievement, and the United States Senate passed Resolution 308 declaring 2006 as the Year of Study Abroad. Even more recently, the Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, which is designed to leverage governmental resources to expand the number of students studying abroad, received unanimous approval by the House of Representatives and will be heading to the Senate soon.

In many ways, this broad-based support is understandable. American students' understanding of the world is remarkably shallow. As the U.S. Senate noted in its 2006 resolution, "87% of students in the United States between the ages of 18 and 24 cannot locate Iraq on a world map, 83% cannot find Afghanistan, 58% cannot find Japan, and 11% cannot even find the United States" (Vistawide). The Lincoln Commission, which was established by Congress in 2004, also explained, "What nations do not know exacts a heavy toll. The stakes involved in study abroad are that simple, that straightforward, and that important" (3).

As the Lincoln Commission intimates, study abroad offers many benefits, including improving Americans' global understanding. The GLOSSARI project, a ten-year effort to document academic outcomes of study abroad across the entire University System of Georgia, found that students who studied abroad had a higher four-year graduation rate, a higher mean cumulative GPA, and a greater functional knowledge of cultural practices, than nonstudying abroad students (Redden). A 2009 survey of 6,391 study abroad participants revealed that study abroad impacted their career paths and capacity for global engagement (e.g., civic engagement, knowledge production, philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, and volunteerism) (Paige et al.). other studies have reported additional positive outcomes, including a deeper understanding of global issues (Carlson et al.; Carsello and Creaser; Douglas and Jones-Rikkers); more favorable attitudes toward other cultures (Kitsantas); stronger intercultural communication skills (Anderson et al.; Williams); improved self-image (Cushner and Mahon); and better foreign language skills (Freed).

Influenced by these findings, numerous colleges and universities have begun to incorporate study abroad into their strategic planning, curricular requirements, and marketing processes (Bollag; Fischer). The study abroad contagion recently surfaced at my own institution. Four years ago, the president and provost set the lofty goal that at least 50% of our 14,000 students would study abroad at some point during their undergraduate education. To better ensure the success of this goal, the provost and director of international education personally paid a visit to each department across campus issuing strong inducements to incorporate study abroad experiences into its curriculum. At the same time, a new university-wide funding model was instituted requiring that any new international program developed by faculty operate at a profit.

Not surprisingly, within weeks I began receiving numerous urgent email requests from faculty members asking me to advertise their study abroad programs to honors students. Glitzy colored posters began appearing all over campus, some of them promising four-star-hotel-type amenities and long weekends or mid-term breaks to accommodate additional tourist-type travel.

As honors director, I had decidedly mixed feelings about the new aggressive study abroad strategic goal and the resulting marketing efforts. …

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