Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Student Perceptions of the Impact of Their Diverse Study Abroad Experiences

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Student Perceptions of the Impact of Their Diverse Study Abroad Experiences

Article excerpt

Introduction

Many undergraduate students in the United States elect to spend some time during their college experience studying abroad. During the 2010-2011 academic year, 273,996 US students studied abroad to receive academic credit (Institute of International Education, 2012). Over the past two decades, the number of US students participating in study abroad programs has more than tripled (Institute of International Education, 2012). Universities offer students a variety of ways to study abroad. At The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), students can select a wide variety of programs in countries all over the world. The Penn State University Office of Global Programs (UOGP) advertises 156 programs for undergraduate students.

Students in colleges of agriculture across the country, including those at Penn State, are going beyond the borders of the United States to learn more about other cultures, emerging agricultural sectors and contemporary issues in the industry from the perspective of local citizens in other countries. This experience may, at first blush, seem like a fun trip for an undergraduate student, but this type of global exposure is critical to getting the next generation of agriculturalists to broaden their own viewpoints, develop empathy for other global citizens and communities, and more fully embrace the challenges and opportunities that come with feeding a developing and growing world.

In 2014-15, 181 students in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State traveled to 29 countries (College of Agricultural Sciences Senior Survey, 2015). These students participated in embedded courses (one to two weeks), short-term trips (two to three weeks), summer abroad activities (six weeks) and full semester abroad programs (12 to 13 weeks). In most instances, the travel aligned with the student's major or specific areas of interest, however other trips were group experiences for student organizations like the Food Science Club or the Dairy Science Club. Through this travel to other countries, students embrace a higher level of self-sufficiency (especially when in countries where English is not the primary language), a stronger understanding of cultures outside of Pennsylvania and their own local communities, and an enhanced sense of place for the area visited. Additionally, students are able to more fully compare agriculture in that region with that which they are familiar, breaking down barriers that lead to agricultural ethnocentrism or biases against other ways of producing food. This global exposure is important to move students beyond what they know, or think they know, and to get them to better understand what is at the global level.

Additionally, global travel as an undergraduate, gives students the rare opportunity to build a network of industry allies around the world, rather than the more typical scenario where they get to know only local alumni well. This interaction with leaders in other nations can lead to internship opportunities, career options, or even further exploration of a topic of interest to the student. As students look for career opportunities following their undergraduate education, these trips and experiences not only make them stand out as top candidates, but also put new/younger employees on track to additional opportunities because of the potential for them to relocate to other countries with the growing number of multinational agribusinesses (VorhauserSmith, 2013). Many companies will share that they have an expectation that college has prepared students with the fundamental knowledge they need to receive even more training and guidance as a professional. What makes students stand out to employers are the soft skills, including cultural awareness, team dynamics, self-motivation, that will make them a high functioning member of the organization. Increasingly, for many firms high functioning employees have the capacity to work overseas or at the very least to work on cross-cultural assignments. …

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