Education Abroad for Graduate Students

By Hulstrand, Janet | International Educator, January/February 2015 | Go to article overview

Education Abroad for Graduate Students


Hulstrand, Janet, International Educator


EDUCATION ABROAD has traditionally been done most often at the undergraduate level, but in recent years, graduate students have expressed more interest in studying abroad-and campuses are getting on board to offer them opportunities abroad.

"We believe that international research, fieldwork, and study are critical components of a twenty-first century graduate education," says Zack Klim, director of academic initiatives and global programs at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

At some institutions, international internships and other global education programs at the graduate level have been going on for 30 years or more; at other institutions, the practice is relatively new. But everyone seems to agree that in today's world, the value if not the necessity of experience abroad as an integral part of a graduate program is inarguable. Some graduate programs are even beginning to require it.

Stepping Up Graduate Education Abroad

"One thing that's a little different with graduate programming, as opposed to undergraduate, at least at USD, is that graduate students are interested in more nontraditional markets," says Denise Dimon, associate provost for international affairs at the University of San Diego (USD). "They are much more likely to go to developing countries and emerging markets-in South America, Asia, the Middle East. Ninety percent of our graduate programming is in these types of markets, as opposed to maybe 35 percent for undergraduates. Also, almost all of our graduate programs are experiential. So it's much more hands-on. They also tend to be shorter, and more intensive than undergraduate programs."

Rebecca Bellinger, director, Office of Global Initiatives at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at University of Maryland agrees. "In professional schools, there seems to be a shift, moving away from the tour-based, excursionbased opportunities of traditional study abroad, toward project-based learning, where students will work with a client or sponsor, or in some kind of group field project related to a real-life problem," she says. "We're seeing a move toward this kind of practical, applied learning. This not only provides a great resource for clients, or whomever you're working with abroad, typically in the developing world, but it also allows students to build a portfolio of skills that they can bring into interviews."

At American University in Washington, D.C., the School of International Service (SIS) recently revised its graduate degree programs in response to the needs of the market. "We launched a new capstone requirement: the graduate practicum, a program designed to give secondyear master's students real-world experience in project management and consulting, while preparing them for postgraduate careers," says Leeanne Dunsmore, associate dean of program development and graduate admissions.

Students work in teams with clients that include U.S. and other government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and businesses to conduct policy and program analysis, drawing on their research to prepare final oral and written analysis and recommendations. Practica are led by faculty mentors who hold weekly class sessions: students also participate in hands-on workshops designed to enhance their project management, client relations, and oral and writing skills. And apparently it's working well. "Within six months of graduation, 89 percent of SIS graduates have found fulltime employment in their field of choice," says Dunsmore.

Global programs for graduate students tend not to be operated out of centralized education abroad offices, but rather through the individual professional schools. At USD, according to Dimon, "Every single graduate school has some kind of international center, or program, centered and organized around the expertise and the programming that those schools want their graduate students to have. Our School of Leadership and Educational Sciences requires an international experience as part of their commitment to understanding multiple perspectives. …

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