Study abroad is but one way to globalize students’ perspective

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Mark Salisbury, director of institutional research and assessment at Augustana College Illinois, argues that too many in study abroad still put the cart before the horse, and that it is high time to rethink and redo study abroad, all the more now that growth in study abroad seems to have plateaued.

He emphasizes the importance of this key quote by Peggy Blumenthal, senior counsel at the Institute of International Education (IIE), commenting on the latest Open Doors report documenting a lack of growth in study abroad:

We are going to have to find other ways to internationalize the thinking of Americans if we’re not going to get them all abroad.

To strengthen his argument, he points out that the US is far from reaching the goal of one million students studying abroad annually (set by the Lincoln Commission in 2005), and instead stagnates at about 250,000; that it’s roughly the same type of students who have always studied abroad – just more of them; and that, perhaps worst of all, ‘student learning often falls far short of expectations.’

These limitations are part of a broader assessment made by the AIEA at its last annual conference that comprehensive internationalization has not realized its potential and needs to be re-imagined and re-conceptualized as it increasingly lags behind the globalization of education and the world more generally:

We still do basically what we have done for the last 20 years, and the landscape of internationalization has completely changed. (Hans de Wit, director of the Centre for Higher Education Internationalization, and one of the leading experts on international education)

Rather than an end in itself, study abroad should be seen as a means to the end of globalizing students’ perspective. Therefore, the priority should be to first globalize education to succeed in the 21st century, and then focus resources on providing experiences as a means to achieve this end.

If not more and more students study abroad, other mechanisms for globalizing students become all the more important. Along with many others, Salisbury suggests two major ways. One is to integrate international students more deeply and more systematically into college life for the mutual benefit of themselves and their American counterparts, and the other is to use technology to facilitate collaboration between students at schools in different countries. Another major mechanism one could add is the globalization of the curriculum through systematic curricular infusion and through the addition of stand-alone global and interdisciplinary courses, which is the goal of the emerging field of global studies.

Larry A. Braskamp, president of the Global Perspective Institute (GPI) and professor emeritus at Loyola University in Chicago, has developed the Global Perspective Inventory which

reflects a global and holistic view of student learning and development and the importance of the campus environment in fostering holistic student development. The GPI measures how a student thinks, views herself as a person with a cultural heritage, and relates to others from other cultures, backgrounds and values. It reflects how students are responding to three major questions: How do I know?, Who am I? and, How do I relate to others?

The GPI was designed so users can focus on potential relationships and connections between global student learning and development and types of student experiences in and out of the classroom.

In Strangers in a Strange Land, an article about the potential and challenges of international students in the US, Elizabeth Redden, who covers global education for Inside Higher Ed, reports that in his research Braskamp has found that

entering American freshmen do not tend to think complexly, are not comfortable amidst difference and do not typically have friends who are unlike them. “We’ve said, O.K., the  implication of all this is we need to create ‘encounters with difference that make a difference,’ ” he said.  “I’ve thought of it as students being on a journey: they start with rather simplistic views of themselves, of their social interactions and the ways in which they understand the world around them. So in some ways what we need to do in college is increasingly provide them opportunities for encounters to get them to rethink who they are, how they think, and how they relate to others. In many ways, international students coming on campus is an opportunity for students, faculty members, and international administrators to take advantage of that difference and that diversity. But it’s really hard work.

Such encounters can be curricular, co-curricular or informal: in fact, Braskamp’s research suggests that informal encounters such as discussion of current events with other students may be the most impactful. Still, he emphasized that there’s much more that can be done in the classroom to facilitate such encounters. In a sample of about 48,000 undergraduates at more than 140 four-year colleges, he found that about one-third report never having taken a course that “focuses on significant global/international issues or problems” or that “included opportunities for intensive dialogue among students with different backgrounds and beliefs.”

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