Update #3: The IDEAL Study Abroad Program

**Disclaimer: I forgot to post these progress reports throughout my research, but I will try to post reflective accounts of the different stages of my research**

The final piece of my initial project proposal had been to study what elements of a study abroad experience can maximize the benefits I’d discovered earlier. I had wanted to develop an ideal study abroad program which would utilize time immersed in a different culture and community to increase intercultural sensitivity and adaptability.

Many of the studies that I read explained that longer programs, such as for a semester, year, or even a few years, were most beneficial because there are more opportunities to work through different everyday scenarios. This length of stay allows students to feel as though they are integrated into the community instead of simply a visitor observing from the outside. Another benefit of the longer programs is the extended amount of time in which students studying in a country whose national language differs from their own can practice their communication skills. One study found that continued language usage, which is very beneficial for learning a second language, was greatest when students stayed with a host family as opposed to in an apartment with other American students. Greater long-term language benefits were also experienced by students who attended courses at the local university, presumably in the language of the host country and, if possible, with local students. These students who studied at local universities were also more likely to work or volunteer abroad after their experience, making it a stepping stone toward their status as “global citizens.”

Speaking of volunteering, many studies promoted integrated experiences, such as community-based research and service learning, as opposed to “touristic” experiences. The main goal of the study abroad program is to help students understand global context by experiencing it firsthand through engagement, but universities must be careful not to replicate or reinforce existing power dynamics. The most common trope to be avoided is a highly educated, economically stable, predominantly Caucasian attempting to “save the world” by offering their services to “helpless” children in less developed Third World countries. Programs such as these do not foster true appreciation for the beauty of the host country’s culture or intercultural communication awareness but instead strengthen the ethnocentric view of the students.

The final element of an ideal study abroad program that I wanted to discuss in this post is the accessibility of the program to all students. Many students may struggle to study abroad without financial assistance or do not believe that they can afford a semester of classes if the credits for their courses do not transfer back to their home university. Luckily, William and Mary works with students to provide scholarships and accept credits from their programs or transfer credits from other third-party programs to make it possible for many students to study abroad.

Comments

  1. As someone who is interested in pursuing a study abroad program next year, I think your project sounds fascinating! You’ve spoken about the benefits of the program, some of which are readily apparent but others seem less direct. For example, cultivating oneself to become a “global citizen” who participates in international aid efforts, etc. isn’t something I would immediately think of as a long term benefit of studying abroad, but it certainly seems enriching beyond one semester or year. Practicing another language is also a great benefit you mentioned, and it makes sense that your research led you to conclude that longer study abroad programs facilitate the development of this skill.

    It seems like you’ve put a lot of thought and effort into figuring out which elements of study abroad are most important for crafting the ideal experience, and I can’t wait to see the final product at the Showcase in October!