WHY STUDY ABROAD? 

Short term study abroad experiences have too easily been dismissed as "educational tourism." Critics charge that not knowing the language of the host country, having too little immersion time in a place, and insufficient contact with locals, especially in non-western countries (Symonds). While such observations may have been true in older study abroad programs, the research and attention paid to designing and delivering a globally situated curriculum, with well-integrated long and short-term study abroad opportunities, has better prepared colleges and universities to deliver effective faculty-led seminars that open students' eyes to a variety of different perspectives.

In her opinion piece, "Why Global Learning Cannot Wait," Dawn Michele Whitehead, the Association of American Colleges & Universities' (AAC&U's) senior director of global learning and curricular change, writes:

With intentional, high-quality global learning experiences inside and outside the classroom, students will be prepared to engage multiple perspectives as they explore the seemingly unanswerable, contested questions of our times. They are also given multiple opportunities to evaluate evidence from diverse sources and consider the varied ramifications in different global contexts. As institutions across our nation and the world are grappling with these issues, they have gone beyond simply including the words international or global in their mission statements to identifying ways to provide students with meaningful engagement with global issues.

While the learning outcomes may not immediately manifest themselves in terms of visually recognizable skills, a recent piece in Forbes magazine by David J. Smith, notes that:

Seeing how others live can provide important lessons. Levels of tolerance and acceptance of peoples’ differences are increased. As Mark Twain wrote in 1869 in The Innocents Abroad: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Travel guru Rick Steves argues that: “Globetrotting destroys ethnocentricity. It helps you understand and appreciate different cultures. Travel changes people. It broadens perspectives and teaches new ways to measure quality of life.” No one can argue that we are in an era when these benefits aren't valuable.

Apart from challenging ethnocentrism, and developing empathy, even short term study abroad experiences, that are particularly accessible to low-income students, contribute greatly to team-building, and as Smith recognizes, "improvement in intercultural skills, confidence building, self-awareness and problem-solving." And, as most travelers know, having to order off menus that are not in English, or ask where the restroom is when you don't know the language, can become a confidence booster, besides providing real points of cultural contact and negotiation. Above all, it prepares students to embrace rather than fear uncertainty.

At Allegheny College, the 3-week summer Experiential Learning (EL) seminars for 4 course-credits, are interdisciplinary courses that combine cross-disciplinary readings, perspectives, and faculty expertise to address topics that bridge local and global concerns. In the case of the 2020 "Wars and Waterways" EL seminar, this happens to be the necessity of studying how water shapes cultures and communities, and how the pollution and disruption of waterways can produce disease and wars. Students will attend regular pre-departure academic sessions at which they will present on assigned readings, learn about the topics of exploration from global experts and scholars who will be videoconferencing with the class, and share the interdisciplinary perspectives and knowledge of the faculty leaders. While journeying across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, students will be encouraged to develop the following skills through experiential intercultural exercises:​​

  • team-building to develop internal trust and support;

  • paying attention to details;

  • practicing intercultural communication and diplomacy;

  • strengthening emotion intelligence (EQ);

  • negotiating different values and political frameworks;

  • dealing with uncertainty and navigating obstacles;

  • overcoming ethnocentrism and learning to respect differences;

  • opening ourselves to local knowledge systems and perspectives;

  • becoming aware of systemic and structural inequities at local and global levels that affect the host cultures and their relations with other countries;

  • critically analyzing experiential learning moments through informed and multiple lenses; and

  • developing an appreciation for, and understanding of global interconnectedness

© 2023 by ISHITA SINHA ROY.