Last night I gave a brief talk to Santa Clara University’s Leavey Global Fellow Students, as they are preparing to learn, immerse, and intern abroad this summer in Ghana, the Gambia, Bolivia, India, China, and Indonesia.
Part of my focus was to share with students my experience in managing faculty-led study abroad programs — the challenges and shortcomings of teaching students cross-cultural and intercultural interactions as a means to work and lead in the 21st-century global marketplace.
While students have come to increasingly recognize that education abroad program is one of the best ways they can acquire the valuable international experience, a recent report by the Chronicle of Higher Education declares that study abroad could be so much better. It appears that, for many students, what they are not learning is the ability to feel and sense different values and attitudes shared by a society and shaped by its environment. Students are not aware of culture – feeling, judgments, and mental constructs of which are subtle in nature – and thus they won’t be able to respond appropriately, perhaps even inhibiting their ability to communicate. By implication, some have advocated that all study-abroad programs should mandate cross-cultural preparation, training, and reintegration programs.
There are several reasons for the “decoupling” of culture from study abroad programs. At least on the surface, it seems that study abroad today has become directly linked to students becoming a global citizen and an educated, well-traveled citizen in order to compete in the international economy. However, if being a global citizen and having business savvy are study abroad objectives, cross-cultural and intercultural experience would have to be glued to that education abroad package. That is, one can’t unstick culture from study abroad because of lack of time or ignorance about how to approach it.
Importantly, while currently only 1.5% of US students study abroad, 50 percent of students have reported that they want to. Although much more efforts are needed to make global education part of every US student’s degree program – including the need to account for ethnicity, income, and field of study – we do know that most employers believe soft skills are just as important as technical skills in which working and communicating effectively in many environments alongside a variety of people are highly valued. To this end, my top five study abroad blog articles are those that effectively address some of the above complex issues.
MY TOP FIVE STUDY ABROAD BLOG ARTICLES:
- “8 Most Common Regrets of Study Abroad Alumni” by Annie Bierbower
- “The Dumbing Down of ‘Global Citizenship’” by Missy Gluckman
- “Culture Shock: Chinese Americans in China” by Yin Yang
- “How to Impress Employers with Your Study Abroad Experience” by David Nesbitt
- “The Wanderlust Student’s Guide to Domestic Cross-Cultural Opportunities” by Paige Dabney