Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has identified study abroad as one of ten high-impact practices (HIPs) in teaching and learning that positively impact student success in college. Some, like first-year experience courses and learning communities, tend to happen toward the beginning of a student’s time in college, while others, such as internships or capstone (senior) experiences, occur more toward the end. Rounding out AAC&U’s list of HIPs are common intellectual experiences, writing-intensive courses, collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, diversity or global learning, and service-learning or community-based learning. AAC&U suggests that all students be exposed to at least one HIP during the course of their undergraduate studies.
That said, the more HIPs a student is engaged with, the more positive the impact on that student’s success (including retention, engagement, and cumulative learning). Ideally, HIPs are made consistently available to all students through our everyday teaching practices and throughout the student’s time on campus. One HIP on the list, though, can present access barriers. Study abroad has the potential to be a transformative experience that positively alters a student’s personal life while adding dimension and meaning to their college career. Furthermore, in our current global society, an understanding and appreciation of life outside of the United States is a fundamental aspect of engaged citizenship, and we must make this available to our students. Unfortunately, at MSU Denver, our student population often considers study abroad to be out of reach, both socially and financially—and less than 1% of our students travel outside of the country for study. Helping students to make a plan for study abroad can make this experience accessible to them.
Take a SIP of This: Helping Students Plan for Study Abroad
The biggest barrier to study abroad that our students face is money. Study abroad is indeed more expensive than studying on campus. However, if a student starts early, they can save money and take advantage of grants and scholarships that make the experience possible. Encourage students to go to the Office of Financial Aid as early as possible in order to speak to a counselor and make a plan for fitting in study abroad—off-campus study can be integrated into a student’s financial aid package with enough advance planning. The Office of International Studies also provides students with information on grants and scholarships specific to study abroad.
The second biggest barrier to study abroad on our campus is family or community culture. Students often tell us that their parents don’t want them to go abroad, or that their friends or community consider this type of travel to be an abandonment or an expression of superiority. Listen to your student’s concerns, and help them to see the benefits that may outweigh the negative response. Offer to speak to parents or support systems and, while you can’t promise that students will be safe, explain how important this experience can be for their growth.
There are a few other ways that you can help your students to begin the process of making their trip a reality. A student should start planning for study abroad at least one year before travel, and preferably even more. Consider the following steps when helping students to plan their study abroad experience:
- If you teach freshmen or sophomores, now is the time to be talking about study abroad! Students often hear about the opportunity when they are juniors or seniors and they are already out of time with regard to financial and degree planning.
- Students often think that study abroad is only for people who study a foreign language—not true! Study abroad programs exist in countries all over the world, and monolingual students can absolutely participate.
- Similarly, students with physical disabilities or students in other vulnerable populations (including students with dietary restrictions) may think that they are not able to study abroad—not true! Certain nods to accommodation must be made; for example, it may be easier for a student who uses a wheelchair to study in a large, modern metropolis with paved streets and elevators in buildings as opposed to a small town in Europe with cobblestone streets and ancient construction. By starting the planning process early, students can choose programs and work with the program coordinators in order to make the trip possible.
- Talk about study abroad in class. If you traveled as a student, make it a point to describe your experience and explain how it impacted your college experience or your career. For example, let them know that your experience abroad taught you how to confidently navigate new systems, and that was really helpful when you applied to graduate school. Or tell them that the people you met on your trip became life-long contacts who helped you get your first job. Many students literally do not know that study abroad is a real thing, or that we offer it at Metro, or that it can be for them—help them to see how it can help to shape their reality.
- Make sure that students know that study abroad is meant to give them credit that counts toward their degree. Many students think that “study” abroad just means travel or vacation, and don’t associate degree completion with that activity.
- If a student shows interest in study abroad, ask them to tell you where they dream of going. Starting with location can help students to narrow down the programs that will fit for them.
- Sit down for an advising session with students. Let them know where they are in terms of major and minor completion, and how many elective credits they may have. Then, help them to “do the math”: if they are going to fulfill credits for their major while abroad, then they shouldn’t register for those classes on campus. If they only need six elective credits, they should choose a program that will meet this need or provide a combination of major/minor credits along with electives. Having a firm idea of where they stand in terms of degree progress will help them to choose the right program and length of time for study.
- Encourage students to go to the Office of International Studies immediately! The program staff there can steer students toward accredited and desirable programs that will meet the student’s educational needs and cultural desires.
- MSU Denver offers many faculty-led programs—meaning that the curriculum is developed and taught by MSU Denver professors, and the credits students receive are MSU Denver credits, although they are taught abroad. However, if a student doesn’t see an MSU Denver program that fits their needs, the Office of International Studies can find a program that will allow students to transfer in their study abroad credit.
- Ask students who have studied abroad to share their experiences in your class. Word of mouth from peers is the best way to show students that the world can truly be their oyster!
It is important to emphasize that study abroad requires many conversations that are held between the student and their “support team”–International Studies, major/minor departments, Financial Aid, and the leader of the study abroad experience. This is not something that gets organized in one shot! Encourage your students to have patience while they visit and re-visit the many details that will allow them to get their trip off the ground—it will be worth it!
Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Helping Students Plan for Study Abroad
If you are interested in developing a study abroad for your students, visit the Faculty/Staff page of the Office of International Education’s website for how-to tips and forms to submit your program ideas.
The Institute of International Education released a new study, Gaining an Employment Edge: The Impact of Study Abroad on 21st-century Skills and Career Prospects, that investigates the connection between study abroad programs and the development of skills that contribute to employment and career development in today’s workforce.