Editor's note: This is the seventh in a series of articles written by students who were enrolled in Jennifer Bloom's graduate class on student affairs administration at the University of South Carolina during the spring 2009 semester. As part of her course syllabus, Dr. Bloom required each student in her class to submit an article to The Mentor or other publications for consideration.
In recent years, studying abroad has become an increasingly popular endeavor as undergraduate students seek to gain valuable global exposure and acquire skills that will make them more attractive candidates to potential employers and/or graduate or professional schools. According to the 2008 Open Doors report, the number of Americans studying abroad increased by 8% to a total of 241,791 in the 2006/07 academic year (Institute of International Education [IIE], 2008, ¶ 1). This increase reflects the extraordinary growth in the number of American students choosing to study abroad during the past decade with an increase of close to 150%, from under 100,000 in 1996/97 to nearly a quarter of a million in 2006/07 (IIE, 2008, ¶ 1). The purpose of this article is to articulate the benefits of student participation in study abroad programs, provide resources to academic advisers who wish to learn more about study abroad programs and options, and share tips with advisers about how they can help increase the number of students studying abroad.
Benefits of Study Abroad
Students engaged in study abroad experiences positively impact the country, higher education institutions, and also themselves. Given the flatness of the world these days, it is important for the future of the United States to have citizens who have had international experiences. America's national security, economic competitiveness, and global leadership are at stake if students fail to experience and understand foreign cultures and languages or acquire the self-confidence, independence, and leadership qualities that result from studying abroad (Obst, Bhandari, & Witherell, 2007, p. 6).
Higher education institutions also benefit when their students study abroad. Students share stories of their study abroad experience with peers in the classroom and during informal settings, all of which enhance the learning of all students on campus. Students also tend to become more sensitive to the needs of international students studying on their campuses, as they better understand and empathize with others following a visit abroad.
Students who study abroad also benefit from this experience themselves. In 2004, the Transitions Abroad magazine published an article highlighting the results from a survey the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES Abroad) conducted (Dwyer & Peters, 2004). This survey, the largest quantitative survey of study abroad alumni thus far, sought to assess the long-term impact of studying abroad by exploring how IES Abroad alumni from all IES study abroad programs from 1950 to 1999 perceived their study abroad experience and its impact on their careers, education, and world. One significant finding from the survey indicated:
Regardless of where students studied and for how long, the data from the more than 3,400 respondents (a 23 percent response rate) shows that studying abroad is usually a defining moment in a young person's life and continues to impact the participant's life for years after the experience. (Dwyer & Peters, 2004, p. 56)
An Academic Adviser's Role in Study Abroad
Given the benefits of studying abroad as outlined above, what steps can higher education institutions take to continue to encourage students to participate in this kind of experience? This article suggests that academic advisers can play an important role in influencing students' decisions to study abroad.
As the National Academic Advising Association's (NACADA) Study Abroad Advising Interest Group points out on its website:
Advisers may be called upon to motivate students to study abroad, discuss study abroad options with interested advisees, evaluate courses for academic credit, discuss financing study abroad, and/or advise returned students. These varied needs of students mean that advisers unfamiliar with study abroad and advisers who wish to encourage study abroad among their advisees need knowledge, tools, and resources. (National Academic Advising Association [NACADA], 2009, 2)
Thus, advisers are well positioned to play a pivotal role in encouraging students to engage in a study abroad experience.
Resources for Academic Advisers Who Wish to Learn More about Study Abroad
There are many ways that advisers can take a proactive role in learning more about study abroad and better advise their students about such opportunities. Advisers should set up appointments to tour their campuses' study abroad offices and meet with professional staff members. A variety of benefits can result when campus partnerships between advisers and study abroad offices form and strengthen at institutions. These benefits include better communication among students, academic advisers, and study abroad advisers, as well as better publicity about study abroad program availability. In addition, efforts to increase campus internationalization result. In summary, these partnerships will lead to a more seamless process for students and help build stronger ties between students and advisers.
If an advising network exists on campus, its members can invite a representative from the study abroad office to speak about the services and programs available through that office. Ideally the meeting should take place in the study abroad office.
Advisers can petition to create an academic advising study abroad focus group at their institutions similar to Michigan State University's (MSU) program. MSU's focus group consists of approximately fifteen advisers who meet three times a year to work on strengthening the relationship and communication between the study abroad office and the advising center (Michigan State University Office of Study Abroad, 2009).
Another resource for advisers is the NACADA Study Abroad Advising Interest Group. Its role is to support academic advisers in their work with students before, during, and after a study abroad experience. The interest group also supports advising on work, intern, and volunteer abroad experiences (NACADA, 2009, ¶ 3). This group seeks to advance adviser knowledge of study abroad opportunities, as well as work, intern, and volunteer abroad options. The interest group hopes to build adviser interest in learning to promote and prepare students for education abroad. The group's website promotes a listserv and features resources related to various aspects of study abroad (i.e., scholarship information and pre-departure tips for students). Joining this group or at least utilizing its online resources can help advisers learn more about study abroad.
Other adviser resources include the websites for study abroad offices at various institutions that contain helpful information for advisers. For example, MSU offers an impressive online section (studyabroad.msu.edu/advisers/) devoted solely to advisers. One unique resource on the site is a program search mechanism that allows advisers to enter students' study abroad criteria (i.e., preferred classes to take abroad and length of experience) and then generate possible study abroad programs that meet the selected criteria. Other features of the site include General Advising Principles, Tips on Advising for Study Abroad, and De-Mystifying the Cost of Study Abroad.
Ways to Increase the Number of Students Who Study Abroad
This section focuses on ways that academic advisers, armed with appropriate resources about studying abroad, can increase the number of students who choose to engage in this type of experience. Some ideas include:
- Create an eye-catching bulletin board in a college or department's office to advertise study abroad options for students in specific majors. For example, the Moore School of Business' Undergraduate Advisement Office at the University of South Carolina created a bulletin board featuring information about various study abroad programs that appeal to the students they advise. In addition, advisers constructed a stand where students can obtain flyers and brochures about the study abroad office and specific programs geared toward business majors.
- Inform students via Blackboard or listservs about upcoming study abroad fair dates. Advisers can also alert students when new study abroad programs become available.
- During individual advising appointments, advisers should encourage students to attend study abroad fairs and other informational meetings. Advisers should also try to attend these kinds of events themselves to support students pursuing these opportunities as well as to learn more about current study abroad programs.
- Ask the study abroad office to create a fact sheet for advisers that includes answers to typical questions students ask about studying abroad.
- Visit the institution's education abroad office website with advisees who indicate an interest in studying abroad and begin familiarizing them with resources that are available on campus.
- If available, advisers should display personal pictures of travel experiences to spark conversations with students about the benefits of studying abroad.
Study abroad programs yield many benefits for the students involved, the institution, and the country. Academic advisers are perfectly situated to encourage students to study abroad and assist them with the process. This article highlighted how academic advisers can learn more about studying abroad and therefore take a proactive role in increasing the number of their advisees who choose to take part in this experience.