CTL Workshop

Developing short-term international study abroad opportunities

Girl sitting at computer with famous landmarks behind her

Study Abroad/International study or work involves immersion in a culture and/or environment for a defined period and for a specific course or courses of study. On Tuesday March 30th, a panel was held identifying the importance of study abroad opportunities that faculty can benefit from if they were to implement it within their courses. It included international education opportunities offered at the University of Windsor to study or work abroad for credit and non-credit experiences. Short-term study abroad programs are anything less than a traditional semester and can vary in duration from one week to a summer. They can be part of a semester-long course, or a course in and of itself. While short-term programs can come in a variety of forms, they all share the same goal—provide international and cultural experiences for students (Hartlen, 2011).

The panel was run by Erika Kustra and co-hosted by Shelair Sinjari. The panelists were Shannon Murray, Andrew Allen, Chris Houser, Anna Galka, and Mikayla Bornais who shared their experiences and insight while being part of a study abroad program.

The panel is available to watch in its entirety, or you can read questions that were provided to the panelists and a summary of their answers below. The questions have time indexes that you can skip to in the video.

1. What can Study Abroad look like? (time index: 7:51)

A study abroad can be offered in a condensed format with a semester’s worth of material covered in a span between one to four weeks. A benefit to students is that they can get a course credit in a shorter than usual timeframe. For example, Shannon talks about how the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) offers Shakespeare in London and Stratford: Exploring Plays, Playhouses, and Place through the study abroad office. The course is split into a week of classes at home, followed by 13 days of travel in the UK, featuring attendance of at least 4 plays and a visit to the Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s birthplace and grave, the archaeological dig at the Rose Theatre foundations, as well as a dozen other galleries, theatres, talks and historic sites that locate Shakespeare in the places he was writing in, about, and for.

Study abroad courses are beneficial to both the student and to the community the students visit. Andrew explains how his students gain experience practicing teaching in Tanzania, and also how the Tanzanian students benefit from being taught by the practicing teachers.

Chris, who has been teaching study abroad courses since 2007, notes that study aboard can be very hands-on. His students can deal with a variety of animals such as snakes, bugs, and monkeys, and immerse themselves in environments such as jungles, beaches, or volcanoes. Some of his courses delve into the science of beaches, understanding of rip currents, and beach erosion. Students get their hands dirty doing field work.

It is important to keep in mind that study abroad offerings can vary between offerings, in some cases based on factors beyond the control of organizers.

2. Why would you do this? (time index: 14:02)

Student Perspective

Mikayla, a University of Windsor student, said she gained a lot from studying abroad including:

  • the opportunity to travel;
  • hands-on learning (she found seeing and doing things in person compared to reading about it in a textbook very beneficial);
  • networking with other people (she found she was able to form stronger connections to other students and professors compared to a classroom experience);
  • learning about different cultures (in Scotland, she learned about traditional dances and had a chance to play the bagpipes); and,
  • experiencing personal growth.

Faculty Perspective

Faculty can use their study abroad experience towards tenure, promotion, and research.  Andrew talks about how one of the objectives of study abroad courses is to develop students’ critical social consciousness and increase their global culture competence and awareness.

Shannon says the experience can’t compare to teaching within a classroom. Study abroad courses offer the best, richest, most difficult, and most fun way of teaching. She recalls a student who had never travelled outside of Canada being very nervous, but by the time the course ended, she was all smiles. Shannon follows her on Facebook and watched her progress to becoming a teacher who has been to and taught in several countries.

Chris talks about the real-world changes that can be made. Through his research, a better understanding of beach safety issues within Costa Rica was created that ultimately led to the establishment of a new law in the country to have lifeguards posted at every beach, and to have an entire life saving swimming program.

3. How do you design one? (time index: 27:52)

Andrew and Anna discuss starting by looking at desired learning outcomes for students, as well as considering research interests and seeing if a study abroad course can be built around one or both of these items. Establishing community partnerships with organizations that are already involved with the study abroad subject can help. Exploratory trips to cement new relationships is also highly recommended. Developing a plan to make the course a reality with the help and resources of the experiential learning office is recommended and very helpful. If students will be doing community work or international field work, the course may also be eligible for funding as per SMAD3 metrics requirements. Andrew mentions that sometimes things don’t go as planned but can still turn into the most amazing experience.

4. How do you address common challenges?

a. Safety protocols and safety (time index: 32:52)

When studying abroad, anything can happen and it’s best to be as prepared as possible. Anna emphasises that ultimately planning ensures a safe and successful experience with many thoughts given to planning and being prepared for the worse. It is important to review the risk management guide offered by the Office of Experiential Learning and communicate with students as much as possible. The university’s legal department will have waiver templates that will need to be customized to your course, which will take time, but is necessary. The University offers student liability insurance, which covers incidents that happen during the class or academic portion of the course, but students will need to make sure they are covered for things that happen outside of class time. Covid will likely have an impact on future trips that has yet to be determined. Michelle Fitzgerald (at UWindsor) also provides training for study abroad students which touches upon, among other things, health and safety. Andrew touches upon how these trips are more business than pleasure and should be treated accordingly. Students should always be aware of their surroundings, remain in groups, and follow curfew. Chris notes the importance of understanding your location and students’ unique health concerns. There are many hazards in the jungle and ocean and safety is paramount.

b. Recruiting / choosing / admitting students (time index: 43:34)

Advertising of study abroad courses is done through placing posters around campus, as well as through social media. At the University of Windsor, advertising begins at faculty orientation and presentations in some classes. Students apply with a letter of intent, which is followed by an interview. However, at UPEI, the international office is responsible for the acceptance of the applications. After the students are accepted, Shannon arranges monthly meetings before the trip to give students and professors the opportunity to get to know one another.

c. Costs and financial supports (time index: 47:01)

Students finance trips themselves, however, there are many scholarships/bursaries that could help with financing the trips. The Science program at the University of Windsor provides $1,000 scholarship towards students participating in study abroad. It is strongly suggested that students hold fund raising activities to fund their trips. Faculty help students by planning in advance which helps students to book cheap flights. Faculty give the students the option to arrive the way they want so that students can arrive earlier or stay longer to explore, or have a vacation.

d. Addressing accessibility (time index: 52:49)

Addressing accessibility goes back to knowing who your students are and being able to plan in advance. By knowing what their needs are, plans can be made to ensure students are able to take advantage of the full study abroad experience. Chris talks about how it can be a struggle since some environments are not accessible friendly, but things have improved over the years. In Costa Rica, wheelchair-friendly sidewalks have been installed to get into the jungle and perform activities such as night tours, and watching wildlife i.e. (frogs and snakes). It was noted that students need to be flexible and prepared for any last-minute faults as things don’t always go as planned. Shannon suggests developing courses for students who have accessibility needs.

e. Possible ethical implications (time index: 56:01)

Andrew explains how the relief work they are doing in a developing country can be perceived as the dominant West sending white saviours to “save people on the dark continent,” which is quite challenging. A way around this is to partner with grassroots organizations so they become self-sustaining so that future trips are not necessary. The purpose of these trips is to eventually make it so that the locals can take over the work. Students and faculty who visited schools and orphanages received positive feedback from kids, part of which included the inspiration they felt. When travelling to developing countries, it’s a good idea to spend money on supplies that are needed in that country to help the local businesses, rather than bring them from the originating country.

5. How do you assess the learning? (time index: 60:04)

Andrew says that assessment starts with students’ letter of intent in their application form. Students are asked what they have to offer and hope to gain from their involvement with the study abroad course, and are asked to write self-reflections in journals they are gifted. Once students get back to Windsor, a major part of their assessment is the evaluation of their pre, during, and post trip reflections based on student’s growth, movement, and thinking.

Shannon prepares her students by reading and/or writing appropriate papers and plays before leaving. After a full day of activities and learning the students at UPEI are told to write down what they have learned/accomplished with a reflection journal. This is finalized by giving the students at least three-four weeks to prepare a full portfolio.

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