A recent editorial in The Chronicle of Higher Ed seemed promising. Ever the optimist and often in search of collaborators, I am titillated by the simplest of connections. Titles can inspire me to no end, and I am always more than willing to search for synergy.
Though I began reading hopefully, I was not surprised by my disappointment with “Study Abroad Could be So Much Better.” It proved to be the inevitable cursory assessment of experiential learning as a learning opportunity that is generally more profound if it is framed with a pre- and post-reflection, as well as some general knowledge about where and what. The author reflected that there needs to be an intentional structure to support profound learning, but there was no articulation of what the learning outcome goals for study abroad programs might be and what content it is necessary to teach to support meeting those goals.
I found myself, pen in hand, responding to the article as I had responded to student essays as an English and social science teacher in search of evidence in a student’s expository essay. Those canned comments of “How do you know? What does that look like? So what? What can you extrapolate from this statement?” all flooded back to me.
The article states the obvious pedagogical logic that “pre/post, prep/debrief” are essential to any formative learning experience. It stops there without articulating the content that should be taught within the frame to develop a global education curriculum that nurtures our future leaders and thinkers.
In her point of view, author Stacie Nevadomski Berdan notes:
Research I conducted in conjunction with the Institute of International Education for A Student’s Guide to Study Abroad indicated that only one-fourth (out of a total of 350 students on more than 250 campuses) of students were provided with any cross-cultural training before they left, while only a little more than one-third were offered the names of fellow students who had gone to the same host country.
“So what?” Was my comment in the margin.
I wondered what is considered cross-cultural training and how speaking to students who have traveled to the same host country would serve students about to leave on their experiences?
She goes on to state that:
And only one-fifth of respondents to my survey said they had been offered books or travel guides with cultural information specific to the country or region to which they would be traveling. Mandatory re-entry or reintegration classes were reported as minimal, although many colleges encouraged students to join re-entry gatherings.
I wondered, “Are books and travel guides with culturally specific information cross-cultural training documents?” Can a student take the information gleaned from that book, use it on the ground at a destination to inform a shared cross-cultural experience, and then leverage that experience to navigate another one under totally different circumstances? Of course knowledge about places, traditions, and cultural norms are helpful, but is there something we can teach that is greater than “read the book” that can be applied literally across cultures?
What is the purpose of re-entry gatherings? Comments to the article noted that culture shock often occurs upon re-entry, and the author states:
Most students reported even greater difficulties and lack of support upon returning home. They felt less comfortable with their new selves on their old campuses and had trouble reintegrating. They didn’t understand how to leverage their experiences abroad to help them in their remaining studies and in their lives after graduation, whether academically or professionally.
“What can you understand about the transformational effect of developing cross-cultural relationships?” I noted in the margin.
Global Education programs should give students the tools to understand themselves through the eyes of those whose daily life experiences and expectations of the world are often very different. This new perspective on the self has the potential to empower, inspire, and develop a context and purpose for any type of relationship building or work an individual is doing. To reap this benefit, students need much more that books about cultural norms, language lessons, random conversations with others who’ve gone before, and meet ups upon return that allow “re-hash” and trips down a shared memory lane without any formal facilitation. Outstanding programs leave students with a toolkit to observe their own behaviors and mindsets by naming them for students before they go and teaching them how to both document and shift them, as necessary, over time. Under any circumstances students should learn concepts like code-switching, cultural relativism, and understand the nature of reciprocity in developing long-term sustainable relationships. In a global program this level of social and emotional learning about personal identity and relationship building is essential.
Global Education programming fits neatly into the work many K-12 schools are already doing in the realm of social and emotional learning, leadership, and diversity and inclusion. College-level and post graduate Global Education programming has the opportunity to leverage both K-12 identity formation work and more recent experiences students might have had. Of critical importance to any successful Global Education program is a clear articulation of both the philosophy and outcome goals that inform the pre, post, and on-the-ground framing designed to foster a student’s mindset and ability to build important skills and competencies that translate across multiple culture.
There is no single formula for the design of a Global Education program. Like all pedagogical constructs, it is open to interpretation and debate. It is, however, essential that all program designers develop goals, intentionally shape experiences, and frame questions that support students as they develop their skills in code-switching, navigating ambiguous cultural situations, and forming a keen respect for the reciprocal nature of partnering with others around the globe.
Finally, I do believe that content matters. Global Education does rely on classroom content (knowledge), which is essential to having historical and contextual empathy. But, global citizens are not born in the confines of a classroom and in the pages of a guide book. Global citizens need practice and interactions to understand themselves and understand how to interact with others who are different from themselves. Identity formation is essential when moving from the self to understanding the other. A global citizen cannot ever know everything all the guide books and white papers have to share on a country or community. If educated well, a global citizen can count on having a keen understanding of the complex nature of cross-cultural interactions and an ability to ascertain when to probe, when to listen, how to take appropriate risks and make oneself vulnerable enough to both break down barriers and build bridges.