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Study Abroad: A 21st Century Perspective - Volume 1

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The impact of study abroad on the college curriculum by Brenda S. Robinson
Dean, Padnos International Center, Grand Valley State University

Private colleges and universities, especially the small liberal arts colleges such as Goshen, Earlham, Kalamazoo, and Hope have had longstanding requirements for overseas experiences, all of which are integrated into student degree programs. However, the philosophy at public colleges and universities, including community colleges, is that students cannot afford either the time or money to engage in a required study abroad experience. Additionally, many of the professional degree programs have viewed the international experience as a curriculum challenge, as it may not fit into an already overloaded degree program. With the globalization of all professional careers, regional and professional accreditation associations have included internationalization of the curriculum as a component for accreditation. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, the Council on Social Work Education, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, and the National League for Nursing have all addressed the topic of internationalization in recent years.

At many public colleges and universities, study abroad may be considered an "add on," an "extra" academic activity that may not be an integral component of departmental and degree curricula. Students may opt for a summer, semester, or academic year overseas, bringing credits back to the home campus to "fit" into their degree programs. In the last five years, a change has occurred on campuses that indicates the incorporation of study abroad, as a requirement in degree curricula. This change has resulted in exciting dimensions of faculty development and study abroad programming, change that has had impact on curriculum.

Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Western Michigan has addressed these changes in exciting ways, all of which have had significant impact on curriculum. With the support and cooperation of the University Curriculum Committee, academic departments have been successful in incorporating their previously independent study abroad programs into courses and degree requirements.

The Seidman School of Business instituted an International Business option several years ago. A short-term study abroad program in England was available to students during the summer. The Accounting Department had modified an accounting course to include the international component available at Kingston University. However, few if any students availed themselves of overseas study during the academic year, limiting their selection to exchange programs in France and Poland. This year, the Seidman School of Business restructured their undergraduate international business program to include required language competency and study abroad. By working with new partner universities overseas, faculty have been able to develop equivalencies of study abroad course offerings into required coursework for the degree program.

The Kirkhof School of Nursing has taken quite a different approach. Because of the required clinical education each semester, Nursing students have a far more difficult time gaining an international experience. The Nursing faculty have established a working relationship with selected village clinics in Nicaragua. Each semester, faculty, students, and Grand Rapids area medical personnel travel to Nicaragua for ten days, providing primary medical care to villages. This opportunity has been incorporated into a required academic component in community nursing. A special course in Spanish language has been developed by the Modern Language Department that prepares students with basic communication skills pertinent to their work in Nicaragua. At home, this experience prepares nursing students to meet the needs of the newly emerging Hispanic population in West Michigan. In 1999, 95% of the Baccalaureate degree graduates in Nursing had participated in this program!

The School of Social Work has been creative in meeting the globalization needs of its students. The Council on Social Work Education has an international component in its accreditation requirements. Thus, the faculty had to consider ways to address the globalization requirement in an already highly structured curriculum. The School of Social Work had run a pilot project in El Salvador for a two-week period in the month of May. Recently, they adapted this project to a new program in Ireland. These highly successful projects combine lectures and service learning in cities and villages.

The Social Work faculty used this model to develop both undergraduate and graduate courses in international social work principles. The courses were approved through the University curriculum process and have become part of the department's course offerings.

Utilizing these newly approved international social work courses, the School of Social Work then engaged in discussions with Bristol University in England and the University of Natal in South Africa. Both universities have summer programs that offer 3-credit courses that dovetail with the international course requirements at GVSU. Students have availed themselves of these opportunities to broaden their knowledge of Social Work principles in global settings.

The Biology Department has offered a summer study program in Belize and Costa Rica for several years. Utilizing the School of Social Work's model, the department developed international Biology courses that have been approved by the University Curriculum Committee. As a result, the department has been able to create new study abroad opportunities in the Rain Forest of Brazil and in Madagascar, employing the generic global Biology course syllabus.

In the field of Landscape Architecture, California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo created an exciting opportunity within its structured curriculum. The faculty took the standard upper division curriculum and adapted it to include comparative study of landscape architecture within different geographic and cultural settings. Then the faculty planned a program of 10-weeks' travel to two or three countries, utilizing the existing curriculum within the travel program to assure that participating students engaged in the required course offerings while experiencing different cultural, social, environmental, economic, and agricultural constraints pertaining to landscape architectural design.

Engineering is another challenge. Engineering curricula on all university campuses have very little opportunity for overseas study, as both course sequencing and required coursework impose time constraints on time away from the campus. Worcester Polytechic Institute in Massachusetts has developed a project-based experiential program in many locations around the world. Students develop engineering projects that can be carried out with partners overseas during summers and semester breaks. As many as 66% of the students participate in this applied engineering opportunity overseas.

Language study on most university campuses is accomplished through traditional classroom instruction augmented by language laboratory participation. Once an exciting opportunity at liberal arts colleges, language houses offered students a residential setting where the study of a second language was incorporated into daily living. Sadly, most campuses have abandon language houses, as they can be costly and require significant faculty commitment. GVSU has recently instituted language houses in French, German, and Spanish, linking these residential programs with classroom instruction and overseas study programs. A curriculum has been developed for each language house, with cultural, linguistic, economic, and political components supported by internet and satellite television broadcasting. Each program has had an overseas study program for many years. The faculty built upon those programs to create an experiential curriculum in the language houses, leading to (or sometimes following) a study abroad experience.

Community colleges, with a shorter enrollment period and additional challenges of commuter populations, adult students with family responsibilities, and financial constraints, have a more difficult time providing international opportunities for students. Most study abroad programs are short-term and are generally offered during the summer. However, one institution, Lansing Community College, has established itself in southern Japan, working with a two-year institution in that country. The program sends a select group of Lansing students to Japan to study language and culture—and operate a cruise boat on Lake Biwa, in collaboration with Japanese students!

Maui Community College is utilizing technology to alter the curriculum in language study. Working with Kure National College of Technology as a partner, they are providing instruction in English-to-Japanese and Japanese-to-English over the internet. Funded by the Japanese Ministry of Education, students are engaged in language learning in an innovative manner. It is hoped to add audio and videostreaming in the next six months.

The preparation and willingness of faculty to incorporate international experiences in a creative and relevant manner is critical if the above programs are to succeed. Institutions that have been successful in changing curriculum through the integration of study abroad have invested money in faculty development and travel support. Participation in faculty seminars offered by AIFS, COUNCIL, and CCIS as well as sending faculty overseas to lay out the logistics of curriculum-based program opportunities have proved to be most beneficial. Faculty assume ownership of programs as they become integral parts of departmental offerings.

With creative thinking, campuses have been able to take new approaches to the integration of study abroad into the curriculum. These initiatives expand the global learning opportunities for many students and provide models for future program development.

Acknowledgements: Marché Haddad, Grand Valley State University; Clyde Sakamoto, Maui Community College; JoAnn deArmas Wallace, Juniata College

Next article: The View From Abroad: How Study Abroad Impacts Overseas Academic Communities by Axel Markert

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