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High School Education Abroad and the Gap Year

Posted By Trixie Cordova, Saturday, February 7, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In my role as the Student Outreach Coordinator at Diversity Abroad, I travel to schools across the U.S., encouraging college students to go abroad. Whether it’s to study, intern, teach or attend graduate school, experiencing life in another country is always an investment in one’s future, regardless of the chosen career path in mind.

Often times, I find myself speaking with students who are exploring study abroad for the first time. As with anything new, the concept of moving to another country, whether for a summer or a year, can be pretty daunting. At the very least, I find that relating the idea of moving away from home to go to college and living on campus, can produce similar fears or hesitancies -- Will I make new friends? How will I get around? Will I have to deal with racism or stereotypes, and how will I respond to those interactions?

I’m most excited in my job when I get to engage with these students because their curiosity and interest are extremely genuine, open and honest. Exploring the field of study abroad isn’t something every student will entertain, so getting the opportunity to introduce students to the idea of going abroad, and building a globally-minded future is why I love what I do.

At the same time, I recognize how much more valuable this conversation COULD be -- were it to be held at the high school level. How many students are we failing to reach and impact because they didn’t have access to a college education, and therefore a space where they can explore these options and ask questions?

For this reason, I’m very passionate about increasing outreach efforts aimed at high school students. So much so that I focused my master’s thesis on what I called “Critical Study Abroad”. I advocated for increased global opportunities for high school youth, specifically those that are from the communities we identify as being underrepresented in study abroad: students of racial/ethnic minorities, first generation students, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, students with high financial need, etc. However, I didn’t advocate for just ANY global experience. Because my degree in International Educational Development includes a concentration in Peace Education, I argued for the incorporation of Peace Education concepts into the global experience. Basically, this means encouraging high school students NOT to fall into any “voluntourism” pitfalls, but to make meaningful connections with local communities, and to develop a globally mindful relationship with local people and resources to create a truly transformative experience for both themselves and the host community.

There are many factors that would impact a students’ desire and preparedness level for uprooting themselves from what is comfortable and familiar, to picking up and moving to another part of the world for any length of time. However, I believe that the earlier students are encouraged to explore global opportunities, the sooner they will develop a more worldly perspective and recognize how their role as global citizens will make a positive impact on the future. Check out the High School Study Abroad & GAP Year Guides as well as other High School Study Abroad Programs on the new DiversityAbroad.com.

Tags:  education abroad  Study Abroad 

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International Education Issues to Watch During Obama’s 2nd Term

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

After nearly a year of intense presidential political campaigning, U.S. voters have officially selected President Obama for a second term in the White House. With a host of big issues to tackle, the Obama administration will not only be faced with challenges like handling an economic recovery and improving bipartisan relationships in Congress, they will also need to  manage changes in education policies, immigration reform, foreign policy efforts and more.  With so many priorities to manage, what could Obama’s second term mean for international educational professionals, especially for those interested in expanding education abroad opportunities for traditionally underrepresented populations?

Based on the most recent discussions about the impact that the election results would have on higher education, there are four areas that may be of particular interest for international education professionals to watch over the next few months. These issues have the potential to change, challenge, and improve the way education abroad experts pursue the goals of making international opportunities available to a wider audience of students and improving international student services on campuses.

Immigration Policies

DREAM Act Legislation

Maryland has become the 12th state to allow in-state tuition rates for undocumented students who qualify. This comes in the wake of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act that allows many undocumented young people who arrived in the U.S. when they were minors the chance to remain in the U.S. Not only do these two examples suggest that people in the U.S. are interested in a more comprehensive reform on immigration policies, they also suggest that there will be a growing number of diverse students, particularly Hispanics/Latinos, who may begin to seek out other opportunities on campus to get engaged including education abroad programming. Advisers from all departments will need to know how to access resources and information to support these students on campus, especially if the federal DREAM Act legislation is re-introduced to Congress.

Enhancements to Work and Student Visa Requirements

There has been much discussion about offering a path to residency in the U.S. for international students who graduate with advanced degrees. Though both parties favor policies that would allow these graduates to stay in the U.S. to increase the national competitiveness in research and development, passing legislation on these policies is often held up by a greater need to pursue comprehensive immigration reform. Should action be taken in this area, institutions of higher education may look to expand international student recruiting efforts and increase focus on research opportunities.

Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action

Affirmative action lawsuits have been around nearly as long as affirmative action policies were first set in motion in the 1960s. The latest case to be brought to the attention of the Supreme Court is that of Abigail Fisher vs the University of Texas, Austin. This case has the potential to completely eliminate race/ethnicity from consideration during the college admissions process subsequently challenging institutions to find alternative ways to recruit ethnic/racial minorities to their campuses. This is no easy feat, and should the case rule in favor of eliminating racial preferences in admissions decisions there is a strong possibility that colleges and universities will face several challenges in ensuring students of color are represented on their campuses. This may present new challenges for how international educators reach out to and retain students of color for education abroad opportunities.

Pell Grant Program

Threats to cut the existing Pell Grant Program and modifications in federal student aid in general have greatly affected the higher education community. Federal aid is imperative to making college accessible to low-income and first-generation students because it has provided the financial support needed to cover the basic costs of attending college. This has allowing a more diverse population of students to get engaged in activities outside of the classroom and limiting access to these resources could also limit the diversity of students on campus. If funding remains steady or even increases, this may mean new opportunities for education abroad professionals to get more underrepresented students involved in international programming. There are an increasing number of study abroad providers that now offer matching funding for Pell Grant eligible students and this may create more demand for additional programming.

Expansion of Community Colleges

In 2011, the Obama administration launched the Building American Skills Through Community Colleges an initiative that is intended to expand education and training opportunities for more US students. Now only has the administration committed to more support for community colleges to train students, it has places a particular emphasis on preparing the population in high demand technical jobs that are increasingly global in nature. This opens a unique opportunity not only to engage community college students in education abroad activities, it could open opportunities for STEM students to explore international programming also. Moreover, this and other federal initiatives are working on expanding opportunities to attract larger international student populations to these campuses. This not only could offer more funding opportunities for the institutions, it could also offer opportunities for on-campus dialogue and engagement between US and international students, in turn promoting more cultural exchange on campus.

These are but a few of the policies that could influence the direction of international programming and internationalization efforts on US campuses over the course of the next few years.

If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members@diversitynetwork.org.

Tags:  community colleges  education abroad  Funding  global education  inclusion  international education  International Exchange  Obama  resources  Underrepresented Students 

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Apathy and Disinterest

Posted By Administration, Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

An acquaintance of mine recently posted photos of his travels in Europe on Facebook. Another friend commented on a photo taken in Albania, asking, “Albania? What’s that?” When the former replied that Albania was a country and provided a few geographical facts, the second friend replied, “I’ve never heard of that. The United States is so big!” Is this an extreme example of the ignorance of American students? Certainly. However, the underlying ignorance and lack of interest in the larger world, displayed all too often by students and professionals alike, should not be so easily dismissed. This apathy and disinterest is the most pressing issue for international education today, and could be a serious detriment to our increasingly linked world.

Studying or interning abroad is too often viewed as a luxury or an “extra” for those students lucky enough to have the opportunity and the funding. Students and administrators tend to attach too little importance to the benefits of international education (especially those in fields without an overtly international component), and many students simply do not view spending time abroad as a real possibility, for a wide range of reasons. However, this attitude fails to grasp the immense personal growth any individual can (and usually does) gain from being immersed in a foreign culture and life, as well as the growing importance of such experiences and understanding for our world today. An international education is less about what is learned in the classrooms or offices of study abroad programs and more about the personal knowledge and growth that individuals gain from living day-to-day in an environment that differs from their own. Students learn to have a better view of differences, and more importantly, to deal with them in a positive way and to benefit from them. The lessons learned from an international education instill in students a type of empathy that can stay with them for the rest of their lives, making them more aware of and sympathetic to what is happening in the rest of the world. As of today, this type of awareness is all too lacking.

In an era where the world is becoming more connected day by day, international education and its benefits are becoming ever more important. Yet even as we acknowledge globalization and increasing ties between nations and peoples, international education continues to be a low priority in many institutions. Further, accompanying programs such as foreign languages continue to lose funding or are even cut. A lack of international education leads to a disturbing ignorance and, potentially, fear of the larger world, undermining international ties. Further, this ignorance severely weakens those who hold it. This failure to understand the full importance of international education, as well as the attendant budget challenges and lack of support, is the main issue that the field must face. How this problem is addressed could have significant repercussions on a much larger scale.

The Diversity Network sends its sincere thanks and appreciation to Kyrstie Lane for sharing her thoughts on the most pressing issue facing international education today.  If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members@diversitynetwork.org.

Tags:  education abroad  global education  Outreach  research  Study Abroad 

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Having the Right Skills

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

International education is increasingly becoming the primary means by which societies will bridge the cultural and linguistic divides not only in the United States, but globally. With the challenges shared by societies being global and interdisciplinary in nature, and so too are the solutions.  The world demands a competent workforce able to integrate, and thrive in different societies through experience.  To achieve this demand, professionals in education must overcome the issue of lacking awareness of an international education in every class room and campus. Lack of knowledge in the opportunities to learn about and experience other cultures stifles the abilities of this generation to embrace the world of tomorrow.

On May 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary-General Angel Gurría stated that skills have become the global currency of the 21st century. Without proper investment in skills, people languish in the margins of society where technological progress does not translate to economic growth, and the countries can no longer compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global society. A globally influenced education allows students to cultivate and harness a unique set of skills to compete globally.  It calls on educators to uphold the highest educational standard, challenging growing leaders by instilling best practices of disciplined learning, consistency in excellence and appreciation for the diversity we all embrace.

This is no easy task. What should all U.S. students be expected to know and understand about the world? What skills and attributes will students need to confront future problems, which will be global in scope? What do scholars from international relations disciplines and experienced practitioners of global education believe students should know and how can these insights be best incorporated into existing standards? For those who have studied abroad or had any resident international experience, how can those lessons learned and experience be harnessed and reinforced as students return to their respective home, professional and professional communities?  The solution includes but by any means is not limited to duties of professionals in education across disciplines to:

  • Increasing capacities of schools and colleges by improving access to high-quality international educational experiences by integrate internationally focused courses within the current learning curriculum.
  • Increasing the number and diversity of students who study and intern abroad and encouraging students and institutions to choose nontraditional study-abroad locations.
  • Help under-represented U.S. institutions offer and promote study-abroad opportunities for their students
  • Actively promote study abroad and encourage students, teachers, and citizens at all levels to study within the U.S. and vise a versa

We must be aware of the opportunities in order to take advantage and utilize them to maximum capacity by introducing international relations, languages and cultural studies to the classroom and reinforcing that teaching with firsthand experience through study, volunteering and teaching abroad.  Enhancing the abilities and skillsets of a generation of individuals to dispel preconceived notions about any culture and society, effectively communicate and appreciate diversity moves this generation closer to tackling global challenges. 

The Diversity Network sends its sincere thanks and appreciation to Zubida Bahkeit for sharing her thoughts on the most pressing issue facing international education today.  If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members@diversitynetwork.org.

Tags:  Diversity  education abroad  global education  inclusion  International Exchange  language  professional skills  research  underrepresented students 

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More Scholarships Is Not the Answer

Posted By Andrew Gordon, Friday, September 30, 2011
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

Why don’t more ethnically and racially diverse students study abroad? This is a common question asked among international educators. For too long the response has been that lack of funding is the main reason why these diverse students don’t study abroad. Unfortunately the idea that funding is the main reason why underrepresented students don’t pursue education abroad has masked other systemic issues that contribute to dismal participation in study abroad programs by diverse student groups.

First, let me be clear, I am not by any means against more scholarships for study abroad. In fact, even though Diversity Abroad is not a scholarship granting organization, we’ve had the opportunity to award thousands of dollars in scholarship funds for underserved students. We are always looking for opportunities to offer more. We applaud the many successful scholarship programs administered by providers, institutions and NGO’s that help to fund study abroad. These programs have helped send thousands of underserved students abroad. Scholarships, however, are effective tools for students who are already considering study abroad. What about the thousands of students who feel study abroad is not for them? Will more scholarships help convince these students to study abroad? If students fail to see how they fit into the activity that the scholarship is associated with, in this case study abroad, the scholarship monies will not be a motivating factor in pursuing this facet of their education. Scholarships by themselves will not drastically change the demographic of the study abroad student if they aren’t coupled with targeted outreach that demonstrates the educational, personal and professional benefits of education abroad for diverse students.

Underrepresented students need to see how study abroad applies to them. It’s essential that in addition to scholarships we evaluate how we articulate to under-served students and their families what study abroad is, as well as its present and long term benefits. We all do well to ask ourselves if the messages we send through our printed materials and online about who studies abroad and the benefits thereof are attracting or discouraging underrepresented students from pursuing these opportunities.

Scholarships are important and essential to expanding study abroad. However, scholarships will only do so much without targeted outreach to help underserved students and their families understand and appreciate the value of education abroad. We may not be able to give money to help our students study abroad, however I challenge all of us to look for opportunities at our institutions and organizations to promote study abroad and its immense benefits to a more diverse population of students. I’m confident that with a collective effort to reach out to a more diverse student population we will see wider participation in education abroad among traditionally underrepresented groups.

Andrew Gordon is the founder and president of Diversity Abroad. He is a graduate of the University of San Francisco, where he studied business, economics and Spanish. He has studied, traveled and worked throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East and South America. He started Diversity Abroad in 2006 with the focus of increasing global awareness and engagement among students and young people with an emphasis on diverse and under-served populations.

Tags:  Diversity Abroad Conference  education abroad  Minority Students  Scholarships  Study Abroad 

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