Thursday, June 11, 2015

Short Term Study Abroad at GW

Today's blog post was inspired by an article in The Hatchet, the George Washington University's independent student newspaper.  In the article "With Increased Short-term Programs, Students Have More Opportunities to Study Abroad", author Ellie Smith discusses the uptick in interest in short-term study abroad programs at GW.  GW's office of study abroad has seen an increase in the number of proposals for faculty-led, short-term study abroad programs over the last year, resulting in fifteen being offered this summer.  These programs bring students to another country for a week or two to give them a first-hand look at their professor's research interests.  The article claims that these programs could lead to a larger percentage of GW students studying abroad.

I think that short-term study abroad programs are a great tool for internationalization and increasing the percentage of students studying abroad.  IIE's 2014 white paper, "What Will it Take to Double Study Abroad?" identifies cost, curriculum, and culture as the three main obstacles for students to study abroad.  Short-term abroad programs help solve all three of these issues.  The short-term nature of it decreases the cost, and the limited time abroad makes it more accessible for students in degree programs with more rigid curriculums, such as engineering students.  This extends to the culture issue as well- two of the main culture hang-ups that the IIE paper outlines are "Understanding the role of international experience in different disciplines" and "Narrow definition of study abroad".  For students who see study abroad as an experience solely for international studies or liberal arts students, short-term programs led by faculty and tailored to a particular field can open opportunities for students from these non-traditional fields.  For example, this summer GW offered short-term programs specifically tailored to students in such diverse fields as music (University Singers Tour: The Baltics), economy (Survey of International Economy- Shanghai), and Public Health (Introduction to Social Health: A Case Study of Peru).  These programs can also show students who are under the impression that international exchange requires spending a whole semester abroad that there are other options for gaining international experience.

Another thing that I like about short-term abroad programs is that they use internationalization to enhance an existing curriculum, instead of the other way around.  In Jane Knight's article, "Five Truths about Internationalization", she claims that "Internationalization is a means to an end, not and end unto itself."  Internationalization is a process used to help achieve an institution's goals... it shouldn't be the goal itself.  So often you see universities spend massive amounts of money to create branch campuses in order to achieve that golden accolade of achieving internationalization.  Unless these programs are working towards achieving a goal, its not money well spent.  Short term study abroad uses internationalization to enhance curriculum.  In this case it is a process that adds an international context to a university's pre-existing programs.

Short-term study abroad programs are a quickly-growing phenomenon at GW.  They offer an opportunity for all students, not just those in traditionally study abroad-friendly degree programs, to gain an international context in their field.  They open the doors to international experience to those who might not otherwise have an opportunity through their solutions to the issues of cost, curriculum, and culture.  Hopefully GW's short-term abroad offerings will continue to grow!

Institute of International Education. (2014). What Will it Take to Double Study Abroad?. Retrieved from:

Knight, Jane. "Five myths about internationalization." International Higher Education 62.1 (2011): 14-15.

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