There are many options for SA Grads to develop personally & professionally during the summer. This decision can be tough, especially when weighing all your options in the US. One option that often goes unexplored is going abroad. In summer 2016, Shaq Womack (UVM HESA ‘17) & Abigail Smith (UConn HESA ‘17) decided to cross the pond and explore what higher education abroad looks like; in two very unique experiences. These experiences, shared below allowed them to develop an understanding of the structure and practice of higher education abroad. It also allowed them to gain insight into the issues and strategic directions for higher education and student services/affairs in these regions.
Below we share our distinct experiences followed by some recommendations about going abroad.
Traveling abroad can have a huge influence on how a person navigates the world they come from. This past summer I completed a one month internship at the Inner Mongolia University Arts College (IMUAC) in Inner Mongolia, China. The internship was offered through the University of Vermont’s College of Education and Social Sciences. My research focused on how student affairs professionals can support Chinese international students. I was given the opportunity to observe English classes while implementing Restorative Practices in our classroom dialogue. I also lived within residence halls where I was able to interview their staff. I believe that my experience in China has shaped how I will work through differences as a student affairs professional. Many of the meals I ate in China influenced my support of Chinese international students. Instead of having my own individual meal, I shared multiple dishes with other people at the table. Communal meals are important in Chinese culture because of its value of family and community. This is a concept that I considered for our department of residence life and international education. Many of our residence halls have community kitchens for residents to use. Chinese international students gather in these kitchens to cook and have communal meals with each other. The kitchen serves as an affinity space for these students who are often homesick. I encouraged my department to create policies and programmatic initiatives to maintain and utilize the kitchen space. This will create a positive experience for Chinese international students in the residence halls.
Before my trip to China, I was unaware of the cultural and societal norms of the country. Being a Black man and a social justice educator made it difficult for me to adjust to those norms. However, immersing myself in Chinese culture further developed my intercultural competence. I believe intercultural competence is the biggest benefit that a SAgrad can gain from studying abroad. Studying a specific culture brings you one step closer to understanding and supporting the international students you work with.
In order for me to gain experience and commit to being the international leader that I strive to be, studying abroad in the summer was the right decision for me. While my program does great work on educating us about student affairs in the US, we don't do much of comparing and contrasting to other Higher Ed systems abroad. For my experience abroad, I was able to travel to Glasgow, Scotland and do a three week assessment project at the University of Glasgow with two of my cohort mates. We had just finished a yearlong assessment in one of our courses where we worked on three different projects. An assessment abroad was an exciting challenge to use our skills in a different way. Our work at UofG focused on academic affairs but we were able to bring a student affairs perspective to the issue as we brought various players to the table. Our main goal was to understand the student perspective towards the assessment and feedback process at the University of Glasgow. Our work entailed interviews, surveys and focus groups. Upon completion of our assessment the data was presented to the university community and helped to inform the toolkit within 2 months of ending our project.
Despite having a 9-5 (sometimes earlier/later) schedule for three weeks, I was able to explore Glasgow outside of the university system. Being able to interact with locals of various ages and visit historic sites allowed me to gain a perspective of education and higher education in the U.K. While this could have been done thorough research in the US, on the ground experience allowed me to experience working and living abroad. It gave me a taste of what my life could be like working in another system post-graduation. As a Black woman with race as a salient identity, understanding a context before relocating is important for me. I would recommend studying abroad to any SA grad, it may be a pricier option especially compared to the paid internship opportunities in the US. However, if you budget well and weigh all your options, it can be possible. As our professional organizations call on us to be inclusive in our practice, going abroad allows one to gain a global perspective and develop of intercultural competence.
Advice for SA grads who want to go abroad:
- Look at the options offered by your institution and other universities for SA grads
- Look at the partnerships your institution has with other universities abroad
- Figure out what kind of experience is right for you
- You can tailor your experience to suit your needs
- Ask questions of other SA grads who have studied abroad to see if this is right for you
- Go for it!
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