Mar1220091:12 pm

Is a year abroad better than just a semester? ctd.

I’ve been meaning for some time to write about an article by Karin Fischer I came across in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only, sorry) examining the idea that short term study abroad experiences can have just as much of an effect on participants as long term ones. I’ve written about this topic before (as well as the related topic of single country v. multicountry study abroad), and I’m still not sure how I feel. As someone who has had two long term (one year plus) experiences abroad, I’m definitely partial to long term programs and the immersive benefits they bring. On the other hand, I am a proponent of abroad experiences of all kinds, so I would much rather see a student do a four-week program than no program at all. I guess I pretty much agree with Dr. Fry, whom Karin quotes:

The length of time students study overseas has no significant impact on whether they become globally engaged later in life, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, a conclusion that is sure to add fuel to the already fiery debate over the efficacy of increasingly popular short-term study-abroad programs.

The findings of the Study Abroad for Global Engagement project…suggest that students who go overseas for a short period of time, four weeks or less, are just as likely as those who study abroad for several months or even a year to be globally engaged.

“It’s both exciting and disappointing,” said Gerald W. Fry, a professor of international-development education at Minnesota and one of the study’s principal investigators. “On one hand, you’d hope that studying in a country for a long period of time would be particularly meaningful.” On the other, he said, the study’s findings suggest that “if it’s done right, if it’s done with intensity of learning, a short-term program can have impact.”

Karin goes on to write:

More startling, and potentially more controversial, is the finding that program duration, in and of itself, seems to matter little in predicting long-term global engagement.

Short-term programs, which are typically led by faculty members, have been rising in popularity, but skeptics have criticized them as being little more than cultural tourism, saying that in many of them students spend most of their time with other Americans and have little opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture.

Advocates for such trips counter that they help make overseas study possible for students who might not be able to commit the time or have the financial resources to study for a semester or more.

Mr. Fry, who leads a short-term program to Thailand, said the study suggests that a more complex combination of factors makes a program effective. He and his colleagues hope to further mine the data to examine the interrelationship of a number of variables, such as whether students studied with other Americans or with foreign students.

In the end, I think, it seems we should just be happy that 1) more and more short term study abroad programs are transcending the “cultural tourism” label and being designed as effective, immersive experiences, and 2) more and more students are indeed going abroad—and if a short term experience is all that they want/have time for/can afford, then certainly no one should deny them that.

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