There are many reasons why faculty should consider travel-study abroad in their careers. First, it is personally enriching. Like students, your eyes and ears are opened to things new when you travel and teach abroad. Second, your teaching at home is substantially enhanced by your international experiences. Because your knowledge is broadened and deepened, you are better adept at getting around the narrow American view. Third, your international experiences in teaching-learning make you a valuable commodity to the finest colleges and universities. The buzzword on college campuses is “Internationalization” and the key is well-traveled, knowledgeable professors that can grab students by the seat of their pajamas and turn them upside down, into global citizens of an ever-changing world.
One area of internationalization that is often overlooked is the value of teaching abroad. As a study abroad director, I hear a lot about sending students overseas, but not so much about sending faculty. Teaching abroad is just as valuable as learning abroad, if not more! In fact, the most powerful recruitment tools we have on campus for convincing students to study abroad is a professor whose eyes and ears have been opened, or an academic advisor, career counselor, or financial aid officer who has benefited from an international learning experience. When faculty and staff see the value, and they’ve experienced it firsthand, they tend to pass their perceptions along to students. Before you know it, students want to have the same life-changing experiences as their admired professors.
We ask all students who study abroad to complete an evaluation when they return. Of the last 250 students who completed it, 55% said they chose to study abroad because it fit into their degree program or schedule and 32% said they chose to study abroad because a professor encouraged it. This is quite telling, considering that we only send 300 students abroad per year out of 12,000 on campus. A third of our students made a decision to study abroad because one of their professors convinced them it was important! We have a relatively small population of professors on campus who have international experience, so I can only imagine what our student participation rates would be if we had more professors who encouraged, from their own first-hand experience, travel-study abroad.
This brings me to my final point about teaching-learning; we can only teach what we ourselves know. While it is a key presidential priority for our institution to send more students abroad, it will be difficult to accomplish until our faculty and staff have similar experiences. This is why I pro-actively seek faculty and staff opportunities for travel-study, along side of our programs for students. We recently sent two faculty members to Harlaxton College to teach our students and many others for a semester. In our most recent newsletter, one of the professors wrote, “I was able to focus on instruction in ways that have revitalized me as a teacher and also press on with my own research.” The other said, “Because I am teaching smaller classes than at Eastern Illinois, I have been able/been forced to refine and/or try new ideas in the classroom.”
International awareness, knowledge, and skills are extremely valuable to employers, especially to colleges and universities. You may have the degree, and you may have the expertise, but someone else who has the same degree and expertise will be looked upon more favorably if he/she has international experience. This is true for students as well. There are more educated, qualified people today than there has ever been before, and competition is great. In order to succeed, you have to do something different, or be something different, in a way that is considered valuable and useful to the broad, overarching goals of the higher learning institution.
Besides setting yourself apart, and acquiring an international cutting-edge in your field, there are other benefits to travel-study abroad. After you find a job, you may be eligible to receive service credit, tenure points, course releases, and/or extra pay for leading study abroad programs. You may be called upon to serve on your International Programs Advisory Committee or spearhead some international projects with your department. Your experiences may open up other professional opportunities for fellowships or endowments that you never dreamed about. People who have solid international experience usually have little resistance to upward mobility and getting more out of life.
There are many different travel-study abroad opportunities for faculty. Below are a few of the most popular:
You can develop and/or lead a study abroad course in a country or countries where you have knowledge and expertise. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to travel over breaks or during the summer, and still get paid to teach! At Eastern Illinois University, there are a handful of professors who travel with students to the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, the Bahamas, Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, and many other countries from anywhere between one to six weeks. They are paid whatever they would normally make for the same credit hours on campus, above and beyond their regular salary.
There are a variety of opportunities through Fulbright Program, US Department of State. J. William Fulbright once said, “International Education Exchange is the most significant current project designed to continue the process of humanizing mankind to the point, we would hope, that nations learn to live in peace.” Fulbright sends out US Scholars, receives international scholars, and offers teaching opportunities around the world. The traditional Fulbright Scholar Program sends 800 U.S. faculty and professionals abroad each year.
Professors may also find their own exchanges or other travel opportunities. The International Professor Exchange hosts a directory of 990 faculty from 93 countries who are looking for exchange partners. CIEE hosts faculty development seminars. These are short-term, intensive, educational experiences designed for professors. ISEP is an international student exchange consortium that also allows for faculty exchanges. Saabatical Homes is another way to get abroad, if you’re not looking to teach. Check with your study abroad office about these opportunities and more.
Whether you’re an aspiring professor, new to your field and position, or you’ve been around the block a few times, do not underestimate the personal and professional value of travel-study abroad. Your study abroad experiences change lives for everyone involved, including your present and future students. You owe it to yourself to look into travel-study abroad opportunities and find the best fit for you and your goals. Whatever path you choose, may it enlighten and enrich your life in more ways than you know.
Originally posted as Msg. #943 in TOMORROW’S PROFESSOR(sm) eMAIL NEWSLETTER sponsored by the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning.
Submitted by Wendy Williamson is the Director of Study Abroad at Eastern Illinois University and author of Study Abroad 101 (Paperback Book). Before launching her career, Wendy completed two assignments (four years) with the US Peace Corps in Cameroon and Ecuador.