The most recent Open Doors report indicates that during the 2013-2014 academic year, 62% of U.S. students who studied abroad participated in short-term study abroad programs (i.e., study abroad programs lasting for a summer term or up to eight weeks). As you might guess, many of these short-term study abroad programs are led by faculty. Although researchers have only begun to explore the organization of short-term study abroad programs and the influence of variations in this organization on student outcomes, one such study provides considerable food for thought on how we design our programs (Engle & Engle, 2003).
This study attempts to classify study abroad programs according to seven components of overseas study programs: length of program, required foreign language competence, language of coursework, context of academic work, student housing, student opportunities for cultural interaction and experiential learning, and guidance provided to students for reflection on cultural experiences. While short-term, faculty-led programs may all be of approximately the same duration, the other six components allow for considerable variation. These components raise important questions that we should consider when designing a faculty-led program, such as:
- What level of foreign-language competence do my students need in order to be successful in study abroad? How will I measure their linguistic competence before going abroad in order to determine if they meet requirements?
- What language will my students be taking coursework in? How does the language of my students’ coursework relate to question 1?
- I know that my students will be taking a course or two with me and maybe another with a colleague from my university, but would they also benefit from course offerings at an institute in our host country that offers coursework specifically for foreigners?
- Where will my students live? How will their living situation influence their study abroad experience? If I want my students to improve their linguistic competence while abroad, what’s the best living situation for them?
- How will I provide opportunities for my students to interact with the target culture while abroad? How might I prepare them for these opportunities in our pre-departure orientation session?
- Will my students have opportunities for experiential learning while we are abroad? Can they earn course credit for the opportunities they take advantage of?
- How will I be able to support my students as they experience life in a different culture? Will they be required to reflect on their experience while they are abroad? What about when they return to the United States?
Considering these questions is important when we build our study abroad programs, but is especially important when we think about what we want our students to achieve over the course of study abroad. In the long run, a focus on the outcomes of study abroad, and consistent re-evaluation of how our program components relate to these outcomes, will help us build better study abroad programs.
Engle, L., & Engle, J. (2003). Study abroad levels: Toward a classification of program types. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 9(1), 1-20.