Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Talking to underrepresented students about your study abroad program: career focus

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photo contest winner Desiree and friends.
For many years now the education abroad field has worried about the disproportionate rate of participation in study abroad programs by students of color, male students and first generation students. This chart by the Institute on International Education will give you a glimpse of the numbers and this article by USA Today and this article in the Atlantic give a good overview.

The 'whys’ and ‘what do we do about it’ have been topics of many a conference presentation and, although there are a variety of solutions as complex as the questions, one answer has the benefit of both better speaking to underrepresented students and focusing on an important outcome of all education: career readiness.

The idea is that focusing on a concrete and outcome-oriented reason to study abroad better encourages students to work through the common ‘barriers’ they face that are outlined in the USA Today article cited above. Namely, the cost (and the opportunity cost of not working), family pressures (positive and negative) and the question of “is study abroad really for me? Do people like me study abroad?”

So what to do?

As faculty you have a really important and effective role in recruiting students for study abroad programs. They trust you, they want to learn from you! Here is an article from the Diversity Network on the importance of your role:

Step away from "It will change your life!"
Almost anyone who has had a significant international experience wants to encourage others to do so because we know, it WILL change your life! But for many students this idea may seem frivolous or selfish. “Why would I spent all that money to go change my life when I could change lives by working here?” Or, for some, simply going to college has already been an overwhelming and life-changing experience and the idea of another may be too much.

Share the statistics
The idea that study abroad contributes to career readiness is not invented! Here are a couple of articles that talk more in depth about studies that link success in finding jobs to their study abroad experience:

Focus on the academics
What will your students be learning on the study abroad program? How will the program be different than what they could learn if they stayed on campus? Why is this an extraordinary learning opportunity? How will the academic content help prepare the students for their future?

Highlight career-enhancing skills
And the Office of International Education at Willamette University’s website talks about marketing the skills acquired while studying abroad to potential employers. Examples like 'taking initiative and risks,' 'utilizing time management skills', 'self-reliance' and 'flexibility' can be used to explain to students about the variety of 'soft-skills' they can practice, intensely, while abroad.

Share your own story
Your own story is often the most meaningful and motivating. How did an international experience impact your career trajectory?

In a future blog post we hope to elaborate on how to support underrepresented students while they are studying abroad but for now here are a few resources:
Diversity Abroad Network: Advancing Diversity & Inclusive Excellence in International Education

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