There are many options for SA Grads to develop personally and professionally in the summer. This decision can be tough, especially as you weigh all your options in the US. One option that often goes unexplored is study abroad. In Summer 2016, Shaquan Womack (UVM HESA ‘17) and 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 allowed them to to develop an understanding of the structure and practice of higher education abroad and gain insight into the issues and strategic directions for higher education and student services/affairs in these regions.
Study 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 University of Vermont’s College of Education and Social Sciences offered the internship. My research focused on how student affairs professionals can support Chinese international students. I had the opportunity to observe English classes while implementing Restorative Practices in our classroom dialogue. I also lived within residential halls where I was able to interview their staff.
My experience in China has shaped how I will work across difference 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 residential life and international education.
Many of our residential 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 and global citizen that I strive to be, studying abroad in the summer was the right decision for me. During 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 year long 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 offices and student groups to the table. The main goal was to understand students’ perspective towards the assessment and feedback process at the University of Glasgow. Our work entailed interviews, surveys and focus groups. If you have done assessment you know that sometimes the data is collected and never used. For us, our information was presented to the university community and helped to inform the toolkit within 2 months of ending our project – found here.
Despite having a 9 am-5pm (sometimes earlier/later) schedule for three weeks, five times a week. 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 I could have done this through research in the US, I experienced working and living abroad on the ground.
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 study abroad programs 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. Since our professional organizations call on us to be inclusive in our practice, going abroad allows one to gain a global perspective and develop intercultural competence.
Advice for SA grads who want to study abroad
Look at the options offered by your school and other universities for SA grads
Look at the partnerships your school has with other schools abroad
Figure out what kind of experience is right for you – research, internship, travel, a class
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!
*We acknowledge that not all folks have the ability to travel abroad. Our intent is not to further marginalize you; we honor all SA grad experiences.