A Proposed Visual of the Student Process of Engaging in Education Abroad Programming

Several months ago, I was preparing to present on the topic of supporting students from underrepresented backgrounds in education abroad/study abroad. In an attempt to demonstrate when international educators generally engage in conversations about student identity in the education abroad process, I found myself searching for a visual aid that showed the process by which undergraduate students (at U.S. institutions of higher education) generally engage when going abroad. I searched a wide variety of search terms, and found primarily visuals that related to the psychological adjustment of students who have gone abroad (there are some good ones out there!).

I found one that seemed relatively close to what I was looking for that a group of folks (Erica Haas-Gallo, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Alan Masters, PhD,  CIEE; and Janelle Papay, Elon University) presented at the 2015 CIEE Conference (presentation here, visual presented on slide 45). It was good and provided the broad cycle of going abroad, but I felt as though there should be more.

As a result, I drafted a visual with a few more steps that I felt was a more robust representation of the student experience, and put it into the image below. My goals in posting this are twofold:

  1. Provide a visual for others who might be interested in demonstrating the various touch points where different campus offices/departments and providers/foreign institutions may need to be involved; and,
  2. Generate discussion on what the process looks like at other institutions, and how this visual might be modified to be more inclusive of the components that make up the education abroad process.
The Process of Engaging in Education Abroad at U.S. Institutions of Higher Education from Interest to Reentry


I imagine this is something that others will find useful, or at least interesting!

Unconscious Bias in Education Abroad?

There’s a buzz in private industry about how unconscious bias is preventing more diverse and traditionally underrepresented professionals from accessing top level leadership positions within corporations. The case for having a diverse team of employees has been well documented (see Resources below), but it appears that when it comes to recruiting, hiring, and promoting we (humans) are hardwired to prefer those who look, think, and act more like we do (here’s a quick video that breaks down what unconscious bias is). As many industries are dominated, particularly at the top levels of leadership, by a fairly homogenous group of professionals (straight, white men), diversifying those who are hired and promoted at all levels appears to be more complex than changing a handful of policies (though that can be a great way to start!).

For many reasons, it makes sense that private industry is taking a serious look at how their current hiring and internal promotion practices might be limiting access to professionals who represent diverse backgrounds. One of the biggest driving factors for this may be that a company’s ability to compete in their field requires that they think innovatively to develop new solutions and create new products. Research has shown that diverse groups, when managed effectively, are more creative and productive.

While the business case for private companies might appear to be more explicit (more diverse teams leads to more sales), higher education could also benefit from exploring how unconscious bias may influence the recruitment and selection of diverse student populations as well as the subsequent services that all students receive once they are enrolled. Like so many other industries, higher education administration has not traditionally reflected the diversity of the student body on campus, and as a result institutions may have embedded and esoteric policies and practices that create unnecessary barriers to recruiting, hiring, retaining, supporting, and engaging diverse faculty, staff, and students.

Education abroad and international programs offices are not immune to these challenges, and must, if the commitment to diversify the student participation in education abroad programming is real, consider how unconscious bias might be impacting both student recruitment and engagement as well as hiring and promotion practices.

How do the learnings from corporations influence how we think about advising bias in education abroad?

Relying on study abroad office networks may not be reaching diverse and underrepresented students

Some of the most compelling findings from research done on unconscious bias in private industry is that while companies require that new positions be announced publicly and broadly, many hiring managers depend on personal networks and current employees to attract candidates for positions. Considering that our unconscious selves automatically think of people who think, act, and look like us, relying on who we know to recruit students and employees may actually be undermining our efforts to diversify those students we’re reaching.

One way we can begin to address this is to reach out to those on campus who may have connections with diverse students to not only get the word out, but to also collaborate to better understand how to connect with diverse students. This can include reaching out to other student services/affairs offices (e.g., multicultural/diversity, financial aid, Trio) as well as diverse faculty members.

These efforts can help us in not only reaching a wider audience, it also has the potential to expand our own networks so that when we do rely on who we know to spread the word, that audience is also more diverse.

Assumptions about certain student populations may be undermining the advising process

The implications for unconscious bias reach beyond recruiting and hiring; they also have the potential to undermine our interactions with diverse students as we prepare them to go abroad. Before students have the opportunity to tell us what their interests or concerns might be, many advisors may already assume they know what challenges students face (see an earlier blog about moving beyond what’s wrong). We may assume that our Pell-eligible students want short-term programming and only present short-term study options in our advising session. Or we might start our conversation with a Latino student with a discussion about the Gilman scholarship. While students might take such advice in stride, students may also opt to move forward with their planning without re-engaging with the education abroad office, leaving the chance that they may miss important deadlines and information that otherwise would have been relevant to their experience.

We can begin to move beyond our assumptions by allowing the students to drive the conversation, taking note of their needs and interests, and providing information accordingly. We can also ask probing questions along the way to help them think about all of their options and consider all of the information and resources they have available to them.

It’s also important to engage students at all points in their experience with the office. Offices could include questions in existing pre-departure and re-entry surveys that ask students about their experiences with unconscious biases, or perceived barriers or challenges they may have had in their interactions with the office/organization. Involve the students in the process!

Hiring practices and ‘requirements’ may be undermining intentions to hire more diverse staff

Many of us in international education find a particular affinity with the idea that those in the field all share the common experience of having spent some time abroad during their lifetime. When it comes down to the type of job that you’re asking someone to do, though, is having an international experience really required to do the job well? This is just one example of how our expectations for job candidates may already be working against our interests in diversifying our staff (remember, those who have and do study abroad still reflect a fairly homogenous population). There, of course, may be positions that do depend heavily on an education abroad advisor’s own experience abroad. There are likely many positions, (e.g., accounting, office management), though, that rely more heavily on functional skills rather than the experience of going abroad.

Just as with our students, it’s important to engage current and former employees to better understand what the issues/concerns and strengths of our offices are. It may be helpful to survey current and former employees about their experiences and suggestions for improving the hiring/recruitment process.

It may also be worthwhile to explore how the current hiring and promotion process weighs certain experiences/skills over others to create a rubric that considers a wide range of talents that candidates bring to the table (e.g., add points for candidates who worked in college). It’s also important here to explore the full hiring cycle (e.g., screening resumes, interviews, onboarding, assignment process, performance evaluation) to assess potential unconscious bias. One good short-list for other suggestions is Diversity Best Practices “Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace” (pg. 15).


This post is cross-posted on the Diversity Network website where you can see more posts and resources related to diversity in education abroad!


Unconscious Bias in Private Industry

Unconscious Bias in Higher Education

Testing Unconscious Bias

Case for Diversity

New Data on Study Abroad Programming Tells Us This is Not a Time for Complacency

Every year, international educators around the U.S. wait with a sense of excitement for the annual “Open Doors Report” published by the Institute for International Education.  Each year, there is something interesting in those numbers that captures our interest and compels those in the field to reflect on the successes and challenges of the previous year, and opportunities for the year to come. This year’s Report has many of us in the field wondering where the momentum in the growth of diverse students has gone. Last year gave us hope that the efforts to increase access to education abroad programming may have been paying off. This year, though, offers a somber reminder that there is much work yet to be done.

The number of students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds participating in education abroad opportunities remained stubbornly flat. In 2013 the slight uptick in racially/ethnically diverse students and students with disabilities made many of us excited by the idea that perhaps some of the efforts that have been developed to recruit and serve students from these backgrounds was finally beginning to show results, at least as far as numbers are concerned. But, perhaps, our excitement got the better of us, and our complacency may now be showing.

African American/Black, Latino/Hispanic, and students enrolled in Associates degree granting programs got a major boost last year. This year, all three groups remained exactly the same. Students with disabilities moved only slightly from 5% to 5.1%. So what happened?

For the last two decades, the field of education abroad has struggled with making international opportunities more accessible to a more representative cadre of U.S. undergraduate students. Institutions have explored ways to facilitate partnerships on campus, to revamp marketing materials, and to identify peer mentors to extend the message to students that, yes, study abroad is for you. But did we get too excited too soon? Maybe. Maybe not. In any case these numbers are a clear reminder of the work we have yet to do.

We’ve identified some things that international education and exchange institutions and organizations are doing that might warrant additional attention for this next year.

Comprehensive Diversity and Inclusion Planning

Reaching the goal of democratizing education abroad requires strategic planning and implementation of diversity and inclusion good practices in the entire education abroad process, from inquiry through re-entry. By taking this holistic approach institutions and providers are able to assess their current efforts to recruit, advise, and serve the needs of diverse and underrepresented students, determine areas of strength and address areas for development. Incorporating diversity and inclusive good practices into current education abroad operations has proven to not only increase participation among diverse and underrepresented students, but also enhance their international experience.

Strategic Marketing

Until recently, it was often the case that students of color, students with disabilities, and students with high-financial need were not hearing a message that said that education abroad was an opportunity within their reach. Institutions and providers have seen the importance of developing inclusive messaging and visual materials that speak to students from a wider swath of the U.S. population. In order for students to consider international opportunities, the message needs to clearly convey that international opportunities are available to all students.

While the visual representation is important, the message that is being disseminated is crucial. For many underrepresented students it is important to see why study abroad pays off in the long run. What will the return on their investment be? Career benefits, professional outcomes, and skills development are pieces of the “why you should study abroad” message that, until recently, haven’t been the focus of most marketing material. For many diverse students, the personal growth and cultural competencies aren’t the draw. They want to know how this will help them in the long run. Salisbury et al., 2011 emphasize this point by noting that diverse students see their undergraduate education as an investment in their future job prospects, so making the connection for how study abroad connects to these goals is important.

Peer-to-Peer Mentoring

While the numbers for racially/ethnically diverse students going abroad didn’t increase this year, the increase in the last several years in students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds participating in education abroad programming means there has also been an increase in education abroad alumni who are now able to mentor and outreach to students who identify with these backgrounds. Developing peer mentorship opportunities and reaching out specifically to diverse education abroad alumni to participate in these programs is important to give diverse students an opportunity to connect with their peers.

Research and Assessment

Assessment and evaluation in education abroad continues to advance with better methods of collecting and reporting data. Institutions and organizations have done much work to collect more exhaustive data on who is studying abroad and where, and there have been big strides in tying international experiences to important outcomes such as retention, GPA, graduation time, and job prospects.

We can do better, though. According to this year’s data, only 28% of institutions provided data about student with disabilities, and it isn’t clear if every institution included information by type of disability (the percentages by type only reflect the numbers available for those who reported, and information about non-reported groups is not included). Equally interesting to note, with each of the student demographics data collected (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, disability), it isn’t entirely clear who might not be represented here. There is not a category to accommodate students who don’t identify/respond to these questions or missing data. Anyone who works with data knows there is always some missing information. This tells us that we need to do more to collect better and more complete information from the students we serve. Are we offering students multiple opportunities to tell us how they identify (e.g, application, pre-departure, re-entry surveys)?

There is still much work to be done to ensure that education abroad develops inclusive practices and environments to support an increasingly diverse student population. From the application process to the re-entry activities, international education professionals should also begin to focus efforts to make sure students from all backgrounds, particularly those from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, are supported from the point when they express interest in education abroad to their return to campus. The following areas are particularly relevant to developing an inclusive and open environment for students.

  • Advising and guidance

  • Application process

  • Pre-departure training

  • In-country support

  • Re-entry assistance

The numbers from this year’s Open Doors Report suggest that it is not the time to slow in our efforts to continue to expand access to education abroad programming. In many ways, this year’s numbers challenge the field to enhance efforts to now support and develop more inclusive practices to serve the changing demographic of students in education abroad.

Cross posted on the Diversity Network blog on November 18, 2014.

Does Diversity Have a Place in the Health and Safety Conversation?

Does Diversity Have a Place in the Health and Safety Conversation?

At initial glance, it may seem that student’s health and safety considerations may have very little to do with their personal identity. All students, after all, should be prepared for the physical, emotional, and mental strain related to acclimating to a new environment. All students should be briefed in the potential safety and security concerns of the country in which they will be living. So how exactly would a student’s identity influence this conversation? The short answer is in ways that we as international educators may not have considered before. The longer response is that it depends.

Mental Health

This is an area of health and safety that has grown significantly in the previous decade, not only in education abroad, but also in higher education more broadly. Going abroad can be a major life event for many of the students who are able to participate in an activity like study abroad. The experience of adapting to a new environment, a new group of peers, a new system of coursework, and managing relationships back home can be stressful for many students who go abroad. For students from racial and ethnic minority groups, first generation college students, and low-income students these stressors have the potential to be compounded.

Isolation is a frequently cited experience for students from diverse racial and ethnic populations as well as those from lower-income households. Being “the only one” (e.g., African American, Native American, Latino) on the program has the potential to create an environment where students who identify as the only one of their background on the program may not feel comfortable discussing particular challenges they may be experiencing while abroad. Similarly, students from low-income backgrounds may feel more isolated if they are not able to participate in excursions that come at an extra cost or travel regionally as some of their peers may. Often times, situations that arise as a result of a student’s background have the potential to fester, as many students may not see such incidents as worthy of reporting. Students from underrepresented backgrounds are often taught to manage these challenges independently, and support staff may not hear about situations (e.g., faculty member calls on only Asian American student in class when discussing Chinese culture, African American student is the only one in the group who is searched upon entry of a local club).

Seeking Out Resources and Local Diversity

We hear often of students from diverse backgrounds looking for specific products, services, or venues that are connected to their identity. It may be African American students looking for hair products or barbers/stylists who have experience with their hair type, or Latino students looking for cooking ingredients that remind them of home, Jewish students looking for Kosher-friendly stores, or students of a particular faith seeking out a place of worship. At first glance this may seem related to local culture more than safety, however, if we consider that students may be finding these resources by searching online and heading to a part of town they may not be familiar with, what was initially an effort to find relevant resources could turn into a potentially complicated excursion. There is, of course, a need to balance encouraging independent exploration with health and safety concerns. However, students can be encouraged to engage in “exploration within boundaries.” If we as international educators provide some of these resources in advance about a variety of places where they can find these products and services, students will have reliable information with the option to explore these venues independently.

While these are but two examples of how identity intersects with health and safety, there are certainly other ways in which students from diverse backgrounds may have unique health and safety considerations that all students could benefit from hearing about as they prepare to go abroad. Students from diverse backgrounds certainly benefit from having information and support as it relates to these topics, but students who may not initially identify with an underrepresented group also gain from engaging in these conversations. After all, students’ health and safety is a group responsibility, and it benefits all education abroad students to know how identity intersects with their experience on the ground.

Suggested Resources for Students

  • Pre-departure discussion and on-site orientation that addresses current climate of diversity of the city/town (e.g., address what local “diversity” means).
  • List of local resources related to health and beauty that includes venues that provide products and services for diverse populations (e.g., general drug stores, drug stores that carry ethnic beauty supplies, barbers, salons).
  • List of places of worship for diverse religious groups.
  • Super market or store recommendations that include more affordable grocery options, ethnic cuisine and ingredients, and Kosher and halal options.
  • A “staff picks” list of diverse restaurant options.
  • Recurring conversation group (middle and end of the semester or program) for students on the program to discuss their experiences, how they’ve adapted, challenges, and highlights.
  • Frequent messages either via email or social media that remind students to share their experiences with staff.

This blog posted is reposted from the DiversityNetwork.org blog.

Opening Access to Education Abroad

Opening the Doors Wider: Funding Education Abroad for Nontraditional Students was published in the International Education last week, and I’m excited about the topics covered in the article (not to mention I helped inform some of the discussion).

While funding isn’t the only factor in a student’s decision to go abroad, it’s a huge one.

Click to access ie_sepoct14_ea.pdf

Gender Bias in Hiring Practices

A colleague sent out a link to an article highlighting some disturbing results about gender bias in hiring practices in the corporate world. As I was reading it, it made me wonder – how does this play out in fields like education where women tend to be overrepresented? Are under qualified men considered differently than women who are applying for the same position? Will the goal to “diversify” the office to include men overpower the conversation so that a man who might be less qualified be considered more favorably for the position?

I don’t have evidence to suggest that this does or does not occur, but it would be really interesting to see how this plays out in women dominated fields.

Here’s a link to the article: How to Remove Gender Bias from the Hiring Process by Will Yakowicz

Study Abroad and Sexual Assault: What’s the Connection?

When I studied abroad I was impressed by how many of the students on my program felt comfortable engaging in activities that back home would have been considered “risky” or “inappropriate”. Don’t get me wrong, drinking heavily is definitely something nearly every college student has experience with, but I’m sure most of my friends wouldn’t have felt comfortable drinking the way they do at campus parties in places where they didn’t know anyone or knew very little about the place where they were staying. While we were abroad, though, those inhibitions seemed to dissipate as we spent more time in-country.

At one point, a group of about six of us (all women) had decided to visit a local club in a small beach town where things were fairly calm. Late into the evening we noticed that one of our group members was missing. We set out in pairs to look for her only to find her in a compromised postion on the beach, alone with a guy none of us recognized. Dehydrated, intoxicated, and bruised, we took her back to the hostel to comfort her in her distress. I’m certain that her story is more common that we in the international education field would like to believe.

Why? The answer isn’t the same for every case, but one recent publication out of Middlebury College suggests that women who study abroad are indeed more likely than their peers who remain in the U.S. to experience some kind of sexual assault. There is a host of possible explanations as to why this may be the case: easier access to alcohol, weak social networks, and differences in cultural cues. Considering that the majority of students who study abroad are women (IIE Open Doors Report) and there is a greater push to get students to study in non-traditional (generally non-English speaking) countries, professionals working in student exchange need to take a more serious look at how to prepare young women for their experience abroad.

There are ways that institutions and study abroad providers can better prepare their female students when they go abroad, though.

Pre-Departure Training
Talking about the possibility of sexual assault abroad into the pre-departure discussion is one place to start. Discussing resources available to students while they’re abroad is key, but it is also important to let students know that they have resources available in the case something does happen. Building awareness among students is imperative.

Mechanisms for Reporting Incidences
Program providers and institutions managing their own programs should also make information about the resources available to students while they’re abroad more overt. If there isn’t an existing protocol for handling incidences of sexual assault, there should be. The Forum on Education Abroad’s publication “Standards of Good Practices in Education Abroad” offers good guiding questions for providers.

This topic is important issue because the students ultimately benefit from better preparation for their time abroad and providers and institutions benefit from students with positive accounts of their time abroad.

Obama 2nd Term Polices: Impact on International Education

After nearly a year of intense presidential political campaigning, U.S. voters have officially selected President Obama for a second term in the White House. With a host of big issues to tackle, the Obama administration will not only be faced with challenges like handling an economic recovery and improving bipartisan relationships in Congress, they will also need to  manage changes in education policies, immigration reform, foreign policy efforts and more.  With so many priorities to manage, what could Obama’s second term mean for international educational professionals, especially for those interested in expanding education abroad opportunities for traditionally underrepresented populations?

Based on the most recent discussions about the impact that the election results would have on higher education, there are four areas that may be of particular interest for international education professionals to watch over the next few months. These issues have the potential to change, challenge, and improve the way education abroad experts pursue the goals of making international opportunities available to a wider audience of students and improving international student services on campuses.

Immigration Policies

DREAM Act Legislation
Maryland has become the 12th state to allow in-state tuition rates for undocumented students who qualify. This comes in the wake of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act that allows many undocumented young people who arrived in the U.S. when they were minors the chance to remain in the U.S. Not only do these two examples suggest that people in the U.S. are interested in a more comprehensive reform on immigration policies, they also suggest that there will be a growing number of diverse students, particularly Hispanics/Latinos, who may begin to seek out other opportunities on campus to get engaged including education abroad programming. Advisers from all departments will need to know how to access resources and information to support these students on campus, especially if the federal DREAM Act legislation is re-introduced to Congress.

Enhancements to Work and Student Visa Requirements
There has been much discussion about offering a path toresidency in the U.S. for international students who graduate with advanced degrees. Though both parties favor policies that would allow these graduates to stay in the U.S. to increase the national competitiveness in research and development, passing legislation on these policies is often held up by a greater need to pursue comprehensive immigration reform. Should action be taken in this area, institutions of higher education may look to expand international student recruiting efforts and increase focus on research opportunities.

Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action
Affirmative action lawsuits have been around nearly as long as affirmative action policies were first set in motion in the 1960s. The latest case to be brought to the attention of the Supreme Court is that of Abigail Fisher vs the University of Texas, Austin. This case has the potential to completely eliminate race/ethnicity from consideration during the college admissions process subsequently challenging institutions to find alternative ways to recruit ethnic/racial minorities to their campuses. This is no easy feat, and should the case rule in favor of eliminating racial preferences in admissions decisions there is a strong possibility that colleges and universities will face several challenges in ensuring students of color are represented on their campuses. This may present new challenges for how international educators reach out to and retain students of color for education abroad opportunities.

Pell Grant Program
Threats to cut the existing  Pell Grant Program and modifications in federal student aid in general have greatly affected the higher education community. Federal aid is imperative to making college accessible to low-income and first-generation students because it has provided the financial support needed to cover the basic costs of attending college. This has allowing a more diverse population of students to get engaged in activities outside of the classroom and limiting access to these resources could also limit the diversity of students on campus. If funding remains steady or even increases, this may mean new opportunities for education abroad professionals to get more underrepresented students involved in international programming. There are an increasing number of study abroad providers that now offer matching funding for Pell Grant eligible students and this may create more demand for additional programing.

Expansion of Community Colleges
In 2011, the Obama administration launched the Building American Skills Through Community Colleges an initiative that is intended to expand education and training opportunities for more US students. Now only has the administration committed to more support for community colleges to train students, it has places a particular emphasis on preparing the population in high demand technical jobs that are increasingly global in nature. This opens a unique opportunity not only to engage community college students in education abroad activities, it could open opportunities for STEM students to explore international programming also. Moreover, this and other federal initiatives are working on expanding opportunities to attract larger international student populations to these campuses. This not only could offer more funding opportunities for the institutions, it could also offer opportunities for on-campus dialogue and engagement between US and international students, in turn promoting more cultural exchange on campus.

These are but a few of the policies that could influence the direction of international programming and internationalization efforts on US campuses over the course of the next few years.

Conferences in International Education

As a professional interested in gaining as much information about what is going on in international education, I began exploring venues where I might be able to connect with other international education professionals and get a sense for what’s going on in the field. I’ve pulled together a non-comprehesive list of a few conference that are related to the general field of international education. There are a host of other nationally focused conferences that have tracks where presenters can focus on internationally focused issues in education, but I decided to start with the more explicitly international opportunities.

If others have additions, feel free to leave a comment to let me and others know what’s out there!

Association of International Education Administrators
Month: February

Australian International Education Conference
Month: October

CIEE Annual Conference
Month: November

Comparative and International Education Society
Month: March

Diversity Abroad Conference
Month: April

EducationUSA Forums
Month: Varies

European Association of International Education
Month: September

Forum on Education Abroad
Month: April

Global Access Pipeline Conference
Month: April

Hawaii International Conference on Education
Month: January

NAFSA: Association of International Educators Annual Conference
Month: May/June

Other Resources:
List of Higher Education Conferences Worldwide

Association of International Education Administrators List of Intl Ed Conferences


Language Matters

Over the last several years, the discourse about the availability of language proficient professionals in the U.S. workforce has expanded beyond the international education community. Congressional members, heads of multinational corporations, and foreign policy experts have joined the dialogue giving a sense of urgency to a matter that has traditionally been viewed as an education issue, not a question of foreign policy. Where the conversation was once defined in terms of student learning and cultural competence, we now hear about language acquisition as an issue of national security and U.S. economic competitiveness. The challenge, though, has not necessarily been about getting the public to buy into the idea that these issues are important (“seventy-five percent of Americans believe all students should know a second language”). One of the most immediate issues in increasing the availability of language training opportunities is turning rhetoric into policy and providing funding to support those policies.

The Council on Foreign Relations recent Policy Innovation Memorandum No. 24 and their March 2012 report on U.S. Education Reform and National Security state the need for making these issues top priority on the U.S. policy agenda. They also offer a host of recommendations for how to implement reforms needed to train young people in less-commonly taught languages and issues of global importance. Funding for any reform, however, will rely heavily on congressional action in favor of internationally focused programming. Unfortunately, the most recent cuts to Title VI programs within the Department of Education demonstrate how steep the climb will be to get federal funding to support existing language programs let alone funding for new initiatives.

Creating a space for multiple stakeholders to strategize how to change the landscape of language education will be important. Generating the momentum that presses Congress to act will, however, be the only way to ensure there is a long-term commitment to making these opportunities available across the U.S.