Why offer faculty-led study abroad programs?

Why offer faculty-led programs when there are so many good study abroad organizations offering high quality programs?

Faculty-led programs are on the rise at US colleges and universities. Over the past 10 years, according to IIE’s Open Doors report, short-term programs have increased from 48% of all study abroad to 60%. Not all of those programs are led by faculty, but many of them are. Conference sessions on the topic of faculty-led programs continue to fill the rooms and be very popular.

In fact, as more institutions internationalize their curriculum and campus and increase international opportunities for faculty and staff as well as for students–faculty-led programs can be an ideal way to internationalize.

Study abroad organizations do offer high quality programs for students, but if that’s your main source for education abroad, how will you internationalize your faculty? My experience as a study abroad advisor and office director made me realize that one reason it was so challenging to get faculty “invested” in sending students abroad on outside study abroad programs, is that there wasn’t much in it for them. The job we asked them to do was to advise students on other people’s programs, taught by other faculty, learning a curriculum designed by someone else, often with little or no direct connection to the university, to their department, or to them as scholars and teachers. This is perhaps self-centered on their part. Yet I learned that if you want the active support of faculty in strengthening education abroad, there has to be a benefit to them—to their teaching, research, and professional development. We may want people to altruistically ask “what can I do for my students?” but we have to be realistic in understanding that they also ask “what’s in it for me”?

To expand internationalization efforts to faculty and to involve faculty in efforts to increase study abroad numbers and experiences, we need to involve them in ways that directly benefit them as well benefiting their students. When faculty teach abroad: they have their own international experiences, they learn to teach outside the classroom, they see students studying abroad, they get out of their comfort zone, they experience difference, the world becomes their classroom—all things we want for students and now for faculty as well. Just as the world opens up when students study outside of the US, so does the world open up for faculty when they teach abroad. And then we all win.

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