The New York Times recently published a great essay on one student’s reflection on what it means to have an “authentic” study abroad experience: “Was My Study Abroad Experience ‘Authentic’ Enough?” Searching for authenticity in another country has always struck me as a search to validate the images you have of that culture, not necessarily what’s real for those living there. In a short-term faculty-led program, your time abroad is brief, so finding what’s “real” and making the most of your program must be carefully thought out beforehand. Here at Seminars International, we believe a real experience on a faculty-led program comes when the faculty’s academic goals make the best use possible of on-site resources and when faculty match what they teach with what students see, do, and experience. In other words, will students’ on-site experiences align with what you want them to learn? (And, of course, are you ready to take advantage of those serendipitous teachable moments?)
That often means making some hard decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Visiting the Tower of London may seem like just a tourist spot, but if you’re teaching Criminal Justice, then it makes sense to fit it into your program. On the other hand, visits to art museums may take a back seat. Your students will then understand aspects of the country and culture that flow from your program subject or topic. That, to us, is what it means to make your experience abroad “real.” What’s not authentic about that?