Developing Programs to Improve Access and Diversity

Building, enhancing, and expanding programs with the goal of more inclusive access to study abroad happens on multiple in-country levels, three of which I’ll detail here for the sake of space:

1) Academics—solid courses that explore such themes as gender, race, and class constructions; the poetics of diaspora and human rights; and that offer ways of seeing the ‘self’ and the way we are ‘read’ in the study abroad experience. Courses in theme-based programs outside of the humanities can explore these themes.

2) Excellent local, professional counselors and trained resident staff (as well as resident staff trainings) who understand the unique challenges that underrepresented groups can experience in a given host city and in programs that are overwhelmingly “white” and middle to upper-middle class.

3) Build career prep and job placement (and train the local staff on how to do this in a way that is engaging) into the program and show resident staff how to lead post-arrival and re-entry workshops with concrete job placement at the center. Seeing study abroad as a tool for career goals is a critical translation that will show underrepresented groups that study abroad produces significant advantages.

I will touch upon academics and local counselors only briefly in this post so that integrating career development into the program can be discussed at length. 

Academics and Counselors

For the Brazil programs that I developed and directed for over 300 U.S. sending universities, supporting diversity meant building courses that allowed students to understand more fully how privilege and the “coloniality of power” (Aníbal Quijano), gender, race, and class markers contribute to the study abroad experience and the day-to-day life of the host city. It meant bringing those courses into our student-staff meetings. It meant finding the very best counselors and training them on how students build unique relationships with the host city based on race-class-gender constructs and markers that shift across cultural geographies. In the “Study Abroad: A Guide for Program Developers” e-book (you can read more about it and sign up for the launch notice), I will cover these two pieces in much more detail.

Students Want to See Impact on Their Professional Trajectory

Just as importantly, we can build graduate school admissions, scholarship program applications, and job placement into all programs.

Integration of hands-on career development activities and support for post-study abroad, career, and re-entry transition can be worked into a study abroad program as soon as the first weeks. What employers and employment agencies who understand study abroad look for in terms of material produced or skills developed during study abroad programs can help study abroad participants build their goals.

In terms of making sure underrepresented groups have access to this life-changing tool that is study abroad, it falls on the universities, providers, scholarship programs, and the program developers to make sure students know that programs involve job preparation and a career path. Most of us working in this field are the ‘result’ of study abroad programs or some kind of international education initiative that allowed us to cross national and cultural boundaries. We live the impact and understand how this academic journey changes lives. But would-be participants do not necessarily see this ‘poetic’ and, faced with expensive options, students and their families want to see concrete return on their investment. 

If programs are built with solid job prep components such as a unique point of entry into employment agencies, your students—whether you are a university or provider—will see study abroad not only as a tool for language learning and intercultural development, but as a tool to gain entry into meaningful employment. Career enhancement allows students to understand the return of their investment in concrete terms in addition to the concepts that we show them in terms of language acquisition and cross-cultural navigation.

If we want more inclusive groups, we need to continue to show how important a role study abroad plays in the career path, which is why all programs developed by Blue Sage can include access into employment agencies that deeply value study abroad. Making these agencies and their expectations part of the study abroad programs is a step in that direction.

For that reason, I have developed (and continue to expand) a network of employment agencies and hiring organizations that deeply value experiential learning, and the ability to work cross-culturally and inter-linguistically that study abroad participants develop.