When I was in college in North Carolina, no one really thought much about "abroad" experiences. If you did go abroad, you went to Europe to study French or, as in my case, to learn Spanish in Madrid. The norm was to think of your career aspirations as a domestic endeavor. At the time, the Peace Corps seemed only to want engineering and nursing students, so it wasn't a viable option for an arts-n-science student. Even in grad school, many of those who studied International Relations with me never seriously considered international field work as an important component of study--why go abroad when you could just manipulate the data from your computer at home?
I bucked the trend and made a concerted effort to move my work overseas but to be honest, I engaged in no strategic planning for my career as a young student--I had vague notions of wanting an international career, but my ambitions stopped at the academy. Luckily that has changed drastically for me, and I spend a third of my year abroad, but sometimes I really do wonder how that happened. There was no one to show me how to do it, so I fumbled along until I found the opportunities I needed.
But now I know that students pay attention to this--if I want them to value international experience, I have to lead by example. To be a professor of International Affairs means that I need to value the world as a classroom in my own work while extolling the virtues of study abroad for my students. It is not enough for me to talk about the world "over there" in class--I have to show that my work "over there" is part of my everyday life "over here."
I'm happy to say that my university offers multiple ways for students to be engaged global citizens, and more students are taking advantage of these opportunities. This year our university was one of five US universities to win the NAFSA Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization. We are actively increasing the number of international work (co-op) opportunities and we offer more traditional study-abroad programs. I am more than proud that we have grown the number of short-term faculty-led programs (Dialogues of Civilization) from 5 in 2005 to over 50 this year. We are working to innovate these experiences wherever we can, including embedding Dialogues within a semester framework, such as the Global Corps program I run in India with an intrepid colleague in Human Services and a generous grant from the forward-looking Deshpande Foundation.
Five years ago, students would say that they might consider a study-abroad experience. Now, students tell me that they strategically plan much of their academic life around international experiences and actively seek out international job postings, whether for corporations, Intergovernmental Organizations or small NGOs. The number of letters of recommendation I write for the Peace Corps has increased ten-fold. Students are no longer afraid to consider living a life abroad.
And when I'm in the classroom talking about what I have witnessed abroad, what I have learned and how I continue to learn despite days of jetlag, weeks of recovering from a tropical disease, or constant cultural shocks, I see that look on many students' faces--the look that says wow, I can do that! She'll show me how!
Boston, Massachusetts in the USA.
Denise Horn (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Northeastern University and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus. Her prior posts have included: Dear Professor, I Want to Be Your Friend,Be Careful What You Wish For, The Class That Never Ends and Conversations That Count.