Monday, January 19, 2009

Study Abroad Preparation for Students

Today I begin prepping my nine France-bound students for our 15-day travel course to Paris, Bordeaux and Nice in April and May. It's a one-credit academic course designed to help our students appreciate the difference between our travel program as an academic experience and what they'd likely experience if they were simply tourists seeing the country EuroTrip style.

The preparation for study abroad is crucial, which most leaders know but I've learned the hard way. When I first led a study-abroad course, in 2001, the preparation was limited to meetings at which we watched a couple of videos, filled out forms, made copies of passports and distributed airline tickets. Now we're a bit more rigorous about it.

Some institutions have detailed preparation processes for students. My own institution has but a part-time international education coordinator who is doing a great job of trying to systematize our study-abroad programs and introduce standards for what constitutes acceptable study-abroad opportunities.

The prep course increases in important when, as in my case, the instructor is leading a course on his or her own without the aid of a travel-course vender such as EF Tours or ACIS. I'll update the blog as we go through the process over the next several weeks, leading to our departure on April 27.

For now, it appears to me that preparation experiences need to focus broadly on the following themes:
  • Systems and procedures of travel courses: Getting the forms and passports in, explaining the rules, etc.
  • Defining culture broadly and the cultural ideals of the students' destinations.
  • Specific content of the course. In our case, our course is designed to expose students — most of whom speak little French at all — to the differing values and ways of life of Americans and the French.
There'll no doubt be much more than this. 

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