11 Steps to Diversifying Study Abroad

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morganMeaningful study abroad is a high impact co-curricular activity that develops students academically, personally, and professionally and prepares them for leadership in an increasingly global 21st century economy.

Globally and culturally competent graduates are essential to U.S. economic and other national interests. With the impact study abroad can have on students, it is alarming that those from diverse backgrounds do not participate in more representative numbers. While there has been wide support for diversifying study abroad, there has not been a standard set of good practices for how to do this.

The Diversity Abroad Network — an organization dedicated to advancing diversity and equity in international education — has created a set of guidelines that directs international education offices toward the diversity and inclusive good practices needed to increase participation and support for diverse students in study abroad. These guidelines include the following 11 steps.

1. The Current State of Diversity and Inclusion

If you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going. Tracking the progress of student participation in study abroad activities is an essential component in identifying areas of success, as well as areas that need development in order to increase accessibility for and more effectively support diverse students.

2. A Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 

While many institutions have a broad diversity and inclusion strategy, few have a specific strategy for study abroad. It is critical for individual study abroad offices, in collaboration with diversity offices, to have a plan in place that describes specific goals and approaches to recruiting, supporting, and retaining students throughout their experience with the study abroad office and in their programs.

3. Campus Collaboration 

Poet and peace advocate Mattie Stepanek, who died at the age of 13, once said, “Unity is strength … when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” It is important to have broad institutional support to implement successful diversity and inclusion initiatives in study abroad. Intercampus collaboration provides important support to study abroad offices not only to increase outreach to diverse student populations, but also to better understand the unique challenges diverse students encounter in accessing and participating in study abroad.

4. Professional Development and Staffing

Staff members who are committed to diversifying study abroad but lack the training to do so will be limited in their effectiveness toward serving diverse student populations. The training and support that staff receive to advise these students is key to diversifying the students going abroad and in developing inclusive programming.

5. Outreach and Recruitment

How the message of study abroad is received is just as important as the message itself. As is done in broader higher education outreach and recruitment, tailored messaging must be developed to reach diverse populations for this purpose. Outreach, marketing, and recruitment are three areas through which a study abroad office is able to tailor its message to make study abroad more attractive to diverse students.

6. Targeted Student Advising

Student advising is essential to a student’s study abroad experience. Students from diverse backgrounds face a different set of challenges in accessing study abroad and may require different advising and support systems to make it feasible.

7. Funding for Study Abroad

Funding is one of the key barriers to accessing study abroad. While additional scholarships that are targeted and effectively promoted can help overcome this obstacle, funding for students is not limited to scholarships. It can also include reviewing institutional systems that can be put into place to make study abroad more affordable.

8. Types of Programs

Students are interested in making study abroad applicable to their current academic, professional, and personal aspirations. To make it more accessible to diverse students, the duration, location, curriculum, and cost of study abroad programs should take into account the diversity of the student population.

9. Health and Safety Concerns

Diverse students face unique health and safety risks while studying abroad. While these risks should not prevent them from pursuing and benefiting from the experience, aspects such as mental health, racism and discrimination, and the role of culture in their overall experience must be considered in overall health and safety procedures.

10. In-Country Advising and Support

Support in study abroad does not end when the student leaves his or her home campus. Effective on-site support for students is a critical component of a quality program. Diverse students can face unique concerns when they are in-country that other students may not. While professionals cannot prevent events from happening, it is important to have an on-site professional who understands the unique concerns of diverse students and supports them.

11. Reverse Culture Shock 

When students participate in study abroad programs, they often have life-changing experiences and stories. At times, these students are faced with reverse culture shock as they attempt to re-orient themselves into networks and activities upon their return home. It is helpful for diverse students who have studied abroad to meet with professionals and students who have had similar experiences to debrief, share, and exchange ideas on next steps. Hearing about the experiences of diverse students also gives professionals in study abroad and other campus units a better understanding of these students.

These recommendations are based on Diversity Abroad Network’s Access, Inclusion, and Diversity (AID) Roadmap assessment, the first tool of its kind developed to help guide colleges and universities in evaluating their diversity and inclusion efforts in education abroad.●

Andrew Gordon is the president of Diversity Abroad Network, the leading professional consortium of higher education institutions, government agencies, and for-profit and nonprofit organizations dedicated to advancing diversity and inclusive excellence in international education and exchange. Visit diversitynetwork.org/aid-roadmap to learn more.