February 10, 2020
by Dr. Andrew Law, Academic Dean of The College of Global Studies

The root of the word “dotty,” which is used in British English to describe eccentricity, can apparently be traced to the Dutch word “dote,” which translates as “folly.” So, an eccentric person who is described as dotty could be understood as someone who engages in folly. I would like to take this month’s blog to consider how we in the field of education abroad might seek to constructively moderate our “dottiness.”

It is a commonly held assumption in education abroad circles that international study should be a foundational component of the 21st-Century higher education mission to shape young adults capable of informed, socially meaningful, and personally successful engagement in the communities in which they live and work. It is a compelling argument, founded in our deep belief in the power of community-based experiential learning to invite students to expand their view of and change their approach to the world. The rub comes when we consider the reality of education abroad’s modest influence on higher education. Student participation in education abroad represents but a dot in the universe of higher education:

The question, then, is how might we shift this state of affairs? There has over the years been much time and thought brought to bear on this question by the Simon Study Abroad Program Act, IIE’s Generation Study Abroad initiative, and myriad panels, keynotes, and pre-conference workshops at the NAFSA, Forum, and CIEE conferences. We have succeeded in shifting education abroad’s level of impact from a speck to a dot and making it a regular component of young adult’s higher education considerations, but the reality is that things have more or less hit a wall. So, what might be some next steps to becoming less “dotty” in terms of our effectiveness in reducing the eccentricity of our relationship to the other 97.5% of full-time undergraduates and, ultimately, in our increasing the level of participation in education abroad?

In the Academic & Student Affairs division of The College of Global Studies, we are exploring how linking the education abroad project more directly to the higher education market’s desire for a synergistic relationship between experiential learning opportunities and return on investment outcomes can shift the conversation. It is clear that we find ourselves at a crossroads where both the social import and economic value of liberal education is being called into question. The desire of young adults and their parents to guarantee successful entry into the professional marketplace through higher education appears to have sidelined the formation of the whole person and the value of learning in community, which are the outcomes that historically underlay the “advertised value” of education abroad, as a relative luxury. Rather than throw our hands up at this development, we have instead chosen to embrace fully the proverbial “third leg of the stool” by moving to bake applied learning opportunities into all of our existing program offerings and future program development.

A dedication to experiential skill-building has in fact always been a core component of our work in The College, as exhibited by the fact that the Beaver College Center for Education Abroad established the London Internship Program in 1982. More recently, we have expanded our internship programs and become a leader in university-based STEM research abroad, and the Hallmarks of Teaching and Learning we introduced in 2015 include an explicit commitment to attending “to individual student goals through engaged teaching, advising, and mentoring connecting students with relevant and personally valuable opportunities.”

However, we are now shifting the relationship of education abroad to skill-building through restructuring our portfolio of programs so that skill-building opportunities are no longer siloed, moving from a structure where students were required to choose between opportunities to one that allows them to create with advising support a customized mix of opportunities that engages the full range of their educational, pre-professional, and personal goals. In short, we are seeking to recreate in the context of education abroad the intentionally-mentored connecting of opportunities that has emerged as a best practice among the most progressive U.S. colleges and universities.