Forum Focus - May 2018 | Volume 4 | Issue 4

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FORUM May 2018 | Volume 4 | Issue 4



Intercultural competence: literacy for the 21st century Tracy RundstromWilliams, Associate Director, Center for International Studies, Texas Christian University


hat do students gain from studying abroad? It is a question that is both simple and provocative. Some might say students learn about the specific culture where they study; some might say they learn about a discipline in context. Students often say they learn about themselves. Many of us hope they gain intercultural competence, although some critics might say they don’t learn anything, unless there is intentionality and reflection. In researching the learning that takes place during study abroad programs, we have fought against certain stereotypes, including that study abroad is not academic, or that intercultural learning is not as robust as other disciplines, or even that study abroad does not produce learning results. In deconstructing these critiques, I find that there is actually some truth in them, and this can lead us to new thinking about the value of study abroad. Yes, study abroad learning is not traditionally academic—indeed, that is its hallmark. Certainly studying abroad is experiential in nature; otherwise, why change the setting of the learning environment? The value of studying abroad comes from living in another culture and experiencing a different way of life. Researchers point to the personal growth, culturalawareness, and openness that comes from being exposed to differences in values, lifestyles, communication. So, is the critique based on the fact that learning comes not from a lecture but from an experience? Or is it that the learning from studying abroad—intercultural learning—doesn’t seem to be a discipline? Intercultural learning is not just a discipline—it is a practice, a competence, and an interdisciplinary branch of inquiry. This field sits at the intersection of anthropology, communication, linguistics, sociology, and psychology. It incorporates knowledge building and skill building, theory and application. This field has researchers, teachers, practitioners, and experts. There are institutes, books, and resources dedicated to developing the knowledge and application of the field. It is quickly emerging as a discipline in its own right. So, does the critique come from the newness of the field? Or the inconsistency in results in study abroad students? As we consider the critique that studying abroad does not produce consistent learning results, we must acknowledge this is true. Of course, ∙2∙

intercultural competence does not develop from simply going abroad any more than literacy does not develop from simply going to a library. Numerous studies have shown that simply being in another culture does not guarantee the development of intercultural competence. Students need direction, intentionality, and framing. They need help seeking out opportunities and assistance making sense of their experiences. But, with this intentionality and focused application, study abroad can lead to significant development of intercultural competence. So perhaps, what we need most to advance this learning is legitimacy—validity that intercultural competence is important. What exactly is intercultural “Of course, intercultural competence, and why do we care if stucompetence does not dents develop it? Intercultural competence is the set of knowledge, skills, and develop from simply going attitudes that lead to effective and approabroad any more than priate behavior and communication in inliteracy does not develop tercultural contexts. It is the ability to from simply going to a act, and interact, in effective and appropriate ways in intercultural settings. To library.” say students who study abroad should develop this seems logical, but intercultural competence is useful for more than just study abroad settings. As the concept of “global citizenship” continues to be a part of institutional missions and goals, intercultural competence is the skillset needed to accomplish this. As higher education institutions respond to increasing pressure to demonstrate the value of a college degree, educators need to develop and show the connection between a liberal arts education and its relevance to the workplace. The intersection between theory and practice, between liberal arts education and professional training, is more important than ever. And this, I would argue, is why intercultural competence is essential. Let me draw a comparison. My academic training is in linguistics. And although I’m probably biased, as a linguist, I think the alphabet, and written language, is the greatest invention in history. It has allowed us to share knowledge over space and time, led to mass literacy, which in turn led to educated societies. Our ability to document history, to expand upon technology, to share expertise are all precipitated on the ability to understand written language. As an interculturalist, I believe intercultural competence has the same potential. It allows us to connect with others, problem-solve across borders, and advance our shared human experience. Intercultural competence is, essentially, literacy for 21st century. ∙3∙

Just as literacy is about learning building blocks to decipher, learn from, and create new written information, intercultural competence is about learning building blocks that help us understand, engage with, and effect positive change on the global community. In the 21st century, we want to prepare our students for the global community. We want them to see other perspectives, develop a sense of connection for others in the world, and use their knowledge and voices in productive ways. We want students to take broader lessons from their experiences, and to be able to articulate what they learned and how they will apply it. We want students to develop transferrable skills that will help them in future intercultural settings. This is intercultural competence. Intercultural competence is more than just a buzzword. Intercultural competence is the very foundation for what it means to be an educated individual in an interconnected world. Intercultural competence is what allows students to learn from and contribute to the world. Just as literacy is the foundation for gaining knowledge from books and re“We do not expect students to read sources and everything inside a library, intercultural competence without teaching them the alphabet, is the literacy that allows stuand we cannot expect students to dents to learn from the resources be global citizens without teaching of the world. them intercultural competence. We To help students gain this must think of intercultural competency, we must couple competence not as a secondary study abroad experiences with intercultural curriculum, pedagogy, learning outcome, or a byproduct, and training. My book, Learning but as the foundation for any global through a PRISM, is just one apeducation.” proach, but any approach that provides opportunities for students to actively engage in building this competence can be used. This can no longer be considered an add -on; it must be an integral part of study abroad design. We do not expect students to read without teaching them the alphabet, and we cannot expect students to be global citizens without teaching them intercultural competence. We must think of intercultural competence not as a secondary learning outcome, or a byproduct, but as the foundation for any global education. Study abroad experiences can be a primary way to provide students with this 21st century literacy. With resources, training, and intentionality, we can ensure they develop intercultural competence.  ∙4∙

International education 2020: Do We Need a Bigger Boat, a Different Boat, or Something Else? Adam Rubin, International Education Consultant, AWR International


n the 1975 thriller Jaws, the police chief sees the monstrous great white shark and emphatically declares to the captain that they are "gonna need a bigger boat." Over the past three decades, my colleagues and I in international education have collaborated on new initiatives, programs, and dialogue designed to help increase the overall number of U.S. students who study abroad. Enrollments have steadily grown as universities and international education organizations have developed innovative new program models, expanded the definition of "study abroad" to include international research projects, internships, and service-learning, and supported the growth of customized and facultyled programs designed to meet the specific academic goals and student needs at individual institutions. In addition, there has been an increased effort to increase student access through the reduction of common study abroad barriers involving cost, curriculum, and culture. Many new for-profit and non-profit organizations have joined the field in recent years. In our hyper-personalized "Venti -half-caff-extra shot-extra hot-almond-milk-caramel mochaccino" world, the range of international program options available today is amazingly wonderful for students and increasingly challenging for colleges, universities, and study abroad organizations.

The Changing Nature of Study Abroad As someone who has been centrally-involved in new program development, management, and evaluation for most of my career, I’ve been ∙5∙

both the cautious voice of "maintaining traditional study “There is no longer one model abroad" and the excited cheerleador approach to a successful er for "expanding study abroad acinternational experience, so we cess" through new program modmust balance both the els and options. traditional and the new in order Given the changing nature of to provide increased access and higher education and needs and interests of Gen Z students, it support to the students of today stands to reason that we should and tomorrow.” embrace new approaches and create more flexible, customizable programs. At the same time, most of us also recognize the benefits that more traditional programs (longer duration, direct matriculation into host universities, more intensive language studies, etc.) still provide to many institutions and their students. There is no longer one model or approach to a successful international experience, so we must balance both the traditional and the new in order to provide increased access and support to the students of today and tomorrow.

Managing a Hungry Shark with Limited Resources Much like the captain and his crew in Jaws, we now face the prob-

lems associated with an insufficient boat. Most institutions and organizations have faced increasing human and physical infrastructure challenges in recent years, as we try to manage the large, hungry shark (or actually a huge school of different sharks) with limited resources and competing priorities and challenges. For institutions, the leaders have had to consider effective strategies for increasing the range of program options for their students through study abroad program providers, expanded faculty-led programs, or a combination of the two. Study abroad organizations have either remained true to their core mission and faced the economic challenges involved with being considered "too niche" or "too limited" or have expanded rapidly and diversified into a broad range of semester, short-term, Gap Year, High School, internship, and customized programs. For the latter group, the Jaws analogy has become particularly relevant, as organizations struggle to support the demand for customized programs while continuing to run their well-established successful "traditional" programs, often with the same core staff and limited physical infrastructure. ∙6∙

Growing Pressure on Study Abroad Organizations The pressure on U.S. and foreign-based study abroad organizations to deliver multiple high school and college programs becomes even more difficult during peak custom-program periods (i.e., late spring/early summer), as staff try to manage semester college programs, high school programs, and short-term faculty-led custom programs concurrently. As some study-abroad providers have attempted to provide maximum flexibility and offer something for everyone, many colleges with a more traditional approach to international education have started to move away from long-term relationships with these organizations due to concerns about inconsistent or declining academic quality and student support. A boat designed to safely accommodate twenty passengers doesn't float as well when it attempts to take on fifty people. Similarly, a team trained to support one primary type of program (i.e., semester study abroad) can become overwhelmed and may need additional support to effectively manage new programs (i.e., high school or faculty-led). Building new relationships is important to the success of any organization, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of es“Building new tablished and trusted partners. In order to relationships is adapt and expand, organizations try to important to the build bigger boats or, in some cases, disuccess of any versify their brand by acquiring additional organization, but it boats. shouldn’t come at The competition for faculty, staff, the expense of housing, and classrooms around the world established and has become intense in recent years. In adtrusted partners.” dition, mergers and acquisitions have now become commonplace in international education.

Competition for High-Quality Resources For some, this strategy seems to be working well, while, for others, consolidation has created confusion for schools and students, dilution of their brand and mission, and, in some cases, the potential for inconsistent delivery of program quality and support. Many colleges have decided to build or rent their own boats (custom faculty-led programs) but have often found that they can't successfully and consistently manage their programs as they try to navigate choppy seas with an inexperienced faculty captain. Further, due to the aforementioned infrastructure challenges facing program providers, they may discover that there isn’t enough space at the ∙7∙

pier for their institution's ship in the marina due to the tendency for most custom programs to occur at the same peak times throughout the academic year. Competition for high quality resources has become fierce in many top study abroad destinations, including both popular world cities (i.e. London, Paris, or Tokyo) and niche program locations requiring specific facilities (i.e., STEM programs in Costa Rica).

Growth for Growth’s Sake is Dangerous While all of us celebrate the increased number of students studying abroad through diverse program, growth for growth's sake is a dangerous proposition. We need to consider balancing the benefits and competing priorities of our rapidly expanding international exchange landscape: Do you need a bigger boat? Physical and human infrastructure challenges and organizational capacity must be carefully addressed in advance in order to maintain consistently high quality and safe program options for students. 

Do we need more boats? While offering innovative new program models is exciting and important, institutions and organizations must address concerns about the intersection of various programs at one location from academic quality, student support, risk management, and budget perspectives. Schools and organizations should develop a clear set of objectives and a system for evaluating desired academic, intercultural development, 


community engagement, financial, and overall strategic program outcomes. We need to have the right boats and the right crew to achieve success in this increasingly crowded and complex ocean. Do you know and trust the captain? International education has long been built on relationships. As study abroad organizations look to diversify and expand their programs, it is important for them to consider how their actions may impact their core U.S. institutional members and their host country university and community partners. Growth should be managed carefully and strategically to reflect the needs of both established and new partners. 

Conclusion Much like the captain, police chief, and other characters in Jaws, we need to think collaboratively and creatively about approaches for safely and successfully catching the gigantic hungry shark circling our boat. This is an exciting time for all of us in International Education, but we must expand in a responsible manner in order to provide our students with the best study abroad experiences and make sure that it’s safe and enjoyable for everyone to go back into the water. 

APUAF: Reflecting on 10 Years of Community Loren Ringer, President, APUAF (Association des Programmes Universitaires Américains en France)


PUAF (Association des Programmes Universitaires Américains en France) celebrated its 10th Anniversary on Friday, March 16, 2018 in Paris. The organization was created to provide a forum and support network for directors and staff of U.S. programs in France, to foster collaboration by pooling resources and encouraging joint projects among members as well as with French partner institutions. APUAF also represents members’ interests, viewpoints and concerns through active participation in international organizations, conferences and committees focusing on study abroad issues. Prior to the creation of APUAF, CIEE sponsored an annual Resident Director (RD) meeting starting in the 1980’s which provided an informal setting to discuss study abroad topics, invite guest speakers, and hold workshops. Inspired by our sister organizations in Italy and Spain, we recognized the need for a stronger organizational structure as well as the ∙9∙

desire to meet more often and capitalize on our collective wisdom. The result is a solid platform for convivial networking, professional training and sharing best practices in the field. In preparing for the 10th anniversary celebration, members were asked to contribute reflections on the significance of APUAF in their professional lives. It included narratives of how study abroad programs have evolved over the years. One recently retired Resident Director limned a portrait of how numerous programs operated in the 1970s and early 80s. Programs were often run out of the RD’s living room with no official center and no legal structure. Consequently, all vendors were paid in cash from “discreet” if not mysterious bank accounts. The students entered into strict linguistic/cultural immersion programs, complete with language pledges, curfews and one ultimate goal: learn the best possible French and master the difficult task for many Americans—correct pronunciation. As the majority of students were wealthy, white women, certain programs took on the airs of an elite finishing school. A number of decades later, the study abroad landscape has changed drastically in France. All programs have legal status, most of them set up as non-profit associations. From large 3rd-party providers and major university study centers to small programs run by a single RD, there is a great variation in the size and scope of our member programs. While most programs have retained the core goal of language and cultural immersion in traditional classroom settings, they also include professional opportunities, such as internships and volunteer community service; English tracks that

APUAF celebrates its 10th Anniversary on March 16, 2018 in Paris. ∙10∙

allow students with little or no French to spend a semester or year in France; more extensive travel components that are linked to study; greater research opportunities for graduate students, etc. With the growth of study abroad and the professionalization of the field, certain challenges have arisen for Resident Directors in France. For instance, U.S. sending institutions are under pressure to send more students abroad but the budgets to support these efforts are not always in line with the demand. Next, tightening laws on privacy and data sharing on both sides of the Atlantic are creating more and increasingly complex administrative procedures. Furthermore, the addition of English-track and/or STEM programs, while enriching the opportunities and attracting a more diverse student population, may require more supervision and reinforced student services. Finally, with a tendency towards limiting transfer credit, students opting for double majors/minors, and the increased cost of studies in general, students arrive on site with greater and more precise expectations. Many of these demands can be seen as progress and attest to the APUAF is also one of the founding success of study abroad, both in members of the pan-European quantity of students going abroad association, EUASA, created in and the quality of our offerings. However, the reality of running a 2016. Both organizations program in France can run counter encourage strong participation in to these worthy goals: increasing loForum events and are looking cal costs; challenges in working with forward to seeing our colleagues French universities for direct enrollment classes to find equivalencies at the 4th European Conference and class schedules that fit with inin Prague. center courses or activities; the paucity of internships or volunteer work appropriate for students who don’t have a high level of French; etc. Furthermore, with a varied student population comes the challenge of accommodating learning disabilities, emotional and mental health issues, and physical limitations in cities that have only just started to address these issues. These challenges are multiplied exponentially when things go wrong; currently (May 2018) France is in the middle of a nationwide university strike with many French institutions partially or completely barricaded. A 3-month long transportation strike has complicated matters even more, causing programs to improvise with alternative excursions or to alter the semester’s schedule. So, how does an on-site staff member or resident director maintain enthusiasm for this profession? How does he or she preserve intellectual integrity, curiosity, and the willingness, as educators, to transmit this to ∙11∙

our program participants, some of whom we only see for a short while? As many of us are the “success stories” of study abroad, we draw on our own life-changing experiences for sustenance and inspiration. APUAF provides a rich space within which to share that knowledge and encourage each other in our daily endeavors. While some encounters involve sharing “war stories,” bringing us comfort in knowing we’re not alone, many other interactions focus on practical matters that can help us deliver the highest quality programs. For example, in the last three years, our workshops have included topics such as Generation Z, providing more support for Asian students on our programs, mediation between students, parents, and host families, LGBTQ+ issues, and signs of burnout for staff and RDs. There is a consistent attempt to equip on-site staff and directors with the tools to grow as experts in our field by promoting professional development (including self-care) as well as by providing greater knowledge about our diverse student population. Next month, we’ve invited a panel of mental health experts to share an inventory of current difficulties that our students are facing. In closing, I was particularly touched by one member’s response to our query for reflections: “There is a before APUAF & an after APUAF for many of us in study abroad in France. This organization was not only very much needed professionally but also was crucial for many of us on a personal level. Much like a 12-step program, APUAF has become our crutch, our goto, our support, our compass. Vive l’APUAF & Vive la France!” -Renée Pontbriand, Boston University

Drawing on the compass metaphor, ‘perdre le Nord’ in French means to lose one’s bearings by literally losing sight of where North is on a compass. In its 10 years of existence, APUAF has guided us during trying times. Many of the current board members, myself included, were elected in October 2015, one month before the terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead. In the months that followed, the strength and sense of purpose that APUAF members showed attests to their commitment to the well-being of our students and the profession. While threats still exist, the emergency preparedness measures that are now in place, many developed collectively through our organization, help us face yet another challenge appropriate for the times in which we live. Going forward, all of us are dedicated to the ideal that study abroad, cross-cultural communication and learning a foreign language are essential to creating a more peaceful world.  ∙12∙

A message from the forum board chair Mary Anne Grant, President Emerita, ISEP


rganizations do not grow in a linear fashion along a consistent upward trajectory. More common is an intense period of growth and change followed by a certain plateau where the focus is on implementation of programs, maintaining key services, making improvements where needed and building financial stability. This is not stagnation, but rather a healthy stability to ensure the organization’s mission is achieved. The Forum is following this pattern. As a young organization, The Forum has focused the last 10 years on serving its growing membership with ‘deliverables’ that support their needs for creating and sustaining high quality education abroad programs. The Forum has increased membership, developed new programs and services, enhanced trainings and events, and built a strong financial picture in the process. From its position of strength, The Forum began to look to the future by launching an 18-month strategic planning process that led to revised vision and mission statements as well as new strategic goals. The 2017-2021 Strategic Plan ensures that The Forum builds on its foundation of well-established programs and services while interjecting new approaches to enhance dialogue and inclusion as the field expands. Forum President and CEO Brian Whalen was a key leader in building that solid foundation from which the organization can continue to grow and develop. It is with a record of achievement that Brian decided to step down to pursue other opportunities, leaving The Forum in a good place as it transitions to new leadership and further achievements. While The Forum continues its operations in all areas, the Board of Directors is deeply engaged in the process of finding a new leader. Currently, the Forum staff, under the leadership of Interim Executive Director Jon Booth, continues to conduct the business of The Forum in line with the new strategic plan. A key goal during the transition is to sustain all programs and services while working in an open, transparent and inclusive way during the search. This is a period of deliberate and thoughtful action to prepare The Forum for the future. The position of President and CEO is certainly critical to the growth and success of The Forum, but it is ∙13∙

not a solitary endeavor. Rather, the President and CEO must bring together the many different needs and perspectives of all served by The Forum, including institutions and organizations, individual constituents, the field in general, and the national and international community of those engaged in the education abroad enterprise. The Board has set up a search committee that includes members of the Board and Council as well as member representatives. A call for proposals elicited three submissions from search firms; a finalist and alternate have been identified and a final decision will be made before the end of May. The Forum will draw on reserve funds for this work. The Executive Search Committee is seeking broad participation in building a “This is an intense period of profile for the organization that captures change but also an exciting priorities for a new chief executive. In addition to discussions with the Board, time to look to the future as Council and Staff, there will be outreach we build an ever-stronger to the membership at large for ideas organization to help prepare and comments for the organizational students for the globalized profile. While the final decision rests with the Board, strong engagement with world in which they will live the membership will ensure the right and work.” person comes to the fore. The membership is encouraged to offer ideas regarding The Forum’s priorities as well as the desirable skills and talents for a new chief executive. This is an intense period of change but also an exciting time to look to the future as we build an ever-stronger organization to help prepare students for the globalized world in which they will live and work. On a personal note, my term as Chair of the Forum Board of Directors will conclude on June 30 of this year. It has been a great pleasure to work with the Staff, Council, Board and Membership in building a strong organization. My circle of friends and colleagues has expanded and I have learned a great deal. It is a rewarding culmination of a career dedicated to international learning. The work we do contributes to peace and mutual understanding among peoples of the world. It is an honor and privilege to have served with you. 


Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of The Forum on Education Abroad. The Forum encourages responses to the perspectives in this issue. Reflections, topic suggestions and other correspondence are welcomed, and all contributions will be considered for future publication. Please send correspondence to:


© The Forum on Education Abroad Dickinson College P.O. Box 1773 Carlisle, PA 17013 +1 717 245-1031


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