The Value of Short Term Study programs

The Value of Short Term Study programs

While the Asian Century white paper may have been archived, there is still a great deal of resolve and support towards continuing with the sentiment and objectives contained within it. Universities are currently utilising Asiabound funds (while looking towards the opportunities available through the New Colombo Plan) through a diversity of short term programs. There is still a good deal of discussion within institutes around the value of the short term outbound mobility program, and while they may not offer the total cultural immersion of the longer programs, they do have a valuable role to play in terms of an introduction to a foreign culture where confidence can be developed, myths busted and an appreciation for wherever “home” is. Faculty led group programs and individual practicums or internships can provide a valid educational and cultural experience if the objectives of the program are clear and expected outcomes are realistic. The success or failure of a short term program largely depends on how well the program is developed by the institution, the choice of partners and hosts utilised, and the support provided to students to assist with reflection and understanding of the proposed learning outcomes.

The range of terms that describe university initiatives to increase outbound mobility (“Global Citizens”, “Global Explorers”, Global Ambassadors”) are as varied as the plethora of terms used to describe the expected outcomes of such programs ie “global competence”, “intercultural skills” and “intercultural engagement”. There is much being researched and written about the demand for these outcomes, while little yet is understood about how to measure these intangible, and often not immediately evident, experiential results, or how to elucidate them. The Collegiate Employment Research Centre (CERI) at Michigan State University has had some success with this and has shared it online.  

At The Global Student we endeavour to keep up to date with research and through professional development opportunities to ensure we can meet the demands and requirements of institutes, faculties and students themselves. We are passionate about providing opportunities that meet the expected learning outcomes of individual institutes and their programs, and are usually involved in the debriefing of these programs, not only to assess the logistical outcomes, but in order to understand how the program might be adjusted or improved to provide the optimal learning experience. We work closely with partners and hosts in the destination country to ensure they understand the educational requirements of the program and manage the expectations of both parties to ensure a mutually satisfactory outcome, and are constantly seeking ways to maximise the student experience through the use of “buddies”, access to senior level government officials or business executives, and through inclusive practices at local educational institutes or workplaces.

One often underestimated aspect of the short term study experience is the opportunity for “peer learning” which was most evident during the Global Education Practicum for pre-service teaching students. Evenings were spent preparing classes for the next day, and during the final debrief students reported how much they were able to learn from each other during this process, through the sharing of ideas in developing lesson plans. The diversity of the group (age, gender, background, life and study experiences) coupled with accommodating them as a group with space to chill or work together created an  informal “education laboratory” that complemented and reinforced the learning being undertaken in the classroom daily. During last summer’s Environmental Study tour the academic leader reported how the students views on various Environmental issues were challenged through evening discussion to the point where they often changed, including strongly held views on the Palm Oil industry! This “peer learning” is one aspect of the short term study experience that universities often overlook and have difficulty measuring in terms of credit transfer.

A final aspect of the short term experience is the opportunity to provide an introduction for a longer experience. During the mid-year Public Relations Study Tour for one university, students were able to engage with a variety of hosts including a number of Public Relations and Media and Communication firms who expressed interest in hosting the students as interns.  Two students have since taken up the opportunity to return this summer to intern in Malaysia with others taking up opportunities in other international destinations.  Also, increasingly we are seeing students undertaking more than one experience over the summer – two of our students arriving for the MABC internship program in December are coming fresh from completing a student exchange program in the UK and China, so they are adding-on the short term experience to the longer, more immersive one, which should make a difference to how they engage with the internship.

In the past year we have been witness to some amazing student reflections, quite often emotional, that makes all the stress and sweat in developing these programs worthwhile. At the end of a group business internship program mid-year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a group presentation where the students were reporting on the completion of their two week project. One young man, a first time traveller from a large regional town asked to say a few words, where he proceeded in halting and sometimes emotional words, to describe his background, where family and friends were not very tolerant of people who were different from them. He went on to the thank his hosts and express his amazement at how welcome he and the entire cohort had been made in Kuala Lumpur, by their hosts, their accommodation provider and generally out and about in town, and expressed some shame at how he felt the hospitality would not be reciprocated where he came from. I admit my eyes were moist as I listened and was so grateful that this young man felt compelled to share this and that he had been included in the program. If this was the only thing he got from the program, I was immensely happy, and hoped he had the courage to make small changes within his community when he returned home.

In a further observation, during an orientation for pre-service teachers, I had asked random students why they had signed up for the program and what they hoped to get out of it. One student said she was not sure if teaching was for her, and thought the experience of teaching in a local Malaysian school might be one way to find out. Her placement was not without difficulty in one of the local boy’s schools where she was assigned the “naughty class” and she kept a reflective journal throughout the three week program, which she later advised kept her “sane”. During her final presentation, she was able to share with the group some of the challenges she overcame, together with some of the lighter incidents, and to finally declare “I know I am a teacher, and I can be a good one!”

Short term international study experiences can be a valuable addition to the university experience through providing challenging and sometimes confronting experinces that force students to engage with the experience. It is my greatest pleasure watching students make the most of the opportunities afforded them in a new culture and to listen to them share, during their farewell dinners and debriefings, what they have learned and understood, not only about the foreign environment or educational outcomes, but about themselves and their place in the world. I feel very proud to be involved in an industry where so many people across the world, from all aspects of education, industry and government, are working so hard and so collegially to provide these experiences for our students.

I have listed a few of the recent readings which I have found of interest in keeping a keen eye on the industry.

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