6 Tips to Engage Students on Faculty-Led Programs

Any educator involved in an education-abroad program wants students to get the most from the short time spent in the host culture. But that’s often difficult when there are so many distractions (think new friendships, the search for wifi, partying). And although these “distractions” aren’t always bad, how do we help students find experiences that create those elusive, but almost always unforgettable, learning moments? (And maybe even engage the difficult “everything-is-stupid” eye-rolling student...)

Here are six tried-and-true ways to go a little deeper with students.

1. Bring your classroom strategies with you abroad
What do you do to engage students in your classroom? Group work? Small projects? Consider how your successes in the classroom can be moved into the study abroad setting. This can provide intellectual continuity as well as opportunities for meaningful curricular intervention.

2. Be engaged yourself
Show your students what you are seeing from your academic framework or personal interests. What language structures are unique to the area? What cultural differences do you see compared to other places you’ve traveled? Through your eyes the students can better see the details and subtleties.

3. Be the mini tour guide
Beyond the major excursions to new locations, you can pull the students out of their day-to-day activities and show them that there are joys to be found in the seemingly mundane. For example, try short visits to small museums, art galleries, the supermarket, a bakery or a flower market.

4. Approach students individually and avoid the yes-no questions
Founder and Academic Director of ACLAS, Dr. Fernando Miño Garcés, has interacted with thousands of language learning students during his career. He has seen success when faculty directors engage students individually and ask questions that cause contemplation and reflection. For example:

  • What’s the first cultural difference that comes to your mind?
  • Is there something that bothers you when you walk on the streets of the city?
  • What is the first beautiful thing that comes to your mind about your experience?
  • Is there something that bothers you with your host family?

5. Require participation in service learning
Service learning opportunities are great ways for students to get up close and personal with a culture while studying language or other disciplines. Required participation in service learning is a strategy that comes highly recommended by Dr. Phillip Markley, a professor at the University of Washington, who has brought students to Quito for many years. Dr. Markely (known as Felipe to his students) says that “the students have an obligation to give back to their community where they are studying,” and that a sense of obligation can often translate into a high level of engagement.

6. Use previous students as role models
Find students from previous study abroad experiences who were very engaged (even if they traveled to a different location) and ask them to speak to your current group. Prepare a few questions to start the conversation so that it doesn’t derail into the what-to-pack and where-to-eat/drink questions that often overwhelm students before they depart.

Some example questions:
  • Tell us about the best day you had on your program.
  • Tell us about an unexpected learning experience.
  • How did you engage with the host culture?