Talking to underrepresented students about your study abroad program: career focus

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For many years now the education abroad field has worried about the disproportionate rate of participation in study abroad programs by students of color, male students and first generation students.

This chart by the Institute on International Education will give you a glimpse of the numbers

and

this article by USA Today

and

this article in the Atlantic

give a good overview.

The 'whys’ and ‘what do we do about it’ have been topics of many a conference presentation and, although there are a variety of solutions as complex as the questions, one answer has the benefit of both better speaking to underrepresented students and focusing on an important outcome of all education: career readiness.

The idea is that focusing on a concrete and outcome-oriented reason to study abroad better encourages students to work through the common ‘barriers’ they face that are outlined in the USA Today article cited above. Namely, the cost (and the opportunity cost of not working), family pressures (positive and negative) and the question of “is study abroad really for me? Do people like me study abroad?”

So what to do?

As faculty you have a really important and effective role in recruiting students for study abroad programs. They trust you, they want to learn from you! Here is an article from the Diversity Network on the importance of your role:

Faculty: The Link Between Underrepresented Students and Study Abroad

Step away from "It will change your life!"

Almost anyone who has had a significant international experience wants to encourage others to do so because we know, it WILL change your life! But for many students this idea may seem frivolous or selfish. “Why would I spent all that money to go change my life when I could change lives by working here?” Or, for some, simply going to college has already been an overwhelming and life-changing experience and the idea of another may be too much.

Share the statistics

The idea that study abroad contributes to career readiness is not invented! Here are a couple of articles that talk more in depth about studies that link success in finding jobs to their study abroad experience:

Why studying abroad can help get you hired

Link between study abroad and employability

Generation Study Abroad: Why Study Abroad?

Focus on the academics

What will your students be learning on the study abroad program? How will the program be different than what they could learn if they stayed on campus? Why is this an extraordinary learning opportunity? How will the academic content help prepare the students for their future?

Highlight career-enhancing skills

And the

Office of International Education at Willamette University’s website

talks about marketing the skills acquired while studying abroad to potential employers. Examples like 'taking initiative and risks,' 'utilizing time management skills', 'self-reliance' and 'flexibility' can be used to explain to students about the variety of 'soft-skills' they can practice, intensely, while abroad.

Share your own story

Your own story is often the most meaningful and motivating. How did an international experience impact your career trajectory?

In a future blog post we hope to elaborate on how to support underrepresented students while they are studying abroad but for now here are a few resources:

NAFSA: Association for International Education: Resources for Supporting Diversity in Education Abroad

.

Diversity Abroad Network

: Advancing Diversity & Inclusive Excellence in International Education