Engagement measures a student’s ability and will to take self-directed action. Study abroad presents students with personal and team challenges they might have never experienced in their home countries and encourages them in an unfamiliar environment. “Engagement,” for these ratings includes both Global Engagement, as described in the Study Abroad for Global Engagement Study (SAGE) and developing the ability and will to take action in response to challenges in any environment.
Even if students do not plan to work or study abroad in an international environment in the future, the experience gained in tackling problems in an unfamiliar environment abroad will better enable them to face unfamiliar challenges in their home communities as well.
Universities are rated based on the opportunities they offer study abroad and exchange program students to develop the skills below:
This ability is largely developed outside the classroom. Regardless of how different a study abroad destination might be, the university itself still presents a relatively similar environment. Students might go from a lecture hall-style course to a small classroom setting that requires a difference academic approach, and this personal adjustment contributes to engagement, especially in a country with a different language or cultural base. However, most engagement opportunities occur outside the class, or off campus, entirely
The best opportunities come from programs with more “depth,” as explained in the SAGE study, and in non-traditional environments, specifically programs with:
- Linguistic and cultural difference from the student’s home culture
- Meaningful interaction with the off-campus community, including community service, work, and internship opportunities
Exposure to students and faculty from a diverse set of cultural backgrounds and ways of thinking is one of the hallmarks of the study abroad experience, but exposure is not enough. The best places to study abroad not only have a diverse body of international students and integrate the international and local student bodies, but also put international students a positions where they have to exercise planning and decision-making on behalf of a diverse team.
Some of the criteria that lead to a high score in this benefit are:
- The diversity of international student body and level of integration with the local students
- Small class sizes with local and international students and the existence of project-based learning style classes
- The availability of leadership positions in student government or club activities to international students
Creativity might not be the first outcome of studying abroad that comes to mind for many, but it is an important one. Studying abroad exposes you to new ideas, cultures, and ways of thinking, teaching you new ways to examine academic problems, social situations, and even art. You will also face new challenges from the simple – how can you tell butter apart from margarine in a Japanese grocery store? – to complex situations like negotiating political or religious conversations with students from other countries.
A 2009 study conducted by Northwestern University in the US and INSEAD in France showed that living abroad contributes to developing creativity. While you are studying abroad, in almost any situation, you will find that the habits you learned in your home country do not work as well in your new home, so creativity will become a key tool.
Study abroad programs that lead to greater gains in creativity for students are those that:
- Are in a country with significant cultural or linguistic difference
- Emphasize interaction with the local community, though homestays, community service opportunities, or even shopping for necessities off-campus
- Have a diverse international student body and provide regular events and programs for student interaction
Engagement is Personal
It goes without saying that for you as a study abroad or exchange student to develop and improve the engagement skills above, you need to take the initiative to engage during your program! Even if your study abroad university does not go out of its way to encourage local interaction and engagement, seek out opportunities on your own by connecting with local students and organizations.
The most difficult part of engagement is taking the first step and getting involved in the community (which is why universities that give a little push on that step are the most highly rated). Taking that step is engagement, and once you’re invested and involved, you’ll find no end to the opportunities around you.