Global Awareness is not only the degree to which students grasp the academic concept of the interconnectedness of countries and cultures, but how that knowledge becomes an integral part of their way of thinking and approaching new concepts both internationally and within their home communities.
The mere experience of going abroad is going to raise your global awareness; and the longer you spend outside of a familiar environment, the richer your global knowledge will become. But more important than duration is exposure and reflection. Programs that offer students the chance to study and experience their host culture in depth then provide opportunities to deliberately discuss the results provide the best opportunity for students to expand their global awareness.
Studying abroad is an invaluable opportunity to learn about the host country from the inside out. Many, though not all, students will have studied their host culture and language before departing, but there is a significant difference in, for example, taking a course in post-Soviet economies from an American professor in the US and taking the same subject in Poland from a local professor. To score well in this sub-benefit, universities should:
- Offer courses on the host country’s history, politics, economy, etc., for international students
- Offer courses or non-credit programs in the host country’s language for international students
- Arrange tours and excursions into the local area
Getting involved in the local community is the difference between truly studying abroad and merely studying whilst traveling. Students who go beyond the academic level and experience the quality of life of their host community will come away with a more human understanding of the challenges and issues they face as well as a personal connection. They will be better able to apply that personal and direct experience after their study abroad is over.
Programs rate highly in this category if they:
- Arrange service learning and community service opportunities for study abroad students
- Arrange short- or long-term homestay programs
- Introduce students to off-campus services (e.g. medical care, cell phones, banks) during orientation
Students who have studied the differences in history, society, and culture as well experienced the variations in quality of life need a safe environment in which to discuss their conclusions. The opportunity to share initial impressions with local students as well as other international students from different cultural backgrounds will allow students to frame their opinions in a larger context and develop lasting, meaningful conclusions.
Some students will find these opportunities on their own, but others may hang on to their initial impressions and miss out on important learning opportunities. The best places to study abroad are those that create a safe place for discourse and encourage open conversation on students’ experiences through means such as the following:
- Having on campus student recreation facilities to serve as gathering points
- Holding dedicated discussion events about the local community
- Implementing a buddy program to build individual connections between students
Global Awareness Cannot be Taken for Granted
In the past, only the most outgoing students sought study abroad opportunities. For these students, it was often unnecessary for universities to deliberately push opportunities to develop global awareness. However, as more and more students of diverse backgrounds and personalities participate in study abroad (a most welcome development!) the best study abroad programs are those that account for this new variation and provide opportunities for all of their inbound students to succeed.