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Creating Communities of Goodwill in Your Study Abroad
It’s not about sight-seeing… it’s about people-meeting
It’s not about sight-seeing… it’s about people-meeting
This week I finished my first-ever undergraduate research lab in Krakow, Poland — what we often call a short-term study abroad. I wanted to build an affordable and accessible cross-cultural experience … that was also an authentic and immersive cultural experience.
A true study abroad experience means creating a community of goodwill.
A study abroad should be more than just sight-seeing … it should be people-meeting. It’s not just about the places students go, but the new people from different backgrounds that students meet as well. So really, a study abroad is about building environments for interactions between networks of people … not scheduling tours.
This means re-thinking studying abroad as a way to create connections between people from different backgrounds, cultures, and countries.
To get a sense of the impact of cultural immersion, I wanted to share a few of my thoughts on what makes an excellent study abroad program.
Study abroad is more than just building an itinerary.
I think the most important part of any study abroad program is building a community of goodwill… or a community of people who are interested in each other and interested in learning about each other. Helping each other means connecting with each other.
It took me six years to prep for these two weeks in Krakow. Before I ever started filling in the daily activities, I visited several companies and conferences first. Invited professionals to my classes and planned out projects that helped my students work across cultures in online contexts. Students who come with to Krakow only experience a small part of these activities … but they get to interact with this community in new ways.
Bringing students on a study abroad means inviting them into this network I’ve already built. Each day, I gave them a space to meet people, share ideas, and build relationships. Students may be hesitant, even skeptical, of these opportunities… but if the network is built through goodwill, then they will eventually find ways towards meaningful interactions.
The best programs create a community of goodwill by providing opportunities for students to engage with residents, students, or professionals from different backgrounds. In the Krakow program, we had daily meetings where students could meet with professionals at the workplace, in school, or even at a writing conference that we attended.
During this program, my students had more than just a ‘study abroad’ experience; they integrated themselves into a community of good will. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they build upon their international experience.
Study abroad is about building interaction.
I organized the 2 weeks around interactions with people … not tourist sites. We visited some of the most important places in Krakow… including Auschwitz, Wawel Castle, St. Mary’s Basilica, and the Jewish Quarter. I even gave students plenty of time to explore on their own. But the purpose of the trip was not sight-seeing. The purpose was to create a space for interactions so that we could create stronger connections with each other and the surrounding people.
My students learned from each other… but they also learned from the professionals and students that we met. They got to understand how people from different cultures live and work. They connected with people in Krakow… but they also got to connect with people from all over the world, both visitors to Krakow and professionals at a writing conference we attended.
Not every interaction can be successful for every student. But my goal as a leader is to set up the conditions for these interactions… not force them to happen. Students have to take some responsibility for building these connections… but that is what it means to be a culturally competent “global citizen.” When you’re planning or taking part in your study abroad program, look for opportunities to build relationships with people from different backgrounds.
Social media is not a distraction or optional … it is an absolute necessity.
In today’s world, building communities includes building online networks. We can’t separate our digital experiences from the physical world of a study abroad. We build goodwill by interacting with each other… whether online or in-person. For a short-term program, social media can augment student interaction with the people they meet, especially since our time for interaction is limited.
Social media is not just a place to share information and photos. It’s a place to connect. We should encourage students to use social media to build connections with the people that meet. These networks are not just for students, but for professionals too. A study abroad program is a chance to build these professional networks. Being active on social media can extend the boundaries of your study abroad program and provide continuing opportunities for students.
Social media can build community in study abroad programs. I consistently posted about our program across our network of participants and students took part in their own ways … sometimes deepening connections. As a result, we leveraged the networks I built to extend my study abroad program beyond Krakow and the two weeks we spent there. We all expanded our professional networks in multiple ways.
Though Krakow is one of the most underrated cities in Europe, that was not really the highlight of the trip. I was fortunate to have a small group of students who were interested in in more than just sights. They saw opportunities to learn more about the people in my professional writing network and build their own communities of good, as well as becoming a part of my own.
I am thrilled with this first iteration of my professional writing study abroad in Krakow. The success comes from the hard work of building relationships and communities of goodwill that my students could take part in. I hope my experience will help others to do the same.