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International Education is More than Programs

When attending a musical in Austin, Texas, recently, the usher handed me a program. And some programs on television last less than an hour when you count the commercial interruptions. Many colleges and Universities advertise programs. All of these have at least two things in common: 1) they don’t last, 2) they are not meant to last.

This is why I don’t want to have students or faculty or parents see study abroad through the lens of programs only. I want to suggest that it’s the wrong ‘p’ word. Instead, there are at least three other ways to see study abroad and the view through them is much more interesting.



An international experience is a decidedly colorful, meaningful, and robust marker on one’s journey, so it’s part of a pathway. Like any developed road, this pathway should be paved (though there will be bumps and construction zones) smooth through education and wisdom and expertise, but it’s a road nonetheless that leads to a job or grad school or an identity shift or a paradigm change. This pathway starts to re-inform what’s next.



With Universities, affiliates, exchanges, and a good amount of time spent solidifying a network that functionally supports students and faculty, study abroad is also a platform that can hold the weight of research and discovery for any University willing to be innovative. Instead of reinventing the proverbial wheel, consider stopping by your campus study abroad office and exploring what institutional agreements and opportunities are already there.



International education cannot function without a healthy relational ecosystem that all buys in to the importance of crossing boundaries and experiential learning. Partnerships that truly bless the institution, the faculty, and the students make the world better and make international education actually work.

What begins to hurt international education is the capitulation to sheer pragmatism or the misguided premise that international travel brings with it a certain expansion by osmosis. Transactional models are easier and much more celebrated as we count bodies and budgets more readily than we measure cultural impact and the shifting in a personal worldview. But, if we look beyond mere programs, it’s at least a start toward going deeper and not just wider; important dinner conversations and not just cool photos.

Travel involves movement and movement is key to influence. Open eyes, open minds, and open hearts change people more than open doors. In a world that is openly tribal depending a lot on ‘likes’ and follows and social media imprints and outputs—perhaps our last best hope in education is making sure experience is seen in multi-dimensional ways and to provide expert guides for such a journey. James. K.A. Smith says it well: “An education, then, is a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life….” 

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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.