Meta-travel: A critical inquiry into a China Study Tour

  • Jennifer Riggan
  • S. Sonya Gwak
  • Joy Lesnick
  • Kara Jackson
  • Stacey Olitsky
Keywords: Short term, Study abroad, China, United States, Graduate students, Critical reflection, Framework for reflection


This paper questions whether participants on short-term study tours typically allow themselves and their understandings about the world to be transformed by their experiences or if these brief trips only serve to reify and legitimize preconceived notions and stereotypes about the world. Based on an analysis of U.S. graduate students’ experiences on a trip to China, we argue that short-term study tours have the potential to provide a valuable opportunity for participants to deepen their understanding of themselves and their role in the world. However, they can only do so if a critical reflection component is incorporated in the study tour. Specifically, short-term study travel can help participants understand the situated and shifting nature of their identities as students and travelers. It can also deepen their awareness of how they are positioned globally as students of a U.S. based institution, and explore how positionality, identity, and stereotypes shape their worldview during study tours. By engaging in an intentional, critical reflection process, we argue that participants can experience deeper emotional and intellectual transformation during short-term study tours. We use the case of a study tour to China to propose a framework for reflection during short-term study travel that we call “meta-travel.”


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Author Biographies

Jennifer Riggan

Jennifer Riggan is the Director of International Studies and Assistant Professor in the Department of History and International Studies at Arcadia University. She holds a PhD from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Her broad research interests include nationalism, state-formation, post-colonialism, identity and globalization. 

S. Sonya Gwak

S. Sonya Gwak is the Associate Director for Student Affairs and Advising at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania. She has taught a variety of courses at Penn, including Multicultural Issues in Education and Asian American Studies. 

Joy Lesnick

Joy Lesnick is a Researcher at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and a Senior Research Analyst at the Consortium on Chicago School Research. A former fourth-grade inclusion teacher, she is currently studying early warning indicators for high school graduation and new teacher induction programs in the Chicago Public Schools. 

Kara Jackson

Kara Jackson is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University, Peabody College. Her interests are mathematics learning, socialization, and identity development across contexts and how to support teachers to provide access to equitable learning opportunities in mathematics for all students. 

Stacey Olitsky

Stacy Olitsky has spent the past several years working with the Math and Science Partnership of Greater Philadelphia studying the interactions between college faculty and teachers in a project to improve math and science instruction. Her previous research was an ethnographic study of science education in an urban magnet school in which she explored the relationship between identity and science learning. 


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How to Cite
Riggan, J., Gwak, S. S., Lesnick, J., Jackson, K., & Olitsky, S. (2011). Meta-travel: A critical inquiry into a China Study Tour. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 21(1), 236-253.
Research Articles