Academics as Arbiters: Promoting Equity and Cultural Responsibility in Group-based Study Abroad




Study abroad, Diversity, Short-term study abroad, Identity, Inclusion


Study abroad is a high impact practice, touted as a tool for developing global and intercultural awareness. In 2017/18, of the nearly 350,000 U.S. students who studied abroad, sixty-five percent participated in “short-term” programs (IIE, 2018). Short-term programs are often administered as group opportunities, in which students undertake experiential education activities with fellow classmates in a host country. In this study, students from populations that have been historically under-represented in study abroad reflected on their experiences within group programs by centering their unique identities and analyzing how particular identities influenced their experiences within the group and host country. Experiences ranged from agentic and empowering to prejudicial and isolating. For example, some students relied on faculty members to mediate interactions among and between the group and host society. In some cases, instructors provided supportive facilitation while, in others, instructors avoided challenging confrontations and difficult conversations. The group itself, and the group leader, are critical units of analysis for understanding the educational and cross-cultural dimensions of study abroad.

Abstract in Spanish

El estudio en el extranjero se define como una actividad de alto impacto y se promueve como herramienta para desarrollar tanto la conciencia global como intercultural. En el año 2017/2018, el sesenta y cinco por ciento de los 350.000 estudiantes estadounidenses que estudiaron en el extranjero participaron en programas de “estadía corta” (IIE 2018). Los programas de estadía corta son desarrollados como oportunidades para interactuar en grupo donde cada estudiante vive experiencias educativas junto a sus compañeros en un país anfitrión. En este estudio, se pidió que estudiantes provenientes de poblaciones que, históricamente, no han estudiado en el extranjero reflexionaran sobre sus experiencias en programas grupales de estadía corta. La reflexión se hizo desde sus propias identidades y el análisis de cómo sus identidades influenciaron las experiencias dentro del grupo y en el país anfitrión. Los estudiantes reportaron experiencias que les dieron agencia y empoderamiento y otras que fueron perjudiciales o provocaron sentimientos de aislamiento. Por ejemplo, algunos estudiantes esperaban que sus profesores mediaran las interacciones entre el grupo y con el país anfitrión. En algunos casos los instructores proveyeron ayuda que facilitó dichas interacciones. En otros casos, los instructores evitaron tener conversaciones difíciles. Tanto el grupo como el líder del grupo son unidades de análisis que se deben incluir para entender las dimensiones educativas e interculturales del estudio en el extranjero. 


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Author Biographies

Christopher Johnstone, University of Minnesota

Christopher Johnstone is an Associate Professor of Comparative and International Development Education at the University of Minnesota. He coordinates the Leadership in Intercultural and International Education program at his university, a low-residency PhD program designed for international education professionals to align theory and practice. Johnstone’s research interests focus on inclusive education and internationalization of higher education, and international development education.

Tiffany Lachelle Smith, University of Minnesota

Tiffany Lachelle Smith is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development program with a focus in Comparative and International Development Education at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests focus on diversity within US teacher migration and examines teacher attrition through educators who left the US K-12 workforce for occupations in education abroad.

Jodi Malmgren, St. Olaf College

Jodi Malmgren is Director of International and Off-Campus Studies at St. Olaf College.  She is responsible for program and faculty development and enhancement of access to off-campus study. Her education abroad research interests include intercultural competence development and equity and inclusion in study abroad. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.


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How to Cite

Johnstone, C., Smith, T. L., & Malmgren, J. (2020). Academics as Arbiters: Promoting Equity and Cultural Responsibility in Group-based Study Abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 32(2), 120–144.