If you’re reading this blog, you likely have a passion for higher education and foreign travel, and for good reason- ask anyone who has worked or studied abroad and they will tell you the experience changed their lives in the best possible way. Countless studies have shown the positive impact of experiences abroad to a student’s academic career, as well as their personal lives and future professional endeavors. However, even with all of the noted benefits of studying abroad, the percentage of students who actually participate is very small (but growing!). As important as study abroad experiences are, there are definitely challenges students must overcome in order to participate. These challenges can end up being too daunting and can prevent student participation.
One group that faces its own unique set of challenges are students in science fields. Research has shown that students in the sciences are less likely to participate in study abroad programs. While common inhibiting factors such as cost, language barriers, and personal safety are relevant to science students as well, they also face specific roadblocks. By determining and understanding these, higher education professionals can begin to address and eliminate them.
1. Science Faculty and Admin Support
Students in the sciences face pressure from faculty and administration to meet the strict course requirements and deadlines for science majors. These staff members might see study abroad as unimportant in comparison to other strict requirements, or may be unaware of options and opportunities for students in these fields. They also might struggle with how to support students before and during study abroad programs.
2. Sequence Classes
Many science courses are taken in series that require one to be taken in order to take subsequent classes. These courses are often impacted and only offered in certain semesters. If a student skips a sequence course in one semester for any reason, they may have to wait until the same semester in the following year to take it again. This can seriously affect when the student graduates. This is probably one of the most difficult challenges these students face, because it can seem like there really is no way around it. It is much easier for students who take these courses to plan ahead. For example, EA staff can reach out to science students in their freshman year, explain the benefits of study abroad, and encourage students to plan out their courses with their academic advisors, including their time abroad.
3. Lack of Options
The majority of students who participate in a study abroad program are from the social sciences. It seems like so many of the programs that the typical school offers include courses in these fields. While it is entirely possible for science students to take these classes to satisfy elective or general education requirements, it would be ideal to offer major requirements abroad as well. EA staff can seek out partnerships with schools and programs that offer science courses. Further, staff can consider partnering with science faculty to create faculty-led programs in specific fields. UC Riverside is encouraging more science student participation by offering faculty led summer programs in the sciences, such as biology in Panama and computer science, electrical engineering, and computer engineering in Switzerland. Another way staff can help science students navigate their options is by creating a way to search programs by major on their website, which is another step UC Riverside has taken to better help students choose their own program.
4. Simply Unaware
EA staff should be more proactive about working with science students, because many times these students will simply assume there isn’t time to study abroad, or there aren’t any programs for them, or they will not have the support they need. Just like any student who briefly considers going abroad before forgetting the idea, students in the sciences might be interested but ultimately think the process is too much work. EA staff, as well as staff and faculty in the sciences, must reach out to these students to give them the information and support needed to make the decision.
Every school’s landscape is different. Above all, it is important for higher education professionals within education abroad to get a feel for the needs of the students on their campus. Society is becoming increasingly interconnected, and it is imperative for students to experience cultures other than their own. The sciences are becoming more globalized every day. In order to be successful in their fields, science students must be culturally competent and globally minded. While studying abroad is certainly not for everyone, participating in a program has benefits that can enrich the academic, personal, and professional lives of everyone. It is our responsibility to make studying abroad a possibility for anyone who wants to go. Further, higher education professionals should do their best to create opportunities abroad for students in the sciences. Perhaps the best way to begin creating such opportunities is to foster collaboration between administration in science and education abroad departments.
Resources: http://www.nafsa.org/Policy_and_Advocacy/Policy_Resources/Policy_Trends_and_Data/Trends _in_U_S__Study_Abroad/