Season 1 – Episode 39 – Study Abroad Programs
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, study abroad programs in the United States have undergone significant changes. NASFA has reported that higher education institutions in the United States have incurred losses of almost $1 billion due to the shortened or canceled programs. These study abroad programs are crucial for students as they offer valuable skills and experiences that are essential in an ever-growing global workforce. Despite most institutions resuming their study abroad programs after the onset of COVID-19, further investments are necessary to ensure the United States remains competitive on a global scale.
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Darren Gaddis: From CITI Program, I’m Darren Gaddis and this is On Campus. Today, what are study abroad programs at higher education institutions, how COVID-19 has impacted a and changed international programs for students, and what trends we could see in the coming years for study abroad?
I spoke with Sarah Chenworth, the director of International Affairs at Nova Southeastern University. In this role, she oversees international student and scholar services, education abroad programs, and serves as a faculty chair for the Global Scholars Program and Global Engagement Minor.
As a reminder, this podcast is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice or guidance. You should consult with your organization’s attorneys if you have questions or concerns about relevant laws and regulations discussed in this podcast. Additionally, the views expressed in this podcast or solely those at the presenter and do not represent the views of their employer.
Hi, Sarah. Thank you for joining me today.
Sarah Chenworth: Hi, thank you for having me.
Darren Gaddis: Sarah, to help ground this conversation for our listeners today, what are study abroad programs at higher education institutions, broadly speaking?
Sarah Chenworth: Yeah, so there are many different ways that you could define study abroad in higher ed, and I think it would be helpful to explain multiple of them. So I guess in short, study abroad or education abroad it’s also referred to, are programs in a different country where students typically take classes. They are studying internationally, they leave their home country, and they go overseas.
So for students from the United States studying abroad, this typically would be for an entire semester or sometimes even in an academic year at a university and another country. In this case, students work closely with their home institution’s Education Abroad Office or a study abroad advisor, and their academic advisor, to find courses they can take while overseas, that they can transfer back as part of their academic plan. So there are countless opportunities for education abroad programs, and every institution is different in how they are organized.
Some institutions have international campuses of their own. Some affiliate with specific international universities or specific programs, and they just offer those programs. Others may work with third party program providers, which are actually private companies that assist in placing students in programs, universities, or study centers all around the world.
There are many study abroad opportunities for students. However, also in addition to traditional semesters abroad taking classes, there can be faculty led trips where a student would enroll in a course at their home institution where they take classes in their country and there is a short, typically one or two week long, travel opportunity included.
And now there are also international internships. There are international medical shadowing opportunities, medical outreach, service or volunteer trips, or short-term summer experiences that students can get involved with through their universities. So that’s what study abroad looks like typically for students from the United States.
But transitioning now, study abroad can also mean international students coming and studying in the United States. That typically looks different from what students from the United States would do. So international students typically come to the United States for the full duration of their university experience.
They enroll full-time as a traditional student for four years or two years depending on the level and length of their academic program, and basically move to the United States for their time studying. There are many steps international students must take to come and study in the states as it relates to visa status, immigration paperwork they have to complete, and universities typically have entire offices dedicated to supporting international students through these difficult processes. Last year there were over 900,000 international students attending universities in the United States full time.
And lastly, there is a combination of traditional study abroad for US students and international students, which are exchange programs. And so this is a partnership between an institution in the United States and an institution abroad where students will trade places for typically one semester to take courses and then they return back to their respective home institutions. So lots of definitions for studying abroad and lots of opportunities that students can take advantage of.
Darren Gaddis: And to provide us with some more context, could you describe the landscape of study abroad programs prior to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sarah Chenworth: Yeah, so prior to COVID, for many years there were over a million international students studying abroad in the United States annually, and many students, hundreds of thousands of students going abroad from the United States studying in multiple countries around the world.
There were many third parties, study abroad companies helping place students overseas, and there were many recruiting agencies helping international students come to the us. So of course there were still difficulties and barriers as it relates to typical travel visas, flights, credit transfer, things like that. But institutional global mobility was really flourishing in terms of demographics.
China, India and South Korea were the top countries where international students came to the US and European locations were overwhelmingly popular with outbound students studying abroad from the US. So as I mentioned, global mobility was really popular prior to COVID-19, but of course things have changed drastically since the pandemic.
Darren Gaddis: And with this context, how have study abroad programs changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sarah Chenworth: Yeah, so of course when COVID-19 began, institutions across the world were scrambling to help students return home from global experiences. And they canceled programs almost entirely that did not have students traveling yet. Borders and embassies closed and some international students and scholars were actually left in their host country without knowing when their next opportunity would be to go home.
So during this time, since it’s hard to have a study abroad program when you can’t travel abroad, virtual global programs actually exploded because institutions tried to continue to provide these critical and life-changing international experiences. So global virtual experiences included remote classes with students collaborating with other students from around the world. Remote internships with global companies became very popular. But of course they aren’t the same experience as studying abroad.
A big impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on study abroad programs, aside from of course the students in the travelers was an impact on the study abroad industry.
So there are many third party program providers that were helping match students overseas that were partnering with institutions. I mean, of course if they’re not having students pay to go on these programs, they weren’t making any money to be able to stay open. And so a lot of study abroad providers, recruiters, had to furlough a lot of employees. Some companies had to shut down altogether, which of course is very heartbreaking. And there was really just a shift in the landscape, I would say, of the field as a lot of these businesses and companies had to readjust from these furloughs and restructuring.
So, of course, it has been two years, which is crazy since COVID began. And while, of course, it’s not completely over and there are still countries that have strict COVID policies, the Institute of International Education, actually their Open Doors report came out just last month, and is showing that international student enrollment in the United States is almost back to the pre-COVID enrollment numbers.
I am hopeful that this landscape is recovering and is going back to how things were pre-COVID.
Darren Gaddis: What impact have you seen for international students who are studying in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic?
Sarah Chenworth: Of course, again, when COVID happened, international student exchange completely stopped. A lot of countries closed their borders almost immediately with no notice, and a lot of students were left stranded overseas. So that had a huge impact on mental health. It was really great to see institutions across the United States come together and find resources and let students stay in their housing over summer who aren’t able to return home.
But that was, I would say, a difficult time for international students who were studying in the US when the pandemic happened. It has really taken these past two years to get back to what everyone is now calling the new normal. So, of course, when borders did start to open, embassies were closed for many months during COVID, and they were really behind on visa distribution, not just for international students, but any type of visa request.
So when borders opened, it wasn’t like international students could just go back to enrolling at institutions at the same level as they were able to pre-COVID. There definitely was a delay, and at least in my experience, it has taken these past two years for visa appointments and distribution for that time to kind of catch up.
So as I had mentioned, a report has come out which said that international student enrollment is now almost back up to pre-COVID numbers, which is wonderful. And I do believe that international student exchange is almost back to where it was prior to the pandemic.
Of course, not just with enrollment numbers, but student mental health. And this is a crisis I would say across all demographics of students in higher ed right now. The COVID-19 pandemic did have a big impact on, I would say, students’ mental health and also just what people really wanted to do with their lives. And so I know that is also affecting enrollment in general at institutions across the United States. And people are really reevaluating what they do want to do with their life.
And I think when it comes to going overseas and studying abroad, I think a lot of people have thought that this is something I’ve always wanted to do and life isn’t guaranteed. And I think that while, of course, there was that negative effect on mental health, I think it also has been motivated for people to take a risk and pursue their dreams. And I think that is reflecting in the international student exchange space as well.
Darren Gaddis: In your opinion, what trends do you expect to see in the coming years for international students studying in the United States?
Sarah Chenworth: Yeah, so it’s my hope that the United States can remain competitive globally with recruiting international students. For many years, the United States was the top destination for international students to come from abroad. However, recently, other countries such as Canada and England are creating more streamlined pathways for international students to not only immigrate there, but to gain employment after graduation and stay in the country, which is a goal of many international students who study abroad.
Of course, our country’s political leadership and overall attitude towards immigrants and non-immigrants, of course, has had an effect on the number of international students that are drawn to the US and that is always changing. I would say institutions do need to be very intentional on what services they provide When they’re recruiting international students. They need to be very open in their diversity and equity policies. They need to be very open in terms of what services they’re providing when students arrive here in order to remain competitive with other Western countries who are really trying to attract foreign talent, especially with growing employment shortages in the STEM field.
So I think I had mentioned earlier in the podcast that China, India, and South Korea were the largest countries sending international students overseas. This has shifted a bit, and India is now the top country sending international students to the United States.
It actually grew 19% in terms of enrollment of Indian students in the United States just from last year. So I think if institutions are trying to keep international student numbers up, India is a huge demographic. Of course, China is a huge demographic, but there are more strict policies now in terms of foreign influence and in terms of exchange programs. And there is more oversight in recruiting international students from mainland China.
However, South Korea is also a huge, say, target demographic if you are trying to recruit international students to the United States. Really, Asia in general is a really huge area where international students are coming and a lot of them are enrolling in STEM or postgraduate programs at institutions in the United States. So I would think to see continued growth in those areas, if we can remain competitive with other Western countries in terms of the services we’re providing to students, and in terms of the pathways to employment that we have for our international graduates.
Darren Gaddis: How can institutions invest more in study abroad programs?
Sarah Chenworth: So in terms of international students attending school in the United States, it’s almost obvious that an institution would invest in recruiting and enrolling students. I always think that it’s really what the university does once the students are admitted that can set them apart and help them remain competitive.
It’s how institutions can support these international individuals beyond enrollment, how can we take the time to recognize what it truly means to attend an institution in the United States as an international student to understand what it’s like to leave the comfort and familiarity of one’s home, family, friends, support networks, and to move hundreds or thousands of miles away across the world to pursue a dream of education.
So it’s how institutions can help international students manage the seemingly small things. Like when an international student comes here, how do we help them get acclimated? How do we help them address culture shock? How do we help them find an apartment to rent with no credit history or open a bank account without a social security number?
And then also, how does a university show their support towards the big things like helping an international student receive work authorization or helping them build a community of friends here that will help them stay in school? So I think institutions can invest in not just recruiting the students, but also supporting them, celebrating them, investing in programming that celebrates their diversity and their breadth of knowledge.
I think that is really how institutions could remain competitive, is actually invest in their international student support services. When students are here, it’s not just saying that we have enrolled 80% of minorities or just showing diversity in numbers, but it’s when institutions go beyond just enrolling diverse groups of people to meet a quota.
In terms of outbound student travel, I know that of course after COVID, a lot of institution budgets took a hit, and if an institution is looking to invest more in outbound study abroad programs and they don’t have the resources to dedicate an entire office or like multiple positions to run these programs, I recommend partnering with third party program providers.
I know I’ve referenced them a few times in the podcast, but there are many organizations where institutions can partner with these companies for free and send students abroad that way. So there are many ways to get creative in terms of sending students abroad, but it is important that I would say institutions gain executive leadership buy-in. An institution is not going to invest in these types of programs unless the executive leadership understands the importance of internationalization an overall institutional level.
So if you are an international educator listening to this podcast and you have these hopes and dreams of expanding support services for international students and expanding outbound international experience for domestic students, you really need to get buy-in from executive leadership. And if you don’t have an International Dean or a Dean of International Student and Scholar Services, see if you can get in front of your executive leadership. Sit down with them and share the proven benefits of international exchange programs.
Last year, international students contributed, I think it was over $20 billion to the United States economy and supported more than 300,000 jobs. And international students specifically reduced STEM related talent shortages by around 25% nationally.
Darren Gaddis: What else should we know about study abroad programs in higher education?
Sarah Chenworth: I think whether or not you think it’s a good thing, globalization is already here and we are living in a globalized and constantly connected world. Students, regardless of their fields or majors, are going to have to work respectfully and productively with others from different backgrounds. They’re going to have to know how to communicate across cultures.
So study abroad programs, international exchange programs, they prepare students and staff for this globalized world, and it creates grit and resiliency for a population where mental health problems are continuously growing.
Living overseas and participating in international experiences have changed my life and I could not recommend it more for others, and I could not recommend it more for institutions to invest in these types of international programs.
Darren Gaddis: Sarah, it has been a pleasure. Thank you for joining me today.
Sarah Chenworth: Thank you.
Darren Gaddis: Be sure to follow, like, and subscribe to On Campus with CITI program to stay in the know. If you enjoyed this podcast, you might also be interested in other podcasts from CITI Program, including Ontech Ethics and On Research. You can listen to all of our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, and other streaming services. I also invite you to review our content offerings regularly as we are continually adding new courses, subscriptions, and webinars that may be of interest to you, like CITI Program’s new environmental health and safety subscription. The environmental health and safety subscription provides organizations with key content areas related to health and safety. All of our content is available to you anytime through organizational and individual subscriptions. You may also be interested in CITI Program’s GDPR and Human Subject Research in the U.S. webinar.
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- Episode 38: Graduate Student Advising
- Episode 37: Mental Health and Student Health Services
- Episode 36: Data Management and Research
- Episode 35: Women Faculty Members and the Tenure Process
Meet the Guest
Sarah Chenworth, MS – Nova Southeastern University
Sarah is the Director of International Affairs at Nova Southeastern University. In this role she oversees International Student and Scholar services, Education Abroad programs, and serves as the Faculty Chair for the Global Scholars program and Global Engagement minor.
Meet the Host
Darren Gaddis, Host, On Campus Podcast – CITI Program
He is the host of the CITI Program’s higher education podcast. Mr. Gaddis received his BA from University of North Florida, MA from The George Washington University, and is currently a doctoral student at Florida State University.