Elon University ranks No. 1 in the country for study abroad in the U.S. News & World Report. This high-standing is advertised on the homepage of Elon’s website and on almost every brochure or publication about the university. Elon boasts that 80 percent of last year’s graduating class participated in at least one study abroad or Study USA program.
The university spends plenty of time and resources encouraging students to study abroad, helping them apply for different programs and supporting them throughout the pre-departure process. But once students return to campus, this investment in their experiences is lacking.
On Elon's study abroad website, the Global Education Center (GEC) advertises a handful of ways that students can engage in global opportunities at Elon. Most of these opportunities focus on helping other students throughout their abroad application process. The GEC also partners with the Student Professional Development Program (SPDC) to host a reentry program in the fall — though according to Shanna Van Beek, these sessions have not been well attended by students.
The personal and academic growth students experience while abroad should not stop when students return to campus. The Global Education Center (GEC) should invest in more programming to support students’ emotional and academic growth after they return from study abroad programs.
To accommodate students’ emotional needs, the GEC should facilitate opportunities for conversations among and between students returning from study abroad. Too often, the conversations students have about their study abroad experiences are surface level. The conversations stop after the obligatory “How was being abroad?” and many students are left unable to communicate the inevitable struggles of being back at Elon.
Support groups, information sessions or facilitated conversations would give students the opportunity to have more meaningful conversations about their experiences. Students will also be able to find solidarity with other students who are experiencing a similar transition beyond those in their program.
Additionally, the GEC should organize a program during the College of Arts and Sciences' CELEBRATE! Week in April, similar to the Student Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF), that will allow students to present on their study abroad experiences. Studying abroad is a deeply enriching academic experience that deserves to be given similar prestige as undergraduate research. If an entire day of class is cancelled to celebrate undergraduate research, shouldn’t study abroad experiences warrant some space on this day or on another time during this week for the same kind of attention? The academic and personal growth that occurs during study abroad should be celebrated and held to the same academic standard that undergraduate research is.
Other than social media posts — which barely scratch the surface of abroad experiences — there is currently no outlet for students to share their more personal and complex experiences.
This will have a ripple effect on a campus that celebrates global engagement; in addition to providing an outlet for students to meaningfully share what they’ve learned in their “global classrooms,” it will also provide students who aren’t able to study abroad a venue to learn about abroad experiences beyond promotional brochures, E-Net articles or Instagram photos.
While the GEC organizes some study abroad fairs, they are more focused on recruiting students to specific programs than allowing them to synthesize and organize their thoughts in a more formal, celebrated and independently-crafted manner.
If Elon is going to put so much pride and effort into its study abroad programming, it must match that same investment in its students when they return. By investing in better post-abroad programming, the university will be helping to continue students’ learning, allowing them to truly get the most out of their study abroad experience.
This staff editorial appeared in the January 18, 2017 edition of The Pendulum. Staff editorials are written by the editorial board and intended to represent the stance of the ENN staff, who have an opportunity to offer feedback on each topic. Staff editorials and other opinions content are separate from news coverage.