Bridging the Divide Between Study-Abroad Officers and the Faculty

The following is a guest post from Mandy Reinig, director of international education at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Last year I wrote a blog post that explored common misconceptions of what study-abroad administrators do. In a sense, it was an opportunity for us to tell faculty members, hey, we’re not glorified travel agents.

Now I want to turn the tables and give the professors their say. I have asked a few to give me their perspective on some of the misconceptions study-abroad officials have about professors’ work. A few study-abroad colleagues also weighed in with what they see as frequent misunderstandings. Those who responded represent a  variety of disciplines as well as institutions. The instructors who responded have been involved with international education in some capacity, whether in directing a program or simply encouraging students to study abroad. Here are the three most prevalent misconceptions:

•    Faculty are on a vacation when they lead a study-abroad program. This is probably the most common misconception. While getting a “free” trip to the study-abroad destination of their choice may seem like a vacation, it is also a huge amount of work. Not only do professors have to organize the various excursions, assignments, and more; they also become the 24/7 contact for the students while traveling. This means they are now not only the instructor, but also the mother/father, guardian, counselor, adviser, and sometimes baby sitter for all of the students on the trip.

•    Working with professors is like herding cats; they can’t follow the simplest instructions. I admit to thinking this a time or two. In reality, most faculty members aren’t trying to be deliberately difficult, but instead, they often don’t understand the policies and procedures study-abroad officers are asking them to complete. They have been trained to work within an academic environment, which has its own policies and procedures. They have never been trained in the administrative procedures, including the health, safety, and legal responsibilities, connected with study abroad.

•    Many professors only get involved with study abroad to help their careers. In reality, most faculty members are unable to count their study-abroad activities toward their tenure or promotion requirements. While participating and leading a study-abroad trip is usually seen as a worthwhile activity, many departments and divisions have yet to determine how to count these activities toward promotion and tenure since they do not easily fit into the typical categories of teaching, research, and service. In reality, they cover all three, but since not all professors are able and/or willing to participate in study-abroad programs, it is difficult to figure out how to weigh them as easily as promotion- and tenure-committee members do the better accepted teaching, research, and service requirements. In addition, most instructors and professors who lead or participate in study-abroad activities do so because they care about their students and want them to gain a greater understanding of the world they live in.

While there are other misconceptions, these seem to be the most prevalent. I believe that the majority of these misconceptions, both those placed on faculty members and those placed on study-abroad officers, are a result of the differing roles and responsibilities each has to face, as well as how each is educated to do his or her job.

The relationship between study-abroad officers and professors can seem complex in terms of the varying roles and responsibilities of each group; in reality, all are working toward  the same goal of educating today’s students and attempting to mold them into  global citizens.

[Creative Commons Wikimedia graphic by Dave Bushe]

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