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Fall 2011

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Study Abroad
Susan Longerbeam, PhD

Student Affairs Counseling Goes European!

Students at Humboldt University

The Student Affairs Counseling program in the College of Education’s Educational Psychology department was the first NAU graduate program to adopt the NAU Global Learning Initiative (GLI). Faculty co-leaders Harvey Charles, vice provost for international education, and Susan Longerbeam, associate professor of educational psychology launched the Northern European Student Affairs Study Tour last May as part of the new international curriculum. Twenty NAU graduate students immersed themselves in European higher education across six countries: Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, and France.

Students met with faculty, administrators, and college students at university campuses such as the University of Copenhagen, Lund University, University of Amsterdam, Humboldt University, and Sorbonne Nouvelle. They also visited international higher education organizations including the Danish Agency for International Development, Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education (NUFFIC), French National Student Services Agency (CNOUS), German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), German Fulbright Commission, and a German Studentenwerke (student services institution). A study tour bonus included visiting cultural sites in Copenhagen, Lund, Amsterdam, The Hague, Berlin, Luxembourg, and Paris.

Students on tour 

Professional Development in Europe

The European study tour afforded students access to varied professional development opportunities: networking with professionals and college students from around the world, presenting at the Luxembourg Student Affairs Conference, and engaging with European approaches to higher education. Consequently, students explored and refined their international identities as higher education and student affairs professionals.

Students actively participated in the Luxembourg Student Affairs Conference, Living Culture in the University—Developing Citizens of the World: A Transatlantic Dialogue. They engaged in workshops on writing, theatre, music, photography, and dance, and on international higher education and student affairs theory. Some NAU students presented and facilitated sessions in collaboration with European colleagues, while most performed creative workshop presentations for several hundred participants at the concluding dinner. Moreover, all accomplished final course projects such as presentations for international and NAU audiences.

Students at CNOUS

International Study Costs and Benefits

The $3,850 cost of the 17-day European study tour, including tuition, airfare, and lodging, was not much more than the cost of living in Flagstaff while taking summer courses. For this cost students enjoyed access to European educational institutions and cultural resources, presented at the international higher education conference, established professional and personal relationships with European colleagues and friends, and earned three NAU graduate credits in education.

Unique to this study tour was the cultural diversity of the NAU group, most of whom were first-generation college students and half of whom were Latino, Navajo, or African American. First-generation college students may assume they cannot afford international study; however, by accessing financial aid, assistantships, and scholarships (often available for conference presenters), global opportunities are within reach of many NAU students. We hope to inspire the possibility that study abroad is affordable, even in a relatively expensive region such as Europe, but especially in less expensive regions such as Africa, South America, and Asia.

What We Learned: Enduring Questions

As in many good learning experiences, we came away with more questions than answers. Some of our core questions included:

  • Is higher education an individual benefit or a public good?
  • How do we weigh the balance of challenging students as autonomous adults with supporting students who are at risk of failure?
  • What does is mean for us as Americans to viscerally experience cultures where everyone speaks at least two (and often more) languages, and travels and studies with ease across countries?
  • What might the European Union teach us about higher education in light of the Bologna Process, which brought higher education into its own kind of European Union by enhancing mobility, harmonizing systems, and making it easier for students to transfer credits and credentials between not only institutions but entire countries, thus facilitating global learning on a broad international level?
Students on tour

Students commented in final reflections upon a deeper awareness of the level of support for higher education as a public good in Europe. In contrast to the U.S., tuition is usually free to students from the home country as well as from any country in the European Union. Accordingly, European students expressed shock when U.S. students shared the amount of their combined undergraduate and graduate student loan debt. Likewise, U.S. students expressed shock at the level of responsibility afforded European college students (for example, some European student organizations own residence halls).

Most of all, students expanded their thinking about their chosen profession. "My trip to Europe was simply incredible. It has fundamentally changed the way I approach my work with students and colleagues," says graduate student Aaron Escobedo.

Sharon Doctor, assistant director of Native American Student Services, says, "The student affairs tour was a wonderful and rewarding experience for my professional development. The group I traveled with consisted of outstanding individuals. I learned more about myself as this was my first international trip, and visiting six countries in two weeks gave me a broad glimpse of student affairs practices in Europe.”

Student Affairs Strengths in the United States

Students on tour

While the northern European countries we visited generally excelled compared with the U.S. in public support for higher education, the U.S. may be a model for inclusive college environments. For various reasons, but perhaps most importantly as a function of a less developmental and theoretical approach to student affairs, the Europeans seem underprepared for the next generation of college students. The perspective that college students are adults may best serve traditional second-generation students who more easily navigate college (both academically and socially).

NAU students say they developed a deeper appreciation for the ways in which U.S. higher education has developed student services for students of various cultural and economic backgrounds. NAU services such as the Multicultural Student Center, Gateway, and Educational Support Services are almost absent on European campuses. European higher education professionals look to student affairs professionals in the U.S. for guidance in developing student affairs programs. Our students came away with a sense of pride in their profession, particularly for its theoretical strength and focus on evidence-based assessment practices.

Though the demographics of young college-age people in Europe are rapidly changing, higher education institutions seem little prepared for the coming populations of students. When Europeans refer to “minority” students, they generally mean Muslim immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. NAU students found student services professionals searching for the language to discuss these populations; reaching for basic demographic data (retention rates, student characteristics); and seeking advice on programmatic interventions to improve teaching and student services. Embracing a pluralistic and multicultural European society and college campus is an important struggle, made all the more poignant by the recent tragedy in Norway.

So, what’s next?

Now open to the possibility of international travel, students express the wish to engage in more cross-cultural learning and travel. As graduate student Marvin Jim notes, "I left Europe convinced that we all need to get out of our own comfort zones to be able to learn more about the broader context of the world we live in. Making connections with my European counterparts may be the most practical decision I ever made with regard to my education and professional development."

Photos courtesy of Susan Longerbeam (left).

Susan Longerbeam and students on tour

NAU graduate students are spreading the word about study abroad through presentations and conversations. Indeed, graduate students are already asking about future international study tours in higher education and student affairs. Specifics aren’t confirmed, but word has it an Asian study tour on higher education may be offered in the near future!

—Susan Longerbeam, Associate Professor, Educational Psychology