Serving up health, safety advice even if study abroad students aren’t hungry for it
CYNTHIA BANKS’ BLOG: A Family Studies Abroad
This year is a special year for my family. With 20 years in Colorado under my belt, and my kids approaching high school, my husband and I decided to move our family to Australia to “study abroad.” Our children ages 12 and 10 are attending local schools in Queensland, and my husband and I are working remotely. Having traveled most of my career with GlobaLinks Learning Abroad, you would think that any cultural challenges would be mitigated by my (tongue in cheek) vast educational understanding of the world at large. In reality, there are some amazing challenges in taking children overseas and even testing my own comfort zone in my 40s. Even so, I am blessed and willing to share this wonderful experience through this blog. I hope you will send me your experiences as well!
April 9, 2011
Having spent 10 days recently in the USA for a major international education conference called the Forum on Education Abroad in Boston, I am re-energized for work and ever aware of the impact of education abroad on students.
But before I comment on international education and in particular the conference theme, I feel it would be wise to explain what it was like to go home (almost) again.
You can’t go home again
In this case, that is 100% true. The Banks house was literally closed-for-the-season in January before we moved to Australia so I was compelled to stay in a hotel near our home as a base of operations for visits with friends, family and the office. Poignant was the vision of my approaching the house, parking the rental car in the drive, and using a key in our front door before disabling the alarm.
I sneaked from room to room to collect a few precious items the family asked me to retrieve before glancing at our Christmas tree, which we left standing on our departure. That was an efficient decision since we will return at Christmas this year, however, the tree looked oddly frozen in time for me. Home is our family, not our location, and in that moment I felt compelled to get back to Australia to see mine.
Theory and practice
The theme of the Forum on Education Abroad conference April 6-8th was “Making the Connection: Praxis and Theory in Education Abroad.” It was a wonderful week in Boston with colleagues discussing international education and the complex struggles of adequately applying academic learning theories to the daily facilitation of students going abroad.
There really is not an easy way to sum up a three-day international education conference except to say that it usually provides more questions than answers! I left feeling quite rejuvenated about this journey of building the GlobaLinks organization and was encouraged to meet with others in our field who seek to improve learning outcomes with students.
Speaking of students
In one session in particular, a group of educators grappled with the question of study abroad orientations and the ongoing perplexity about how to provide information to a group of individuals who do not necessarily comprehend the information or are all that engaged in assimilating it with their upcoming journeys. Why is it that after 20 years we are still dealing with the often age-related challenges of the individual?
I marvel that 100+ advisors in a room unanimously agreed that all of our efforts to provide orientation material on health, safety, travel, and academics were largely met with students who often doubt the validity of such efforts or feel compelled to actually miss the teachings altogether.
We discussed new ways to share information by putting the meal in a wrapper that was more enticing, such as using videos, games and technology. We talked about a new restaurant for that meal of advice, one where students could eat just a bite at a time. At my Forum table we debated whether sharing this information was even valid to students who don’t wish to engage, or if our role was even incorrect as we may be taking away their own cultural and personal growth experiences by giving away too much of the story.
At GlobaLinks Learning Abroad we have an obligation not only to the student to provide good orientation information but to the parent and advisor as well. The information is often a liability control measure and yet often an assurance for those who love their students and who cannot and do not go with them when they study abroad. We will provide even more information next year and continue to have fun with new delivery methods, but we will NOT ever stop sharing it with students regardless of how uninterested they seem to be on occasion. They will be forever 21 in our world of sending students abroad, and we will forever be responsible to do it right.
It’s just like parenting where much of our advice does not resonate until the time is right or the situation dictates our kids recollecting the cautions. This of course does not prevent injuries, and free choice remains the wild card in growing up, however, the advice once delivered is always there, and the young adult has the capability to at least draw on it and learn from it when and if they choose to do so.
Speaking of children, the Banks children are having quite a good experience in their new Australian schools. Both have received academic awards a few times, and our littlest recently won a school carnival relay race. The wisdom I impart on them at ages 10 and 12 relates to eating balanced meals, making the right friends, and of course studying their coursework in school. I know that life lessons will get harder from here, and yet I will not be the one to shy away from the teaching. As with study abroad, our role as educators is to teach even when the pupil is not yet clear about the application.
Theory to Practice in international education AND life. Are we prepared to keep teaching to the uninterested? In what ways can we help them listen better? I would be interested to know if you struggle with this in your own work or personal life!