Facilitating Reflection Post-Study Abroad

Is reflection necessary to the study abroad experience? If yes, why? What are the goals of reflecting on the study abroad experience?

  • Reflection in connection with study abroad is very important to process the experience and capture the learning.
  • Post-reflection begins before the experience and must continue throughout the experience abroad. Students need to be given the tools and language for reflection.

How do you get students to do it if it's not required? Some ideas:

  • Link to resume workshops (this would also help them become better able to frame their experiences and what they learned in ways that are relevant to work, graduate school, etc.).
  • Link to qualitative methods courses (students learning in-depth interviewing techniques, which are similar to active listening techniques, can interview returnees about their experiences abroad, since coming back, etc.).
  • Peer to peer interviews (train students working in study abroad offices to interview returnees).

What aspects of study abroad should students be asked to reflect upon?

  • Reflection should be on academic and personal (including intercultural) experience and growth. Articulation of these things to oneself and to others is key for communicating with others and in teaching/sharing the lessons learned.

Where should the reflection take place? (in the curriculum, co-curriculum, extra-curricular activities?)

  • Reflection should take place in the curriculum as well as outside. Faculty and staff need to be given help/training in how to get students to reflect. Ideally, reflection is integrated into courses, perhaps senior capstones, and presented/shared with the campus community.

Who should facilitate the reflection?

  • Identifying faculty and staff with international experience or who are international can provide a link to students. Go to departments and talk with them about study abroad.

How should we prepare faculty and staff to facilitate reflection?

It is important to understand the ways that intellectual reflection (e.g. linking theory and practice) is different from emotional reflection (e.g. personal growth) and that, while faculty may be good at the former, they may not have the kinds of skills needed for the latter. Some ideas:
  • Provide list of questions for personal reflection that faculty can use with advisees for emotional reflection.
  • Use counseling office staff for emotional reflection. If this was done in the context of courses, faculty could learn from counseling staff.
  • Many faculty have little interest in helping students with emotional reflection, and perhaps shouldn't be expected to do this, especially as they are key to fostering intellectual reflection, which is more easily done in course.

Ways of encouraging reflection during the study abroad experience:

  • Training faculty leading groups in the use of effective prompts for reflection in situations.
  • Using blogs or Skype to reflect on experiences while traveling and to connect with the home campus.
  • Thinking through issues of time use while traveling—how much time to devote to writing when the experience is in front of them; how to carve out the time, how to encourage the most meaningful kinds of reflection.
  • Using guided ethnographic observations and interviews which are then used upon return (if interviews are in the target language, they are transcribed) and used as "texts" in the course that follows (example of Asian Conversations at St. Olaf).
  • Having students develop a project idea before leaving on the abroad course so that they gather materials and ideas purposefully and then present their projects upon return (Knox College).

Ways of encouraging reflection after the study abroad experience:

  • A course in the writing program that is dedicated to writing about travel. If international students are also part of the course, the discussion and perspectives are enriched.
  • Student-produced and edited journal of writings, including material written in the language of the country in which they studied. Distributed to the campus. Colore from Coe.
  • A requirement to make a presentation about some aspect of the experience to the home campus community. Beloit sets aside a symposium day when all classes are canceled and students present. A formal conference experience for them. Vetted and competitive.
  • Course on global citizenship (such as that offered in the Paideia program at Luther College) that is open to returnees and international students.