by Amanda Sturgill

One of my most profound global learning moments came quite close to home. I was attending the WISE conference at Wake Forest. I was talking to a gentleman who provides international service-learning experiences in South America about my experiences leading groups of graduate students in Central America. Some (many) of the students have studied some Spanish, but few are willing to try it out in the country we visit. “I don’t know why,” I said, “Everyone has always been very nice and helpful in trying to understand me, even though my 20-year-old high school Spanish isn’t really all that great.” “Yeah,” he said, “That’s because you’re white.”

It was a real wow moment for me, but also a highly significant one, as I am at once an actor in a global context, a teacher and a researcher in global learning. My interpretation of the experiences of global learning is filtered through my identity, and the people with whom I interact see me based on expectations of identity as well. Different students may have different experiences when they are away from campus based on their racial and/or cultural identity. It is incumbent on me as the instructor to prepare students in advance and to engage them in critical reflection before, during and after these experiences.

The stakes are significant. In the US, investment in global learning is seen as important for international competitiveness (Stroud, 2010). What if the global learners have a skewed view of the relationship of their culture to that of others because they have not considered the ways in which their identity and their treatment are related? Important lessons can be missed. Perhaps more significantly, research in other engaged learning fields suggests that failing to consider cultural factors in entry, work and acceptance can reinforce harmful stereotypes rather than enhance intercultural competence (Strain, 2005).

Groups from our CEL research seminar on Integrating Global Learning in the University Experience are investigating structural factors and their effects on participation in global learning and also student factors and their effects on global learning experiences, all in multi-institutional settings. When these factors are better understood, faculty can better design preparation and reflection activities that include identity differences.


  • Strain, C. R. (2005). Pedagogy and practice: Service-learning and students’ moral development. New Directions for Teaching and Learning2005(103), 61-72.
  • Stroud, A. H. (2010). Who plans (not) to study abroad? An examination of US student intent. Journal of Studies in International Education.

Amanda Sturgill (@DrSturg) is Associate Professor of Communications at Elon University.  She has professional experience in newspaper journalism and marketing communications, and her research focuses on the intersection of education and community-based work, the relationship of region and media, and on new technologies and the news. Amanda routinely teaches study abroad courses and has published on methods of reflection in service-learning abroad.

How to cite this post:

Sturgill, Amanda. 2015, December 22. Privilege and Study Abroad. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from