According to the most recent statistics, nearly 300,000 U. S. students now study abroad, while close to one million students from other nations are studying abroad in the U. S. In an upcoming Center for Engaged Learning (CEL) seminar on global learning, participants will be looking at unanswered questions about student learning in the global context. Scholars of teaching and learning have paid attention to the development of intercultural competence as an outcome of an abroad experience. This outcome is appropriate for all students who have an abroad experience. But what other outcomes might also be essential for some groups of students?

One example might be students in pre-professional programs such as nursing, business, education or communications. When students major in these areas, in addition to their general education, they are generally expected to graduate with competencies to enter a given profession. Often these are technical skills such as placing IVs or reading a balance sheet. But quality professional programs also pay attention to the “soft skills” that enable a newly graduated student to continue their learning as an intern and eventually as a professional. Global education can be an important part of this formation for students as they prepare to work in an increasingly globally connected world.

A nursing student can, for example, apply intercultural competence developed in experience abroad as he or she interacts with patients from other cultures during professional practice. A communications student can similarly use skills acquired in crossing cultures while abroad to connect with sources for articles and to tell their stories more accurately and fairly. These kinds of skills are quite difficult to teach in the contrived environment of the professional program classroom, and because of this, it is common for engaged learning experiences such as internships, undergraduate research, service-learning and global education opportunities to enhance the curriculum.

A team of interactive media students arrive on location in Costa Rica

A team of interactive media students arrive on location in Costa Rica to interview Roy Lazaro Morales, a member of the Boruca indigenous group. The sign on the tree translates as: “This is my sacred place. You should walk with respect here”

What happens when you combine the experiential opportunities? For example, how does undergraduate learning change when research is undertaken in an international context? For professional programs, internships are an increasingly popular feature of study abroad programs. But like any global learning opportunity, they may be conducted in a way to have poor outcomes, such as reinforcing existing biases.

Two questions for study come to mind:

  • How does cultural learning affect professional learning?
    • Is cultural learning a necessary precursor or can it happen at the same time?
    • Does it need to happen in an authentic environment, away from campus?
    • How does professional learning change if cultural learning is not in place?
  • How do students integrate cultural learning into professional learning?
    • Are there phases that students will go through?
    • How can faculty support this integration?
    • How can students support each other in this integration?
    • How can internship supervisors, faculty research mentors or community partners from the host culture support this integration?

Generating hypotheses and testing questions like these is the focus of the CEL seminar. Scholars are invited to apply for a spot in this two-year seminar, with the goal of creating and publishing new, significant work in this growing area. The call for participation can be found on this website by early September.

Amanda Sturgill (@DrSturg) is an Associate Professor of Communications at Elon University. A Ph.D. graduate of Cornell University, she has professional experience in newspaper journalism and marketing communications, and she teaches classes in writing, general studies, and Elon’s Interactive Media graduate program. Her research focuses on the intersection of education and community-based work, the relationship of religion and media, and on new technologies and the news. 

How to Cite this Post

Sturgill, Amanda. 2014, August 5. Study Abroad and Pre-Professional Programs. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from