Category Archives: Study Abroad

Designing and Running a Short-Term Study Abroad Program in Germany: Guidance for New Program Directors

Wernigerode Summer 2011
Image by P. Ecke

Download the complete article as a pdf.

This article is written for teachers and administrators at institutions of higher education who would like to create and run a short-term study abroad program for their students. It discusses practical issues that need to be addressed when designing, planning, and maintaining a program by illustrating part of the decision making process that was involved in the development of a summer study program in Germany offered by the author’s department at a large public university in the southwestern US.

North American Students and Short-Term Study Abroad

Only a small percentage of college students in the USA and Canada gain study abroad (SA) experience. Just over a percent of US American students at any academic level study abroad during a given academic year (IIE). Less than three percent of Canadian students study abroad at some point during their degree program (Bond). About 14% of US students who pursue a bachelor’s degree study abroad at some point during their undergraduate program (IIE). Unlike the Canadian figures, however, the latter percentage includes students who participate in short-term SA programs of eight weeks or less, the largest and fastest growing program type in the US. Over 56% of students who study abroad do so in short-term SA programs (IIE).

In spite of the low rate of students who manage to pursue a part of their studies in another country, SA appears to be valued by teachers, administrators as well as the general public. Ninety percent of Canadians believe that SA is valuable and should be made available to a larger part of the student population (Bond). SA can be an eye-opening experience with a profound transformative effect on students’ lives and careers. For students of foreign languages, SA represents a means to potentially improve language proficiency and intercultural competence. Successful SA early in a student’s degree program may result in the students’ selection of a (second) language/culture major, participation in a longer SA program and/or choice of a career that requires a substantial amount of language and intercultural competence (Ingram).

In this article I would like to share our experiences in developing and maintaining a short-term SA program with educators and administrators who plan to build their own program. I will point to organizational issues that need to be addressed and provide examples of decisions that we have taken over the last ten years developing our summer program. The decisions that we have taken may or may not be the best option for other programs, but they should provide the reader with a good idea of what organizational issues they will have to resolve.

Program Participants

Creating and running a short-term SA program is a rewarding, but challenging and time consuming task that requires year-round planning and organization. The program planning process will normally start with determining the type of student participants for whom the program will be designed. That is, what kinds of students are expected to enroll in the program? For example, are they students in different degree programs or are they exclusively majors and minors in the target language and culture? Important aspects that need to be considered are minimum requirements for students who apply for the program. These may include a language proficiency level or minimal amount of prior language study, a minimal age requirement, and academic performance requirements. Program organizers will also have to decide whether their participants will come solely from the home institution or whether students from peer institutions will be eligible to apply as well.

Students of any field of study are eligible to apply for acceptance into our program. However, there is a minimum language requirement of two semesters of college German or equivalent. This limits the pool of applicants, but has the advantage that participants will already be minimally functional in the target environment compared to total beginners.  Our program also has a motivational function for students in the basic language program and for majors and minors of German. Going to Germany in one of the next summers can be a long-term goal that some students will be preparing for in their German language and culture courses on campus. While enforcing a minimal language requirement, we encourage students to participate in SA early during their degree programs (see also Chieffo and Zipser). In their first and second year of study, students’ career paths are still quite open and flexible, and an early successful SA experience might result in the selection of and commitment to a language major or minor or an academic year abroad (King and Young). Academic standing (reflected in GPA and a one-page recommendation form to be filled in by an instructor) are additional application requirements. Enrollment has been kept to a maximum of thirty students. More than that would make it difficult to organize student housing, classrooms, and excursions (including accommodation, guided city tours etc.). While the program welcomes and accepts applications from students of other colleges, the large majority of participating students has been from our university.

Beyond Sightseeing: The Learning Effects of Excursions within a Study Abroad Context

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(Download the complete article as a .pdf file.)

Supervised cultural excursions are often included in the offerings of study abroad immersion programs. Such excursions have the potential to achieve a depth beyond sightseeing. Under certain conditions, excursions can foster foreign language and intercultural learning as well as skill acquisition in a setting that has advantages not only over the traditional classroom, but also over daily unsupervised immersion.

I intuitively came to these conclusions during my experience as both a program participant and later, as an organizer and leader of such cultural excursions with the Boston University (BU) Dresden Programs in Germany. In academic literature on study abroad topics, excursions are generally viewed as being beneficial for students (Dahl; Fry; Hansen, Bohn, Smithers; Thies 86; Zeilinger 10, 16). However, to my knowledge, the above statements have never been supported by empirical evidence. Therefore, the questions which guided my research were:

What are the potential learning effects of immersion program excursions?

What are the actual learning effects of immersion program excursions?

I attempted to answer the first question with a literature review of immersion programs and excursions, and the second question with an empirical case study of the cultural excursions offered by the BU Dresden Liberal Arts Program. My findings will be described in condensed form below.[1]

The accompanying Appendix for this article can be downloaded here.

Sprachkurs auf Rädern: Deutsch lernen bei einer Sightseeing-Fahrradtour durch Berlin

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(You can download the complete article as a pdf by clicking here.)

Manche Englisch-Muttersprachler sehen keinen Sinn im Lernen von Fremdsprachen, da Englisch zur Weltsprache geworden ist. Im Geschäft, im Urlaub und in vielen allen anderen Bereichen ihres Lebens können sie oft erfolgreich auf Englisch kommunizieren. Sie merken vielleicht auch nicht, dass kulturelle Merkmale und Unterschiede in der Sprache manifestiert sind. Daher hat Fremdsprachenerwerb für sie scheinbar keinen Zweck, weshalb sie nur wenig motiviert sind, eine weitere Sprache zu lernen. Vor diesem Hintergrund bietet die in diesem Beitrag vorgestellte Sightseeing-Fahrradtour eine Möglichkeit, Deutsch in einer motivierenden und angstfreien Atmosphäre zu lernen.

Um Deutsch als Fremdsprache (DaF) in einer motivierenden Lernumgebung zu vermitteln, habe ich einen besonderen Sprachkurs konzipiert und durchgeführt, der hier vorgestellt wird. Bei einer vierstündigen Sightseeing-Fahrradtour in Englisch und Deutsch können die Teilnehmer Deutsch ganzheitlich, d. h. kognitiv, affektiv und körperlich erwerben sowie landeskundliche und interkulturelle Kompetenzen ausbauen. Insbesondere wird das Hörverständnis geschult. Dieser Kurs kann sowohl in traditionellen Deutschkursen integriert als auch als eigenständiger Kompaktkurs durchgeführt werden. Daher besteht die Zielgruppe aus Teilnehmern regulärer Sprachkurse, aus in Deutschland lebenden Ausländern oder auch aus Touristen mit Deutschkenntnissen.