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

Peter Ecke on March 27th, 2013    

Wernigerode Summer 2011
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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.

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

Devon Donohue-Bergeler on July 5th, 2011    

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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.

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

Devon Donohue-Bergeler on April 1st, 2011    

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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.

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Teaching East German History within an Interdisciplinary Study Abroad Program

Monika Hohbein-Deegen on July 24th, 2010    

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In recent years, many once traditional departments of German Languages and Literatures underwent a transformation to German Studies departments. These German Studies departments now include the teaching of German history, art, philosophy, gender studies, European Studies, and more in addition to language and literature instruction. The implications of this progressive expansion of German Studies need to be considered. Furthermore, budget restrictions oftentimes call for the merger of several departments, and interdisciplinary approaches are increasingly supported and demanded by the administration, also contributing to the need for a restructuring of German programs. The question remains how to ensure a steady enrollment in traditional German language and literature courses and to prepare students for a much changed job market in the field of German at the same time. It is therefore important to consider new ways of attracting students to German other than through language study and the exposure to German through literature.
Another major concern of higher education in the United States is the focus on international education. Compared to their international counterparts, American students in the past have had relatively limited exposure to global education including study abroad. The US government has increased its efforts to support study abroad experiences for American students at the secondary, but also at the post-secondary level. Generally, participation in study abroad programs has increased among undergraduates throughout the United States; however the trend seems to go towards short term study abroad programs rather than semester or year-long programs. As Cate Brubaker noted, there are numerous positive aspects of short-term study abroad programs such as minimal interruption of the students’ academic year at the home institution and the ability to take courses abroad that are compulsory at the home institution to fulfill general education requirements. Furthermore, as these programs are typically faculty-led, parents and students feel more secure.[1]
Although study abroad participation has increased significantly over the past decade among American undergraduates, college programs across the nation need to be proactive in their efforts to convince American students of the benefits of this aspect of a college education and attract them to such programs. In the following paper, I will describe a study abroad program at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh that is aimed at internationalizing our students’ educational experience through an innovative approach. This program is not tied to a specific discipline, but is truly interdisciplinary, but nevertheless succeeds in attracting students to the German division through the inclusion of a topic course on modern German history and society. I will give a general overview of the history of this program and its components, and will then focus on the course on modern German history that I taught in Germany over the past few years.

[1] See: Brubaker, Cate. “Six Weeks in the EIFEL: A Case for Cultural Learning during the Short-Term Study Abroad.”

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Salient Issues in Faculty-Led Study Abroad Programs

Meg H. Brown on July 11th, 2010    

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Strong study abroad opportunities can greatly contribute to the strength of a stateside university German program. First, obviously, is the valuable experience the student has living at the on-site location, which can greatly enhance the student’s linguistic abilities and cultural knowledge. Second, study abroad programs generate student enthusiasm for learning German, often converting study abroad participants into German minors, and minors into majors. Students returning from study abroad programs are truly excited about the language and self-confident about their capabilities in the language and in life. Students learn to deal with unknown and unexpected situations in a new culture, thus contributing to their problem-solving skills. They are often even more eager to continue studying German. These students’ zeal can spread to other students, who then apply to study abroad, thus continuing the growing spiral and contributing to the vitality of a university’s German program.

When examining faculty-led study abroad programs, a number of points should be taken into consideration. Summer programs usually offer a more affordable price and a time frame that will more likely fit into a university student’s curriculum. Semester programs, on the other hand, present the student with a longer, much more in depth array of experiences and linguistic practice. A faculty-led program for students exclusively from one’s own university also has advantages and disadvantages. The faculty member has a greater chance to become acquainted with student participants before leaving the States. Often, a closer tie with the students at one’s university already exists, and participating students may already be focused on the central aim of the study abroad program. However, it is not always easy to accrue a sufficient number of students from one university to enable a program to go and also to cover the expenses of the faculty member(s). If only one faculty member accompanies a student group, problems may occur if the faculty member must concentrate on one student due to a severe illness or other such diversions. The director may become overwhelmed with tasks while also being responsible for teaching a course. For this reason, it is vital that another faculty member knowledgeable about life in the German-speaking country be a part of the trip. Alternatively, many faculty members prefer directing in a program within a consortium, in which a number of universities help supply the total number of students in the program, and other faculty from member institutions contribute to teaching and supporting the director.

This essay will focus on the study abroad experience that is led and directed by a faculty member, using the experiences of my summer Austria-Bregenz Program of the consortium Kentucky Institute for International Studies. I began directing the program in 1996. The Austria-Bregenz program regularly has 36-39 students and a total of five faculty from institutions in the consortium, as well as occasional students from non-consortium universities. Approximately six to twelve students from my university, Murray State University, participate in the program each summer from the end of May to the beginning of July. Besides three levels of German instruction (beginning German through third year) and two business classes, other courses offered depend on the faculty chosen to teach in any given year. While some readers may see the program as too English-oriented, one must recognize that the program was created to provide faculty with professional development opportunities and students with the chance to study in a German-speaking country, even if they had never studied German. Every summer students who had not previously studied German return from Bregenz to their home institutions and study German there. Having a positive impact on students and on our respective programs at home is our goal.

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