Episode 5: Labor of Love—A Faculty Leader’s Perspective
My guest in this episode is Dr. Ruxandra Marcu, Director of the Margaret Sloss Center for Women and Gender Equity at Iowa State University, who directs ISU’s summer program in Berlin. I met Sandra at the Iowa International Education Conference a couple of years ago and then had the opportunity to chat with her on campus.
Søren Peterson: Talk a little bit about how you got involved in faculty-led programs.
Ruxandra Marcu: I was inspired to [get involved in] study abroad [as a faculty member] because I participated in study abroad, which I think is pretty common in how people get into study abroad.
SP: And where did you study abroad?
RM: I went abroad to Salzburg, Austria, through Bowling Green State University’s program. They have a fantastic program that takes students abroad for a semester or a whole year. I went for the whole year, and then in fact I loved it so much that I stayed for a second year as a grad student. So I decided to quickly wrap up my undergraduate studies while abroad, just so I could stay abroad and experience another year in Austria.
While there—the way BGSU still does this today—is that a faculty member goes with the student group from Ohio to Salzburg and lives there for the year. And they bring their family along. So I had two directors—one for each year—with their families that were part of our student group. So that presented me with that idea and option that this is something I could do later in life. Even if I choose to have kids and family, I could still do this. So that’s what planted the seed.
Fast forward two years later, I arrived here at Iowa State University. A colleague of mine in German—I was in the German department at the time—created this Berlin program that I now lead and wanted someone to co-direct and invited me along. I helped with the planning but it took a little bit for me to be able to go because we just started a family. I was pregnant one year and then I had a newborn, and I felt like that was too soon to probably embark on this journey.
Then when my kids were actually two and four, we went. So I co-led this faculty-led program to Berlin and my spouse and kids came—took 13 students that year and then have been going ever since. Then last year went by myself—so I took over the program and now direct it on my own.
SP: What was the thing that finally pulled you into doing the Berlin program?
RM: There was no need for anything to pull me in. I was 100% on board at the mere mention of taking students to Berlin.
I find that when you engage with a culture you’re studying in person—by immersing yourself in it—it’s a very different experience from studying that culture in a book. I love literature—I have a literature degree. I love reading about things, but it’s not the same as actually being there—moving through those streets, engaging with people, experiencing the culture firsthand. I think it offers you as a traveler so many opportunities to reflect on how you move through the world and who you are, how you were socialized to look at the world. You realize there are so many ways of seeing things that are maybe different from how you were raised. So I wanted to keep experiencing that for myself, and I wanted to introduce that to my students.
SP: What excites you the most about leading programs?
RM: I love seeing students experience Berlin, especially my students here who have never left the Midwest, or never left Iowa, and being there with them through that journey. It’s really exciting. We have amazing conversations as a result. On our program, we study Berlin’s history through architecture memorials—the history of Berlin, specifically from the rise of the Nazi regime in the 1930s to the fall of the wall in 1989. So that specific period in history—the way it’s represented today through the built environment: memorials, museums, landmarks. We visit all these places that communicate something about that past. And while we talk about it, we’re always reflecting on what we’re doing in the US and how we remember American history—what does it look like to have conversations about darker parts of history and less favorable things that have been done by governments and people. I think those conversations are—they’re amazing and they’re critical for training students to think about issues before we send them out into the working world. We want to prepare them to be conscious citizens.
SP: Those conversations about darker parts of history—have those led into conversations about darker parts of US history?
RM: Always. My colleague and I, when we were first discussing how to engage in these conversations, especially the year we went abroad that was right around the most recent presidential election and there was so much going on in the media around different identities and who belongs in a countries and borders and lots of those themes come up in our discussions in Berlin, especially as we’re going to a very physical border—the Berlin Wall and the remnants of it. We wondered how much should we push that comparative analysis. We didn’t need to. The students took it there. So instantly the conversation went to “oh, you know, here’s how we’re seeing this happening in the US or how it’s happened in the US and how we are or are not talking about it. I think that’s the best part when we can use something from another culture or time period or history and reflect on it and make that connection to our every day.
SP: I think one of the often surprising things, in terms of lessons for students, is they come back and they realize that they’ve learned something about their own culture.
RM: Yes, absolutely.
SP: You’ve co-led and now led the program several times. What do you wish you had known when you started that you know now?
RM: That it’s really a 24 hour job. I think when I went as a student on study abroad, I sort of romanticized what my professors did. I saw them getting to spend a whole year in Salzburg in a university-provided apartment. I thought this is so nice. I would love to do this one day and just get to be in you know in Austria or wherever as part of my job. I look back now and realize how many times we would call on them to take us to the hospital at night or to solve a crisis at a time that wasn’t probably most convenient. This is something that I tell my colleagues when they ask me and they’re exploring the idea of study abroad, that you have to be willing to be in it around the clock when you’re there. And that it’s not uncommon to get a phone call from your students who may be traveling for the weekend, and they’re in another country, and they call you at 11 PM because they have flight emergency issues or whatever. You’re just on all the time. So that’s something I didn’t know, because I think we often think about the curricular part of study abroad and the course we’re designing. I often think that people who maybe come with student affairs experiences, working in residence halls or res life, are probably the ones who are best equipped for this because you’re on all the time.
SP: As an academic you’re not used to the student affairs part of the university and you have to be this student affairs professional on site, right? Having worked on site in Ecuador with study abroad programs, those emergency calls never come at a convenient time.
RM: No, they never do.
SP: From my own study abroad experience in Latin America, I remember the first program that I was on was a faculty-led program that lasted the entire quarter. We went to five different countries—I won’t mention the year because it was so many years ago—but in those days, Ecuador had a state airline that had a kind of circular route around Latin America, so the program was taking advantage of that. We had just loaded up the bus to go on a weekend camping trip outside of Cuenca, Ecuador. I remember that one of the faculty members leaned out of the balcony and shouted to the other faculty members, “there’s trouble in paradise.” It turned out that Ecuatoriana Airlines had changed its flight schedule and was no longer flying to Argentina, our next stop, on the day that we had planned. So they had to quickly figure out if they could reshuffle the plans. In the end they had to end up rebooking that particular flight on the Argentinian airline. So you’re right, you have to be prepared to do lots of things and usually at pretty inopportune moments.
RM: Yeah, I think you have to be comfortable with the unknown when you’re leading a study abroad trip and comfortable with making decisions on the fly as needed. Similar kind of to your story, two years ago I was in Berlin. We always take a weekend trip to Dresden, which is another city in East Germany, with our students. We always used go by bus and had a really cost effective way of getting from Berlin to Dresden with a large group. I went to buy the bus tickets at the same kiosk that I’ve always bought them. I had to travel across the city of Berlin—it took me 45 minutes to get there with my three year old. I got there. That kiosk no longer existed. Then I asked around, and that that bus line no longer existed.
So you know, when you go in the summer and there’s essentially a whole year between your previous time in a city, things change. Things go out of business. So we had to kind of last minute figure out “okay, what’s our next best option?” It was not a big deal. We figured out a train route to take. But you have to be really comfortable with “okay, I’m responsible for getting a group of X number of students from point A to B and I have to just make a call right now on how we’re going to do that.
SP: It’s nice to hear that changes like that happen not just in places like Ecuador—
RM: No, they happen everywhere.
SP: You mentioned your three year old. When I heard you talk about your study abroad experience, leading programs, at the Iowa International Education Conference recently, you talked about taking your family with you. One of the stories that I really remember was when your kids noticed things like the stumbling stones in Berlin. Could you talk about what it’s like to have your family there with you and how that’s changed the experience, not just for you as a faculty leader but maybe for the students as well?
RM: My kids being there offers just yet another lens on the topics we talk about. It’s not like I brought them along to be an educational tool, but they often end up sort of offering that perspective. The story I shared at the conference is of the Stolpersteine—stumbling stones is how that translates to—which is the largest decentralized memorial in Europe recognizing what happened to Jews as well as other victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. There are these little gold cobblestones that bear the name of a person who was taken from their home or place of work against their will and usually taken to an extermination camp. They’re placed in the location where they were taken, and they say their name and their birth year and death year date if it’s known, and usually the location where they were taken to. So as you move through the city, once you notice one you start seeing them all. It’s really horrific to keep moving through the city and keep being forced to recognize the atrocities that happened. You know, you’re stepping across the threshold to go into a bank, and there’s that stone with somebody’s name and death date. I think it’s an incredibly effective memorial that forces you to think about history all the time, not just when you want to.
It’s down on the ground, so kids can see it. My kids also instantly noticed it and were asking questions about it. I had to think, sort of on my feet, about how to explain this to my kids and what part of it to read to them or how to talk about it. That led to a conversation as part of our class discussion of how German children and youth have access to these darker parts of their history just throughout the city. So, in terms of your family or your teachers being the—presenting sort of that control that educators and parents have over knowledge that you as a child have to sort of—you have to gain access to that knowledge through the people who are giving it to you.
Their beliefs deeply inform what you learn about the world and how you view the world. How does that change when the city bares this information all around you. You as a parent really can’t control that. You’re moving through the city and your kids, as soon as they start to read, are able to read these stumbling stones. Questions will come up and if you don’t answer them, I’m sure somebody will. We talked about who has access to knowledge and information, how is that distributed, and how early in life you’re exposed to this information about your history—which is again a point that’s maybe different from history, how it’s taught in the US and there. I think if it weren’t for my kids being there and pointing that out, I don’t know that we would have also gotten to these discussions around at what age do you start to have access to this information.
SP: Talk more about how that particular situation with your kids noticing the stumbling stones. How did that change the things that the students noticed, or the things that you started to point out to the students? And maybe part B of this question is how did that particular situation perhaps translate back here to things that your kids notice here that they might not have otherwise?
RM: I think being on this trip with me, my kids—I think it does help them become more observant because we’re taking time to purposely move through a city and be super observant of the city and what we’re learning from it, so it teaches you to look at your surroundings in a less distracted way. As we move through Berlin—and it’s our class, our class is not in a classroom, it’s in the city of Berlin. You’re not moving through it with a certain destination in mind. It’s the process of looking around and taking it in. So I think my kids are learning that and bringing that back with them.
To go to the first part of your question, another example where my kids sort of impacted how we as a class thought about a topic. We were at the Homosexual Memorial in Berlin, which pays tribute to gays and lesbians who were persecuted during the Holocaust as well. That memorial is a large concrete box. It has a window that you can look through—you see a film and you see a same sex couple kissing. It just keeps playing in a loop. There’s usually a rose that’s placed there. So it’s a very interesting memorial and we talk a lot about it. But there my kids came up to it, and the window to see the film is taller—higher up—than what they are, so they couldn’t see what all the students were seeing. So one of my students asked for permission to lift up my daughter to be able to look at the film. I appreciated that she wanted to make sure I was okay with it, and I was like “of course you can.” But there too we were thinking like that’s also interesting. What are we seeing as a culture in terms of what we still find to be a taboo topic versus not so. Stumbling stones are easily accessible to children—low on the ground. But here in the case of a same sex couple kissing, it’s still placed in a way where it sort of assumes a certain height—and with it, age—that can access that film. We talked a lot about that and, again, experiences that we might not otherwise have. So I think having my kids there often allows us—and forces us—to think about things in a different way. And then of course I just love having them there with me.
SP: What advice would you give to faculty who are thinking about developing and leading a program?
RM: It’s a huge time commitment, and you have to be okay—if you’re someone who likes your space and privacy at the end of the day, then I don’t know that taking a group of students abroad is the thing for you—you might just want to go on a trip abroad on your own. Planning is important; but as we noted earlier, that flexibility when you arrive and being able to go with the flow.
Increasingly I find myself talking to colleagues about what it means to create programs where your family can come with you. I think that when we’re thinking of study abroad as something that should be—when we’re thinking about faculty-led programs and we envision just a faculty member going without their family, it creates a dynamic where only certain people can can do that. If you have dependents—if you’re a caregiver—you’re likely not going to be able to consistently sustain a study abroad program that takes you out of the country if it means time away from a family. Traditionally what I’ve seen within faculty-led programs is that there’s a gender imbalance. It’s easier for men to take off and leave their families or children behind because women traditionally are the caregivers of children. It also creates this sort of imbalance on who can go abroad and who’s represented in those spaces, so I have been very vocal and visible about my children being there and that it doesn’t detract from my ability to be a professional or to be a faculty member or to lead students. It’s that I think I’m modeling to my students to that—your identity is made up of multiple complex parts, and you don’t always have to separate and hide them. You can find ways to bridge them. I think it can lead to richer experiences for everyone. I think more conversations about how we’re bringing the personal into the work we do abroad is something that I would like to see us continue to have in the field.
SP: How has your experience leading programs abroad translated into the teaching and the work that you do here on campus?
RM: That’s a great question. I have thought more about how we can offer experiences outside of the classroom to our students right here because I recognize that not everyone can go abroad. Obviously going abroad is also a privileged experience, and we know that as professionals in the study abroad field. The Berlin program that we created—my colleague and I were very intentional about trying to make it as affordable and accessible to students as possible. And still there are students who may not be able to go abroad for many reasons—personal reasons, not just financial reasons. And so I ‘ve thought more and more about how can we use the community right here to sort of create these experiential learning opportunities for students? For a global borders course I co-taught a couple of semesters ago, that meant engaging our university museum educators and taking a tour of all the statues on campus—and especially looking for ones that dealt with themes of borders. And bringing in a tour guide from the museum who knows a lot more about these works of art than we as instructors did to take our students around and to talk about the artists’ work. Then we were able to bring that into our conversation, which was a little bit like what we do in Berlin, and I was able to create it right here on campus. It’s made me think more creatively and outside of the box about my teaching.
SP: It sounds like you’re pretty established with the Berlin program. If you had an opportunity to create a new faculty-led program somewhere else in the world, where would that be, and what would the course be?
RM: Oh, that’s a great question. I have thought about this. Obviously you always kind of think of the places that you know well, because it seems easiest to take students on a journey through a place where you feel like you’re comfortable and can lead them through it. For me those are parts of southern Germany and Austria, so I think it would be really exciting to do something in Munich or Salzburg, because I know those places well. But I’ve also thought about what it might look like to create a program in Romania, which is the my birth country. That’s where I was born and lived until I was seven and spent pretty much every summer until high school. I don’t think we—I don’t know, I guess maybe I don’t know this, but it seems superficially—not having looked at the data—that we have fewer programs going to Eastern Europe than we have Western Europe.
SP: I think that’s true.
RM: Is that fair to say?
SP: That’s fair assessment, absolutely fair to say.
RM: Okay, so I think rather than maybe creating yet another program to Germany, what I should be thinking about is creating something to Romania and Eastern Europe. There’s a lot there to be studied and explored, and that would be super interesting and fun for me to do.
SP: How would you convince students to go to a more non-traditional location like Romania? Or perhaps more importantly, how would you convince their parents that it would be okay to go?
RM: That’s a great question. The cliché thing is to slap a picture of Dracula on a flyer because I feel like that’s the only thing people know of Romania—is that Transylvania is in Romania and it has that folklore and the mythology that people are familiar with. But truly Romania is a beautiful country with lots of mountains and extremely beautiful nature and so I think visuals bring people in. We use a lot of visuals to attract people to Berlin. So I would lead with that and follow up with conversations with parents and families around—I think what parents and families want to know is that their students are safe with you. And I don’t think that there are safety concerns for Romania, especially since Romania has joined the EU, that would make it a more uniquely dangerous or unlikely destination from Western Europe, I think. But I think it’s the unknown, and Eastern Europe is still part of that other unknown that we don’t go to as often.
SP: Is there a colleague or department on campus that is not currently involved in faculty-led programs that you’d really love to see involved? And how might you approach that conversation?
RM: That’s a fascinating question. I wonder—I don’t know. We have a ton of study abroad programs at Iowa State, so I really can’t say with certainty what departments aren’t offering programs to their students. One department that I’m wondering about is Early Childhood Ed and just teacher education programs. Having worked with students here on campus, having known students who are training to become teachers—both teachers have world languages or in other areas—they all do their classroom placement before getting certified to teach. I don’t know that many of them go abroad as part of their training and preparation unless they so seek out to do. I think people who are entrusted with educating our children should be people who have these international experiences, who learned to look at the world and not just in the way they were raised, who are comfortable with people from other countries and cultures, who are sensitive to people who come from different backgrounds and identities. I think it would be amazing if we put increased emphasis on having future teachers also have access to these international opportunities.
SP: What if a faculty member from, say, a university in Romania said “I’d like to bring a group of my students to Ames, Iowa.” What would you suggest that they do, or how would you approach that particular thing from the other end?
RM: That would be super exciting. I think that would be really fun. When I was part of World Languages and Cultures—which is the department that I started in here at Iowa State–we would host visiting students all the time. And in fact we’ve even hosted students who were not native English speakers and, with the aid of interpreters, were able to take them around campus. These were Spanish speaking students, and that was a really fun experience. We obviously have an office for this on campus—the International Students and Scholars Office—that hosts international students and scholars, But I think if I were approached about it, I would just be super excited to get to host someone from my home country here—and would probably just want to create an itinerary and do something around that. I think one thing that’s really excited about is us that people seem to be really on board with being innovative and collaborative. So when you pitch an idea to a colleague or department, I’ve gotten more yeses than nos during my time here. People tend to say “sure, let’s see if we can make that happen.” So I could see pitching the idea of hosting a group and people being really excited to welcome them to campus.
SP: Going back to the Berlin program, as I recall you make all of the arrangements yourself. Could you talk more about the workload and how you manage that when you also have a full time job here on campus that you also have to do?
RM: It’s a labor of love. It’s a labor done because I really love doing the Berlin program. It does end up being—it’s not just work while you’re there, but it really is year round in securing housing for your students and writing up the itinerary. There are certain things that you have to make reservations to be able to visit like the German Parliament Building. You have to schedule that visit months in advance and submit everyone’s passport information to be able to gain entrance. So you really have to be organized year round and plan for things. And also a lot of work goes into recruiting students. I don’t know that we talk about that a lot.
SP: That’s a great subject. Let’s talk more about recruitment and marketing.
RM: There’s the month in Berlin, and there are the other 11 months where you’re recruiting and planning to go. The recruitment piece is something that I don’t know that we talk enough about it because that plays a large role, especially at institutions like ISU where you are competing with so many programs. It’s not enough to offer the program. Students don’t just see your program offered and can’t wait to sign up. You have to convince them that your program will offer them something that maybe another program does not.
SP: How involved are you in the marketing and recruitment?
RM: I feel like I do most of it. I don’t know what that looks like at other institutions, but here I have a lot of behind the scenes support from our study abroad office in terms of listing the program online and once students apply—their application process and getting their insurance and all the pre-departure checklists. There’s a lot of support for that.
But in terms of getting that student to click the submit button on an application, I do everything from doing classroom visits—so going to classes where students are studying the subjects I think relate to what we would be doing—and recruiting students, sending tons of emails out to colleagues, advisors telling them about the program, asking them to share the info, creating all the visual content like the brochure, flyers, social media stuff. We’ve created short videos of our program while in Berlin that we can use to tell students visually what they will experience, tabling at the study abroad fair. We often—what I think is really very effective—we engage students from previous years to come and talk to their peers in the classroom or at the study abroad fair, because when students here from other students they’re more likely to be convinced than when they hear from us who created a program that we think it’s a great program.
There’s so much that goes into recruitment and you have to make a certain number of students, right, to be able to take your group abroad. So you are always balancing that desire to keep the group manageable and small while also needing to take a certain number of students for the program to run. That part is very time intensive and can feel like a lot when you’re doing that on the side throughout the year while also doing, you know, your other job. But again, it’s a labor of love. You do it because you believe in the program and what you’re offering students and because what you feel like you’re promoting has value—you’re not just saying it.
SP: How do you think that the marketing and recruitment is different when you do it versus when the study abroad office does it?
RM: When I’m talking about the program, I’m talking very specifically about here’s what it looks like to be with me in Berlin, throughout the city, and what you might experience and what a typical day looks like. Here’s what from the moment you wake up until we maybe say goodbye after dinner—what you might be encountering and experiencing. I think that’s harder for someone to describe who hasn’t been there, which is why we also recruit students from previous years who want to help us promote the program to their peers. We’ve never had a problem getting students to want to do that. Most of our students come back and they love the program and they stay in touch with us.
SP: The problem is probably getting the students to stop talking about the experience.
RM: Yes. No, absolutely. We’ve had amazing students, alum of the program, who have done so much in keeping it going for us. I welcome any support from our study abroad offices. In fact I love anytime they help us find students and promote our program, but I recognize that they’re also torn between supporting so many programs. And we really are our best advocate and ambassador for our own programs we’ve created. We can talk about it—we should talk about it. We should be doing that recruitment piece.
SP: I won’t mention programs, but I had the recent experience of giving a dozen or so classroom presentations about one of the faculty-led programs at the university where I work—just like five minute presentations. One of those presentations happened to be in the class of one of the faculty leaders. The information that he was able to add is not something that I could have ever captured. And I think it meant so much more to the students to hear that from him than just the general information that I could provide. Of course, there’s also the other part that occurs to me is—I know that faculty have lots of responsibilities—teaching, research, service, etc.—and sometimes they don’t feel that they have the time to do what you’ve just described. Sometimes, at least with some faculty, there’s a tendency to say that’s the study abroad office’s job. As someone who works in a study abroad office, I can appreciate that but I also understand we’re trying to promote study abroad in general—and a whole bunch of faculty-led programs, not just the one that this particular faculty member wants us to do. So we can put one poster on a bulletin board in every building on campus, right? And so that one—I mean, we can’t plaster the entire board, right? And so the limited space that we have can’t talk about the details of any particular program, it has to be all of the faculty-led programs, or even just more generally study abroad.
RM: Yeah and I completely understand that. That makes a lot of sense. I think that’s why—I do think if you’re someone who wants to create a program and wants to ensure its success you have to—I guess that’s the other part of that conversation of what should you know before creating a program. We didn’t mention this earlier, but I think what you should know is that you’re not just doing the program that time period you’re actually abroad, but it’s a full year long commitment to also promoting your program, letting people know about it and bringing students into it. Because if you’re not doing it—I don’t know, I think it’s an unfair expectation to think that others should be your program’s best advocate. I think that really needs to be you, the person leading the program.
SP: But you also suggested that this has to be a partnership, right?
RM: Yes. Oh, absolutely. I’m just thinking in terms of being able to make your program stand out. I think you as a faculty person really should need be to be invested in that. But in terms of getting a program going, that’s a campus wide effort.
I could not do this without the support of Nancy Guthrie, our study abroad director at Iowa State for the College of LAS [Liberal Arts and Sciences]. My program is housed in that college and she’s amazing. I would have never gotten to where I am today without her support and help.
SP: At a previous university we had a large study abroad fair and a large number of faculty-led programs. It was always interesting to see at the fair the difference in personalities of the various faculty leaders. There was one in particular that I remember. He would stand in front of the table and he would have a stack of brochures for the program. As students would walk by, he would hold one out and say “do you want to go to New Zealand with me? Do you want to go to Italy with me?”
RM: Are you describing me? Were you at our study abroad fair?
SP: Maybe? I don’t know. And then, in contrast, there are others who sit behind the table and they’re buried in their laptops getting work done.
RM: I painfully make eye contact with all the students who walk by, much to their discomfort.
SP: Right, because you don’t want to make eye contact right away and scare them away. I also worked at a previous institution where we had a—it wasn’t a study abroad fair, it was a new student event. We had a table there and we had one of those little blow up globes from one of the big insurance companies that works in study abroad. So a sort of seemingly non—threatening way would be to throw that ball at students. There were there were a few that got freaked out by that.
RM: Yeah, I feel like that would freak people out, too. I would be hesitant to do that. But I do stand in front of the table with my brochure and try to engage students as they walk by.
SP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
RM: I just love that we’re having this conversation. I think because study abroad is such a—it’s such a broad field, it’s so diverse in terms of what study abroad, international education can look like. I love that you’re, you know, connecting us through the podcast and allowing us to explore these topics across different universities and institutions. I think this is great. I think we need more of this. I don’t think our world is becoming any less global. I think we’re continuing to move in the directions of borders feeling increasingly porous and travel being more accessible. I think that’s great and how it should be. I think it’s great to have these conversations about how are we making that possible for our students? How are we encouraging them to engage with the world outside of their hometown or their university campus and the community they grew up in?
SP: If you had one wish for study abroad professionals—speaking as a faculty leader—what would you like us to know or what would you like us to do differently? Or maybe keep doing?
RM: I do have one. One part of study abroad—the field—that I think is important for us to continue to look at critically and how we’re doing, and that’s who we bring into our programs and how we make our programs inclusive and diverse. We know that study abroad students, in terms of the student field, predominantly white women students study abroad. How are we bringing in students of color, how are we bringing multiracial students into feel comfortable going on our programs, to feel comfortable thinking about different destinations and what it means to be an African American person in a Western European country—is that going to be comfortable, is that going to be okay? And also for queer and LGBT students—trans students have long faced different barriers to international travel.
So I think one area where we can keep doing the work is to not put the burden on the students to figure out “can I go abroad? Will I be safe with my identity abroad? Will the faculty member taking me abroad be inclusive and welcoming of me or is it going to be uncomfortable because my identity is different from the one of the majority of the group? I think we as faculty members need to be—we need to put that conversation out there, and we need to do the work of bringing students in and making them feel seen and valued and important in our programs so that we can continue to make study abroad something that all students feel like they’re part of, not just the same sort of privileged identities that have long been participants in study abroad programs.
Innovating Faculty-Led Programs is intended to be an engaging, inclusive community for both education abroad professionals and faculty. So regardless of your experience and role with faculty-led programs, I invite you to join the conversation. Let us know your thoughts about this discussion.
- How are faculty-led programs a labor of love for you? What do you wish you had known when you started?
- Do you take your family along with you? If so, how does that impact your role as a faculty leader?
- How has your experience leading programs abroad translated into the work you do at home?
- Is there a colleague or department on your campus that is not currently involved in faculty-led programs that you would like to see involved? How would you approach that conversation?
- What recruitment and marketing strategies have you found to be particularly useful? How are you your program’s own best advocate? How have you involved students from past years in those efforts?
- How do we make our programs more inclusive and diverse?
- What topics would you like to hear about on future episodes?
All relevant, civil comments are welcome! Submit a comment or question below, or email us at (see About Innovating Faculty-Led Programs for more information about this site).