More than a thousand University of Arizona students, faculty and staff filled the Student Union Grand Ballroom for the 2017 Study Abroad Fair, the biggest event of the year for UA Study Abroad. Dozens of colorful tables lined the hall on Sept. 13, inviting students to explore the latest international opportunities — an array of more than 100 programs across 60 countries.

“I didn’t realize there were this many countries we could travel to and all these cultures we could experience,” said Misarai Bojorquez, a sophomore majoring in special education.

Another sophomore, Ramses Buelna, had a specific goal in mind: “I was looking to see programs related to architecture, my major, and I am very interested in what I saw. I’ve never been anywhere except for the United States and Mexico, so I would like to travel before I finish school.”

UA Study Abroad, located within the Office of Global Initiatives, works with partners and faculty members to offer international programs ranging from one week to one year. Through immersive options, students research, study and conduct field work abroad, gaining academic credits along the way. This year, UA Study Abroad is taking additional steps to encourage students to develop a greater sense of global responsibility and citizenship.

“As the world becomes more connected, UA Study Abroad is beginning to place an increased emphasis on intercultural competence,” said Harmony DeFazio, director of UA Study Abroad and executive director of the UA Global Mobility Lab. “We’re taking steps to ensure that the UA is a leader in this space. We want all UA students to be ready to succeed in a global context, before and after graduation.”

Sumayya Granger, associate director of the UA Center for English as a Second Language, defines intercultural competence as the ability to interact appropriately from the other’s standpoint — and effectively from one’s own standpoint — with people of different cultural backgrounds.

“We are living in an increasingly globalized world, and most of us have had — or will have — interactions with people of different cultural backgrounds, and it is to everyone’s benefit for these interactions to go well,” said Granger, who also teaches an intercultural competence course through the College of Humanities. “Intercultural competence helps us understand situations from different perspectives, fostering critical thinking and creativity.”

Identifying Competencies

Based on research and input from faculty and experts in the field, UA Study Abroad recently identified intercultural competencies to measure upon a student’s return from abroad. According to a survey of UA students who studied abroad during the summer of 2017, a full 97 percent of respondents said they had an increased ability to work effectively and appropriately in diverse interactions.

“We are working to make study abroad more of a cultural experience than a tourist one,” said Liudmila Klimanova, assistant professor of Russian and Slavic studies and organizer of the Arizona in Kazakhstan program. “We want students to see the landmarks, but also to interact with people to see how they live, and that’s how we deliver cultural education right now. Kazakhstan is a bit atypical for an American student, but they learn so much by having this unusual experience.”

DeFazio acknowledges that international travel inherently encourages growth in intercultural competence among most students, but believes the next generation of study abroad will include adding layers to programs before, during and after the journey.

“We’re striving to make each experience even more meaningful, so students have a solid foundation to tackle problems that require a global response,” DeFazio said. “We plan to continue to work with faculty to encourage and measure intercultural competence among study-abroad students in the coming months.”

UA Study Abroad also is working to advance experiential programs in order to provide students with a hands-on approach to learning. “We’ve been working with faculty for some time now to lay the groundwork for experiential learning programs that really tap into this active approach,” DeFazio said.

UA Study Abroad currently offers dozens of experiential learning options across nearly 20 countries, allowing students to apply classroom learning to real-world challenges. Experiential programs include service learning, research, field work, internships and clinical shadowing.

“In our education system, you read, you write, you take exams and you are expected to learn that way. But through study abroad, I heard stories in the community and did hands-on work,” said Christy Fierros, a senior environmental studies major who participated in the Climate Justice program in Costa Rica. “It was eye-opening to see the things I’ve been studying for the past four years in real life. Just to be in a new country was amazing. It really gave me that sense of purpose all over again.”

About 1,200 UA students studied abroad during the 2016-2017 academic year, up 3.5 percent from the previous year. It’s a number that UA Study Abroad is trying to increase.

“We’re working to make study abroad accessible to all students, and we’re taking steps to improve diversity and access to our programs,” DeFazio said. “We want students to know that some study-abroad programs cost less than a semester in Tucson, and there are many scholarships and grants available. If a student is committed to study abroad, in most cases we can make it work.”

New Scholarship Program

UA Study Abroad is managing the new CDH Charitable Foundation Study Abroad Scholarship, which seeks to encourage high-need, high-achieving UA students to study abroad. Awards up to $8,000 are available for spring 2018 semester-long programs, with preference given to first-generation college students. Students also may find national scholarships to study critical-need languages abroad, as defined by the U.S. Department of State.

“I come from kind of a rough financial background, and when I heard the Arizona in Kazakhstan program was really great, I looked for funding and found it. It turned out being the best experience of my entire life,” said Tyler Hodgin, a senior majoring in political science and Russian. “I was able to get a Gilman scholarship and because I chose Kazakhstan, a very underrepresented location in the world, they were willing to give me a little more funding. On top of that, through the School of Government and Public Policy, they offered me a stipend for my airfare.”

UA students interested in global issues also have multiple opportunities to get involved on campus, regardless of whether they participate in study abroad. Colleges and departments will host globally focused events during International Education Week (Nov. 13-17). Students also may participate in an internationally oriented 100% Engagement experience, such as the UA Refugee Project, Tech.Global or the Global Ambassador program.

According to Granger, becoming a global citizen starts at home: “It is helpful to read some resources on intercultural competence to see what tools and skills will be most beneficial in a variety of situations. It’s important to interact meaningfully and with an open mind with people from different cultural backgrounds than your own and to seek out those interactions no matter where you find yourself.”

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