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Experiential Learning and Global Engagement

By Paul Currant

For more than two decades what is now known as the Center for Global Engagement (CGE) at ODU was called the Office of International Programs. Aside from providing essential international services such as visas and other immigration documentation, it focused on providing study abroad opportunities and supporting international students, faculty, and staff. This may seem a broad range of activities, but, in truth, it had a relatively narrow scope compared to the totality of the ODU community.

There are certain institutions in the USA - the University of Utah, Hollins University, and Elon University come to mind - where many if not most students are able to study abroad for little or no cost. Consequently, their campuses consist of students who not only have been abroad but carry with them the mindset of global education. At ODU, annual study abroad numbers have traditionally been in the hundreds, resulting in the feeling on campus that study abroad is the exception, often reserved for those who are able to pay the thousands of dollars necessary and are also lucky enough not to be tied down to off campus jobs vital to their financial survival.

A related situation occurs in regard to ODU's international students. Again, these have numbered in the hundreds - amounting to only 3-5% of ODU's student body - compared to institutions as varied as the University of Rochester, Florida Institute of Technology, and Boston College where international students make up over 20% of the student body.

These figures do not point to failings on the part of ODU. Indeed, we are very close to the norm and logically therefore doing better than many other institutions. However, the numbers illustrate why our students' exposure to global education through study abroad and interactions with international students is far from comprehensive.

One of the key reasons we now have a CGE is to "democratize" global education at ODU. One main goal is to give all our students the realistic opportunity of participating in experiential education through study abroad and related experiences. Of course, we will continue to have a healthy, conventional study abroad portfolio and are always looking to increase our number of international students, but it will take a long time before free study abroad programs are part of our offerings and one in five of our students come from outside the USA. What we can do in the interim is find and promote global learning experiences where our students can have similar mind-broadening involvements and interactions. These include aggressive attempts to lower costs through scholarships, creating and sourcing new study away programs (where students spend time in another part of the USA), and investing heavily in the new virtual options available - particularly those that present innovative opportunities for ODU students to work and study with students in other countries.

These options are covered in more detail in our companion article written by Michael Dean and are designed to create what might be termed a critical mass of global citizens on campus. In this environment, global experiential learning experiences will be the norm rather than the exception, to the lasting benefit of the whole ODU community and beyond.

Paul Currant, Ph.D., is senior international officer at ODU's Center for Global Engagement.

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