Developing a faculty-led program can be overwhelming. You have a laundry list of steps to take, and the road to planning a program isn’t always a straight one. However, there are numerous resources available, including insights from peers and experts in the field.

This is the first installment of our “Ask the Experts” series in which we investigate best practices for planning faculty-led programs. To give us a well-rounded view, we spoke with three professionals who each play a different role in developing international programs: Mayumi Nakamura, Interim Director of International Programs at Randolph-Macon College; Dr. Brandon Cromer, Biology professor at Augusta University; and Jenny Burkholder, a Study Tour Coordinator with 20 years’ experience at FTI.

Our Experts: Mayumi Nakamura, Dr. Brandon Cromer & Jenny Burkholder

How do you choose the optimal destination for a short-term program? What are some of the things to look for? 

Nakamura: My observations have been that faculty are more likely to choose locations they’re familiar with. Going forward, I would love to see more of the other way around, in which faculty pick their academic focus first (whether it’s service learning or language immersion), and then find a location that can accommodate all of their needs. During this process, it is highly recommended that they work with a program provider specialized in that specific area to identify a destination that hits all the items on their wish list.

Cromer: For ecology, it is very easy to find a location.  But to narrow it down, I try to focus on ecologically significant locations that students probably would not travel to on their own. 

Considerations:

  • Safety – Are there travel warnings?  Risk of terrorism?  Risk of crime?  Disease, outbreaks?
  • Cost – We try to keep programs under $5,000.  So, places like Africa, New Zealand, and Australia really push the budget to the limit.
  • Accessibility – Can students with disabilities participate?
  • Recruiting – Will the location be interesting to students? 

TIP: Rotate destinations to keep enrollment up. Students will travel multiple years to increase their exposure to their field & marketability.

Burkholder: First, I would start by identifying exactly how much time the group really has for their program.  If it’s two to three weeks, any destination is possible. Less than that may necessitate them staying closer to home (Central America, Canada or the Caribbean). 

Next, I’m looking for experiential learning opportunities that not only challenge the group to apply classroom knowledge, but assist them in gaining a global perspective of their specific discipline. As StudyInternational.com pointed out, with the popularity of niche courses increasing, “… students are searching for an increased sense of fulfillment during their study abroad experience.” (January 2019) It’s up to us to create that sense of fulfillment. Of course, there are destinations that naturally offer a wide-array of learning opportunities. However, there are other, less obvious, choices that should be considered. For example, Literature in England is great, but what about studying Hemingway in Cuba? I focus on destinations where we have a particularly strong network of experts in the field and can offer the behind-the-scenes and hands-on experiences students want.

As StudyInternational.com said, with niche courses increasing, “… students are searching for an increased sense of fulfillment during their study abroad experience.” (January 2019)

Additionally, we have to consider the program budget.  Some parts of the world are going to cost a considerable amount in airfare, but ground arrangements are inexpensive, and the reverse is true as well. These are all things we have to consider when building the package. If we know the program budget upfront, then we can really narrow down the options.

Key Factors to Consider
When Choosing a Study Abroad Destination

1. Program duration
2. Learning objectives
3. Safety
4. Accessibility
5. Budget
6. Recruiting
7. Service provider’s areas of strength

We hope you enjoyed the first installment of our “Ask the Experts” series. Our next topic is Expert Tips for Developing New Faculty-Led Programs. We’ll discuss the timing of new program proposals, when to start brainstorming & what items to discuss up front with your provider. Please subscribe to our blog to read the rest of the series.

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