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  • Influence of a Short-Term Study Abroad Experience on Professional Competencies and Career Aspirations of Graduate Students in Student Affairs
  • Patty Witkowsky and Sylvia L. Mendez

While the specific mission of master's-level student affairs preparation programs (SAPPs) may differ, the overarching purpose is to prepare graduates educated in student development to serve as leaders within higher education (Long, 2012; Nuss, 2003). As student populations evolve with increasing diversity, specifically in international populations (Farrugia, Bhandari, Baer, Robles, & Andrejko, 2017), SAPPs must seek ways to educate their graduate students in order to promote success in the current global environment.

While an institution may assert internationalization as a goal, it will not become a reality unless the faculty, staff, policies, priorities, and opportunities are part of the infrastructure to support that goal (Schulz, Lee, Cantwell, McClellan, & Woodard, 2007). Given recent trends of increasing international student population (5.3% of overall higher education enrollment) and study abroad participation (10.4% of undergraduate students; Farrugia et al., 2017), developing culturally aware professionals to contribute to campus internationalization is increasingly paramount. The success of international students at US institutions and the promotion of study abroad and reintegration of students back to their home institutions require culturally competent student affairs professionals who are able to fulfill social justice and inclusion-related competencies (ACPA & NASPA, 2015).

In response to the increasing internationalization of higher education, evidence exists of the inclusion of short-term study abroad experiences in SAPPs as a pedagogical approach to expose SAPP graduate students to higher education systems outside the country and expand students' intercultural competence (Schulz et al., 2007). Previous publications related to this approach have focused on the structure of the courses, learning outcomes, and logistical considerations for such experiences (Haber & Getz, 2011; Yakaboski & Birnbaum, 2017) but are limited in exploring its influence on SAPP graduate students' professional development. Thus, the following research question guided our study: How does participation in a short-term study abroad experience in SAPP curriculum influence graduate students' intercultural competence, work with international students, and career development?


Short-term study abroad experiences provide undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to engage in experiential learning and to grow in their intercultural competencies through cultural immersion with application to an academic discipline. These experiences aid in their personal and global awareness and confidence in contributing to an international world (Doyle, 2009; Fischer, 2009; Franklin, 2010; Haber & Getz, 2011; Kitsantas, 2004; Slotkin, Durie, & Eisenberg, 2012; Yakaboski & Birnbaum, 2017). [End Page 769] These programs have been found to provide undergraduate and graduate students with an (initial) experience abroad that fuels their chosen career path, overseas travel interests, and cultural, social, and political attitudes and views (Doyle, 2009; Fischer, 2009; Franklin, 2010; Kitsantas, 2004; Norris & Dwyer, 2005). Graduate students in SAPP have reported that international experiences directly translate to their work with students. In the other literature related to SAPP graduate student outcomes from a short-term study abroad experience, they reported improved multicultural and intercultural competence and further developed listening and empathy skills (Haber & Getz, 2011). It is no surprise directors of these preparation programs are considering ways to internationalize by embedding short-term study abroad experiences into their curricula (Schulz et al., 2007).

A primary benefit of short-term study abroad programs is that typically they are led by faculty members within an academic program; therefore, the academic content is directly related to the discipline of study (Donnelly-Smith, 2009; Haber & Getz, 2011; Slotkin et al., 2012; Yakaboski & Birnbaum, 2017). The coursework and materials can be successfully integrated into programmatic goals and objectives, and the familiarity among the students and faculty allows for a more structured and modeled approach to reflect on the experiential learning being undertaken. This type of study abroad program provides considerable qualification and quantification of the present and future work-related knowledge, skills, and dispositions being developed through the experience (Doyle, 2009; Fischer, 2009; Franklin, 2010; Haber & Getz, 2011; Slotkin et al., 2012).

An additional benefit of a short-term study abroad experience, rather than a semester or year-long experience, is the ability to attract broader participation across student groups as evidenced by the current statistics that 63% of study abroad...


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