“I did not consider anything less than a year to be considered a real exchange. How could you master a language, build relationships, and integrate yourself in a community for anything less than at least a few months?”
After writing for The PIE Blog on the unexpected challenges that can crop up during a homestay, Mary Beth Brungardt writes about the value of short-term study abroad.
It has been exactly one week since I arrived to China. Today I joked with a friend that I have not used a fork in seven days, which led to a discussion recapping everything we have learned in such a short period of time.
The growing popularity of short-term study abroad programs has started a debate among professionals and educators in the field. Are these short-term programs more than just an ‘academic trip?’ Does the length of a program dictate whether or not we should label the experience as ‘study abroad?’
There appear to be two trending categories of short-term participants: those who are unwilling to spend extended periods of time away from home, and those who are restricted by certain curriculum requirements. As a result, summer, May, and ‘J’ term programs are becoming increasingly popular among university and high school students. These programs allow us to “fit” the experience into our schedule, and require less commitment.
“There appear to be two trending categories of short-term participants: those who are unwilling to spend extended periods away from home, and those who are restricted by curriculum requirements”
As a junior in high school, I packed my bags and headed out to Spain on a year-long program. At the time, I did not consider anything less than a year to be considered a real exchange. How could you master a language, build relationships, and integrate yourself in a community for anything less than at least a few months? By the time you establish a routine, it would be time to go home.
Despite these disadvantages, short-term programs play a critical role in international education. Spending a few weeks abroad will inevitably not give you the same return as a year. Relationships and integration in the community require time. Languages are not mastered overnight. The bottom line is that you cannot compare short and long-term programs. Each program type has different goals and expectations. But if a student can only study abroad for a short amount of time, catering to this need continues to support our greater mission: raising cultural awareness and understanding.
Coincidentally, my internship project at CIEE revolved around its high school summer abroad program. Reading the feedback from students made me realize how powerful a 3-4 week experience impacted their outlook on the world. They kept blogs. Posted on social media. They shared their experiences and became global ambassadors by educating others of a world very different than their own.
When I told people that I was going to study abroad in China for a semester, I got a wide range of reactions. The people who had previously visited Asia thought it was a brilliant idea. They raved about the amazing food, business opportunities, and endless city nightlife. Those who thought I was “brave” or “a bit extreme” had never traveled here before. They told me stories they had heard from a friend of a friend who went there once back in the ’80s. They expressed how dirty and unsafe they believed the country to be. They brought up one or several of China’s well-known weaknesses.
“If a student can only study abroad for a short amount of time, catering to this need continues to support our greater mission: raising cultural awareness and understanding”
After being here a week, it is impossible for me to even tap into everything there is to know about this city. But there are a few things that stand out.
Each morning when I wake up, the city’s daily air quality score sits at the top of my app notifications. On my walk to campus, I pass a local hole-in-the-wall food market, whose smell and appearance remind me of the poverty-stricken markets I saw in Morocco. At every crosswalk, I am thankful for the pedestrian rights and protection laws that exist in the United States. When at a restaurant, I always order a beverage that is sealed.
However, there is so much good about this country that people do not know. Let me tell you about my Chinese language tutor, who bends over backwards to help me pronounce tones correctly. Or how approachable people on the street are when you need directions. And did I mention that Shanghai has one of the cleanest metros I’ve ever seen? Not to mention the incredible malls, history, architecture, restaurants, and rapidly emerging middle class.
Seven days isn’t everything, but it’s something.