Global Connections: Bringing overseas experiences back to the classroom

College faculty visit Pakistan through a program offered by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers. (Photos: CAORC)

For many college students, overseas study is a transformative experience. A semester abroad opens new horizons on the world, fosters appreciation for new cultures and languages, and often provides opportunities for critical reflection on long-held assumptions and personal biases about the world beyond America’s borders.

These invaluable learning opportunities, however, are often beyond the reach of most community college students, who typically have work, life and financial obligations that place major limitations on their ability to travel, especially outside the U.S. for extended periods.

Given these inherent challenges, community college faculty have an important and unique responsibility to create and deliver internationalized courses that both broaden their students’ cultural horizons and foster critical thinking and engagement with an increasingly complex and interconnected world. But with limited resources and nearly year-round teaching and service commitments, faculty, too, face serious challenges in accessing professional development opportunities that will expand their own global competencies.

Providing opportunities

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) collaborates in sharing information about new award programs offered by organizations such as the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC) — a network of centers in 25 countries around the world dedicated to supporting global scholarship within U.S. higher education — that provide community college faculty invaluable opportunities to gain the requisite firsthand experience needed to develop and improve international curricula.

CAORC, in partnership with its member centers, organizes short-term, fully funded, two-week overseas seminars that allow awarded faculty to experience rich foreign cultures and engage with local scholars grappling with complex global issues like climate change, sustainability, and religious and ethnic diversity. CAORC seminars include lectures from leading specialists, collaborative networking with local scholars, cultural and educational excursions, and experiential learning opportunities.

The 2019 Seminar to India invited more than a dozen community college faculty from across the U.S. to learn firsthand how India’s cities are developing ingenious ways to balance rapid urban expansion with social and environmental sustainability. During the 2019 Senegal Seminar, participants experienced the rich and relatively peaceful coexistence of West Africa’s Islamic, Christian, and indigenous cultural and religious traditions, while also witnessing the physical and brutal vestiges of the Atlantic slave trade at preserved historic sites like Goree Island. And on the recent Seminar to Pakistan, participants walked through narrow streets and winding alleyways, tracing the social and architectural evolution of the ancient city of Lahore through medieval, colonial and post-colonial regimes.

Bringing it back to the classroom

Not surprisingly, community college faculty return from the CAORC seminars with new and original ways to engage their students (as well as other faculty and administrators) in learning about the broader world. Beyond adding new lectures to existing courses, faculty are using their overseas experience to pilot new group activities, propose entirely new courses and even develop study abroad programs.

A pair of teachers experience India.

A participant in the Senegal seminar, for example, is introducing the music of West Africa through a group project that allows students to research and then build (with locally available materials) a traditional Senegalese instrument. Based on her experience in India, another faculty participant will teach a new urban sociology course that will compare urban and water sustainability issues in India and Texas. Finally, one faculty member has even restarted his college’s international studies program and aims to develop a study abroad program in partnership with local businesses that will build job readiness skills.

In addition to the seminar experience, CAORC provides faculty with many other learning and knowledge-sharing opportunities, as well as information about new funding and professional development resources to support overseas study and research. Teaching and curriculum materials created by former participants are available online for others to improve their teaching on world affairs. CAORC invites seminar alumni to speak at professional and area studies conferences about the importance of global education and to share their successes at smaller networking events and blog articles on the CAORC website.

Like AACC, CAORC recognizes that community college faculty are the most critical element in transforming student perceptions of the world around them. By enriching and “internationalizing” their teaching through firsthand experience, faculty can inspire students to embrace new ideas and cultures, think more critically about domestic and international affairs, or even begin careers in globalized professions and industries.

For more information, contact Wayne Wheeler, director of international programs and services at AACC.

Previous Global Connections articles.

About the Author

Glenn Corbett
is program director for the Council of American Overseas Research Center.