Global Students Having Global Experiences

Students do not need to travel vast distances to engage with diverse cultures and ideas. Nonetheless, when they do have the opportunity to study abroad, transformative learning occurs. Study abroad programs allow students to refine their global lens and see themselves in a new light as they confront deep questions about the world and themselves in the world.

Study abroad is a powerful global learning pedagogy, yet it is not equally accessible to all US college students. From community college to graduate school, study abroad should be a norm, not an exception. As twenty-first-century educators, we must prepare our students to live and work in an interconnected global landscape. The Global Guttman program at Stella and Charles Guttman Community College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY), provides an exciting example of a short-term, faculty-led study abroad program that effectively serves community college students.

Community College Students and Study Abroad

Study abroad is not a common experience for most community college students. In 2016–17, 10 percent of US students traveled abroad, and 86 percent of these participants were seeking bachelor’s degrees, 12 percent were graduate students, and less than 2 percent were seeking associate’s degrees (Institute of International Education 2017). Given that approximately 34 percent of US undergraduate students attend community colleges (Community College Research Center n.d.), this is a serious equity issue, especially if students need global competencies to succeed in a global workforce.

Community college students often face obstacles to participation in study abroad due to financial, employment, and familial responsibilities. Yet other barriers also present challenges, including administrative obstacles, fear of failure, or difficulty with perceiving themselves as the “type” of student who studies abroad.

Meanwhile, the impact of study abroad for community college students can be even greater than for their counterparts at four-year colleges. Guttman Community College’s assessment data suggest that community college students’ study abroad experiences may increase their retention and graduation rates, encourage them to seek bachelor’s degrees, and influence the course of their professional pathways. An often-overlooked benefit is the effect on the family members of first-generation community college students. Families often have immense pride in their student, and this support can augment learning, both for the student and the family. The student often inspires younger family members to pursue college so they, too, can study abroad. One student told me, “My goal to travel the world is my family’s goal to travel the world.”

A Global Community in a Global Metropolis

Guttman Community College—the newest of seven community colleges in the CUNY system—opened in 2012. The Guttman model was designed to meet the needs of urban community college students in a small, tight-knit environment. As of fall 2017, Guttman had 1,066 matriculated students. Our student population is diverse and young. Guttman students speak more than fourteen languages and come from more than sixty countries outside the United States—with the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Jamaica, Ecuador, Guyana, Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Haiti, and Guinea making up the top ten—and 98 percent of our students are under age 22. Most are from low-income communities in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, and 71 percent receive Pell Grants. Our faculty, staff, and administration are also polylingual and ethnically diverse.

Not only are many of our students first-generation Americans or immigrants—skilled in global learning competencies like perspective taking, cultural awareness, and the dynamics of acculturation—but they also live and study in the cultural mosaic of New York City. Global learning experiences can occur on the short walk from the train to the college’s front door. Teaching global competencies at Guttman goes with the territory.

Global Guttman

Guttman strives to do things differently, and the Global Guttman program is no exception. As its founding coordinator, I had the privilege of building the program from the ground up with colleagues and students. In 2014, I led a ten-day pilot travel program in Berlin with ten students. One student described it as “the single best learning experience of my life and the reason I pursued a [four-year] college [degree].”

Global Guttman became an integral part of the college’s identity and culture. We became a community college that does study abroad and does it well. Approximately 8 percent of our graduates have participated in a Global Guttman program. We remove some logistical barriers to student participation by covering students’ fees in full (thanks to funding from the Guttman Foundation) and planning short-term trips ranging from eight to eighteen days. The program has now offered thirteen faculty-led travel programs in eight countries across four continents. Guttman students, faculty, and staff have traveled to Berlin twice and Ecuador four times, as well as to Alaska, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Belize, Chile, New Orleans, and China. We also offer local global learning experiences on campus, such as a Campus Consortium partnership with the Pulitzer Center and a student-led global awareness club.

The program’s rapid growth is a testament to the hard work of faculty and staff, commitment of senior administrators, generous funding from the Guttman Foundation, and most importantly, curiosity and courage of the students. The students make the program succeed through their willingness to take risks, believe in themselves, and challenge the statistics that suggest community college students “don’t do study abroad.” A China program participant told me that she wouldn’t have believed this opportunity was possible for her because of “where I grew up” and “how society had made us believe that we wouldn’t go too far in life.” She explained, “It only made me grow stronger and work harder in school to prove these stereotypes wrong.”

Global Learning Pedagogy

The Global Guttman curriculum begins with the assumption that the students’ preexisting global knowledge and experiences are vast and deep. We craft pretravel orientations, trainings, and assignments; critically reflective journal assignments for when students are “in the field”; and post-travel reintegration workshops, assignments, and presentations.

Throughout each phase of the program, we use a revised version of AAC&U’s Global Learning VALUE Rubric (n.d.) to assess learning about global self-awareness, perspective taking, cultural awareness, and knowledge of global issues. Students share their reflections in ePortfolios and comment on each other’s work. ePortfolios make students’ learning visible to the college community and are useful as we analyze student work for indicators of global learning outcomes.

What Do Global Guttman Students Learn?

Assessment data reveal that as a result of Global Guttman, students experience a significantly increased sense of self, improved perspective taking, and deeper knowledge of the travel country. Students’ written and video reflections before and after travel convey the intricacies of their new ideas.

In addition, we have found that Global Guttman students have transformative experiences from which they extrapolate deep learning years after they return. Students think of themselves as global scholars with an expanded global perspective. One Ecuador program student said, “This experience gave me a sense of gratitude, and I developed as a human being.”

Global Guttman students often become leaders—on campus, in the workplace, in their families, and perhaps someday on a global stage. Last year’s student government association president, who traveled to Chile in summer 2017, said the program “inspired me to think about what the possibilities are for me; there’s so much more I can do than I previously thought!”

Conclusion

Most educators would agree that the twenty-first-century college experience must prepare students for the global workforce and an interdependent world. Global Guttman students develop global critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that can help them analyze the world’s complexities. But Global Guttman is the exception, not the rule. Many community colleges struggle to provide study abroad options for their students.

Community colleges need to do more to address the disparity in access to study abroad. Community college students will become a significant portion of the workforce, and they need to experience immersive global education to remain competitive in a global marketplace. As one business major who traveled to Chile explained it, “Businesses are globally connected, and I want to be a player in that game.”

References

Association of American Colleges and Universities. n.d. “Global Learning VALUE Rubric.” https://www.aacu.org/value/rubrics/global-learning.

Community College Research Center. n.d. “Community College FAQs.” Teachers College, Columbia University. https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/Community-College-FAQs.html.

Institute of International Education. 2017. Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange.


Katie B. Wilson is Founding Coordinator of the Global Guttman Program at Stella and Charles Guttman Community College (City University of New York).

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