As the University’s associate provost for internationalization, Luc Beaudoin oversees the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), the English Language Center (ELC) and the Office of International Education, which administers study abroad programs. Beaudoin sat down with the University of Denver Magazine to discuss DU’s internationalization efforts. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: DU has long been a leader in internationalization and study abroad efforts. What plans do you have to build on this momentum?
A: When we look at numbers, we look pretty good. We send roughly 65 to 70 percent of our undergraduate students to study abroad for a term or longer. We have 10 percent international students. Our English Language Center is at capacity much of the time. But those are all disparate figures. They look nice, but we still have to articulate, why is sending 70 percent of our students overseas for a term good? What does that mean in terms of the curricula? It’s a good thing that we’ve achieved those numbers, but what happens to those students when they’re back on campus? How does that give extra value to their diploma? We know it does, we just haven’t been clear about what it actually means. That’s how I hope to build momentum for study abroad.
For international students, it’s how do we continue to work on integrating international and domestic students? And if we manage to do that, what does it mean and how does if affect both groups’ experience? There is a lot of talk in internationalization circles that it’s not necessary to leave the country. You can have a complete quote-unquote “internationalization experience” on campus if you have international students there and the university is internationally engaged. With the ELC, the question is, how can we integrate those students more into the campus itself?
Q: What are some ways the campus can enhance student engagement in internationalization efforts and study abroad efforts?
A: We have this great study abroad program, and we are also developing internships for students to work in companies while they are studying here. Why not tie the internships they have here with internships when they are studying abroad? The company where they’re working here may well have offices abroad. That’s a dimension that could be of strong benefit to the student.
Q: You noted that roughly 65 to 70 percent of undergraduate students study abroad. Can you put that in context? The Open Doors report, issued by the Institute of International Education, ranks us very high, though not highest, in terms of participation nationally.
A: When I give the numbers, I caution a little bit. Open Doors talks about all study abroad. It doesn’t matter whether the program is two weeks long, a term long or a year long. We send a large proportion of our undergraduates on programs that are a term or longer. That is somewhat unusual. So when Open Doors ranks us — last year we were No. 4 actually — we’re competing against universities that have a robust selection of shorter programs. Those programs, ranging from one week, two weeks to maybe a month, are nationally seeing growth. There are reasons for that. One is they’re easier to manage for a student. Many students have to work. Students are also concentrating on trying to graduate more quickly, and sometimes study abroad is seen as an impediment to that.
What we do at DU that helps mitigate those problems is that students pay our tuition, room and board to go on our partner programs, and they can use their DU financial aid. They get DU [academic] credit, and that means they’re not going to fall off track because they studied abroad. Nationally, that’s not the trend — if students are choosing international options, they’re choosing options that are less disruptive to their academic career.
Q: Several years ago, the philosophy behind study abroad was, in part, to push students out of their comfort zones, to encourage study somewhere they might not have visited on vacation. Is that still part of the thinking?
A: Not directly. What that has morphed into, the goal of study abroad, is to develop intercultural competency and intercultural communication. The best way to do that is to ask students to enroll in a situation where they are able to function in the community as much as possible, able to take advantage of internships and whatever elements that might allow them to interact with people from that country. A student may well go to Glasgow, and because that student is in a classroom filled with Scottish students, interacting with Scottish faculty in the Scottish university system, living in a country that has different cultural conditions, that student’s comfort zone has been really tested. Because that student is part of the university system there with no intermediary. That’s as much pushing a student to grow interculturally as it is to have a student go to, say, Germany and learn German in a classroom primarily with other American students, with the intermediary of a support staff and teacher. Of course, the student leaves the classroom and lives in the community, but most likely the student is going to be hanging out with American students. As opposed to the kid in Glasgow who is hanging out with Scots.
These programs are hard to compare; they’re entirely different things. But employers want to see that anybody whom they’re hiring can function internationally — both with international communities here in Denver and if their job to takes them to other countries, by Skype or satellite offices.
Q: What does ISSS do to help international students at DU acclimate and achieve?
A: One of their major roles is to make sure that immigration paperwork is in order, but another important role is to be the point people for international students as they come to campus. They start with orientation that points out the specific needs of international students and answers questions. And then ISSS provides ongoing programming. Every student knows they can talk to someone at ISSS at any time.
Q: Do international students get the chance to immerse themselves in the American community the way your hypothetical American student in Glasgow plunges into the Scottish community?
A: We’re looking at how we do orientation for international students and domestic students to see whether we can integrate them more. Right now, orientation is segregating international students for almost a week before domestic students arrive on campus. So the international students get to know each other very well, which is wonderful, but while domestic students are getting to know each other, the international students already have their groups. That tends to continue over the course of the year.
Integrating the orientations more should help people get to know each other, but having taught many first-year seminars with a large number of international students in them, one of the biggest leaps is you have 18-year-olds with entirely different cultural references. They like and respect each other, but communicating over those differences is difficult. It takes active engagement. Sometimes it can take a year or two before someone has found enough friends in the other community to have enough understanding for socializing. It can’t be forced all that easily, although we can at least provide the venues.
Q: We know that an international experience can enhance career prospects, but what does it mean in terms of the whole person?
A: The whole thing of uprooting yourself at what is still a relatively young age, no matter your experience traveling, and placing yourself in another situation for study and living, is so dependent on the individual.
There are students who can go abroad for a term, and their personal growth, as they see it, has been minimal. But when you look closely, it’s because they were not as engaged with the local community. They were, perhaps, too often online. There are studies that show that students who go abroad are increasingly on Facebook all evening long with their friends in the United States. So they’re living their lives in the United States while they are abroad. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the student won’t have a sense of engagement with the community.
Q: How is study abroad today different from when you were in college?
A: The cliché of study abroad was that it was sending arts and humanities majors to France. And there is nothing wrong with that. The difference with study abroad then was that when, say, I arrived in the Soviet Union [as a language student], to communicate with people back home, I could send a telegram, which I did. If I wrote a letter, it took two months to get home. And then I got a letter about a month later—a three-month delay before I got communication by letter. Telephone conversations were almost impossible to arrange. Communicating with people was very difficult—even for students who had gone to Western Europe. So one of the big differences was that you really were throwing yourself into the culture with limited communication, and so the experience was that much more intense.
However, the instant communication we have now allows students to better prepare for study abroad, to communicate with people around the world and to engage with the world in a way that’s that much more personal, prior to departure and after they come back.
Also, study abroad is a much bigger business than it was. There are lots of companies that offer study abroad experiences. We have our own DU programs that we have vetted and that we think are the best, but if a student doesn’t want to do those, and wants to go off on his or her own, he or she can choose from thousands of programs all around the world that do different things.
Q: Do we have a brand overseas? Do our partners say, “Ah, DU students are coming?”
A: When I meet our partners — either on visits overseas or at conferences — they talk about DU students being well prepared, engaged and great to have in the classroom, intellectually stimulating. The reputation we have is really quite strong, and that’s opened the eyes of these universities for cooperation with us.