Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A bit of introspection about my study abroad trips

Since I'm on sabbatical, I am taking time to concentrate on things I can do to improve myself as a professor.  Since 2010, I have been unable to recruit enough students to make one of my study abroad trips work.  Several factors have contributed to this:

1. The poor economy.  The price is out of reach for many of my students.  However, someone who really wants to study abroad can find the scholarships, grants, and loans to make it happen.  I dislike loans, but sometimes they exist for things such as this.  Not everyone can afford even basic luxuries.  Many of our students come from poverty and threadbare existences.  Rather than trying to find wealthier students, I need to figure out ways to help students learn about financial aid opportunities available to them.
2. A large portion of Coker students are athletes.  They are often unwilling to consider anything that takes them away from their team, practices, or training regimen. The coaches turn over so often that I don't even really bother to learn their names anymore because they'll just be gone in a couple of years.  Working closely with them on recruiting bears no fruit.  If I couldn't even get the soccer coach to recruit a single player for a trip to Costa Rica that focused on the business side of soccer, I don't see how other efforts will be worthwhile.
3. A misinformed colleague told students that I didn't allow anyone to drink on my study abroad trips (not true).  SGA doesn't allow drinking on SGA-sponsored trips.  When I travel with the Coker College Culture Club (CCCC), all of our events are SGA-sponsored, so we have to keep their rules.  Study abroad trips are not SGA's balliwick, and as long as students' drinking doesn't affect their behavior or our schedule, I don't care at all if they drink.  I have gone to bars with colleagues and students on trips.  I don't drink, but I'm not a teetotaler who worries about what others imbibe.  This one still hurts me.  It was untrue and I only learned of it after someone asked me if it were true.
4. The Susan Coker Watson scholarship only works for travel to Europe.  The students most likely to study abroad are pulled that way by the allure of more available funds.  Coker needs more scholarships for study abroad anywhere in the world.  But, there are millions of things that Coker needs.  This is no one's priority beyond my own and maybe a few kindred spirits.  And, I agree that other things should have a higher priority than this.  
5.  I have only offered trips to Costa Rica and Panama.  Many students have the wrong impression of Latin America.  Their parents think it is as it was in their youth.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
6.  The postmodern symptom of late capitalism that sees parents ask their children how or why knowledge of what life is like in another country will benefit them/help them get a job/will look good on a résumé.  Knowing something just to know it is no longer accepted by parents.  Knowledge must have utility; it must do something or else it is pointless and might as well not exist at all (especially if it can't be googled or discussed in a job interview).
7.  The Center for Engaged Learning is focused largely on internships.  The promotion of my trips largely falls to me.  Outdated communication methods like pamphlets have no pull with today's students.  They are understaffed.  The dual missions of the office should be cleaved in two.  Study abroad is a minor part of what they do.  A faculty member with time release and secretarial support could easily handle the current workload.    
8.  Coker's public faculty webpages that we were allowed to edit are no longer available to us since the very-expensive-to-replace server crashed and was not able to be revived or swapped out.  When I had a public webpage, I was able to successfully recruit enough students to Mexico once and Costa Rica twice.  Since its demise, I cannot advertise it effectively.  Students don't read the emails I send.  They want to click on something.  I was able to tell a narrative and frame the idea in their heads.  It was detailed and showed the costs and why it cost what it did.  I think this is a major factor in my inability to recruit people.
9.  Perhaps it's me.  Introspection should be part of any thorough review.  Maybe I'm too eager, too insistent on the subject.  Maybe it's my personality.  Maybe it's the thought of someone depending on me and not finding me reliable enough to trust to take them abroad (often for the first time ever in the history of their family).  I don't really know how to find out this information, but I have to consider it.

So, what can I do to make things better?  I can focus on the nine things above.  I'd like a trip focused on business.  I could bring students here to Zarcero, have them work four days at the lechería, milking cows and making cheese, going to town with Don Édgar to sell his cheese to vendors.  I could take them to Finca Santa Lucía to learn about the coffee export business.

The owners of the highly successful Panadería Zarcereña could teach us about product development, reach, marketing, and supply chain issues.  We'd include a visit to Arenal, zip lining, hot springs, and the rain forest too.  But, I think the educational part is more important than the beaches.  But, if it's the beaches, if it's the beaches that they want then they shall have them.......only after they've dirtied their uncalloused hands.

1 comment:

Richard Puffer said...

I think you can eliminate the last of your reasons and the evidence is in the EVIDENCE of things like Day of the Dead, the Culture Club, and several other DonMac events that offer unique (word chosen with care) experiences to Coker College students that we have photos of Coker students doing. And, I did enjoy the introspection and the tour you planned out with your photos sounds interesting -- maybe a beach photo or a zip line photo would help -- and maybe a 10-day trip or even eight-day trip would do the trick...