History and Current Trends in US Study Abroad

Authored by: Amelia J. Dietrich

The Routledge Handbook of Study Abroad Research and Practice

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138192393
eBook ISBN: 9781315639970
Adobe ISBN:


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Over the past 100 years, study abroad in the US and around the world has grown immensely. This concept of an educational experience that was once comprised mostly of individually organized trips across the seas has grown to become a multibillion-dollar industry backed by college and university administrations, supported by federal funding, and subjected to regulation at the institutional and governmental levels. While overseeing plans for education abroad was previously just one aspect of the job of a faculty member or administrator, today, there are whole offices and even colleges devoted to international/world/global studies or study/education abroad. The administration of these educational activities abroad is a full-time job, and education abroad is a professionalized field complete with its own set of skills and knowledge required of those working in it. The development of this field has led to the evolution of a vocabulary of terms and concepts that are often unfamiliar, even to those faculty members who advise and teach students before, during, and after study abroad programs. With this in mind, the present chapter aims to serve as an introduction to study abroad from the perspectives of professionals working in the field. The chapter begins by tracing the major points in the history of study abroad, focusing primarily on the unique situation of study abroad in US higher education. Later, the chapter moves on to a more in-depth review of recent developments in the field, including its standardization and professionalization. It concludes with a discussion of current major trends in study abroad, including efforts to increase access to study abroad for a more diverse student population; the rise of independent program provider organizations, short-term programs, and not-for-credit experiences; and the focus on health, safety, security, and risk management. The chapter, and its final section in particular, is presented in this volume with the hope that this introduction to the field of study abroad may prove useful and informative to new professionals to the field or to language researchers, faculty, and others whose day-to-day work is more focused on certain academic features or outcomes of study abroad than the design and administration of study abroad programming. Awareness of these trends may help to inform the design of future research studies and facilitate the ongoing relationship between faculty and administrators engaging in study abroad program development.

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