Why Won’t They Go? Increasing Agriculture Student Participation in Study Abroad

Globalization is not a passing phenomenon but rather the definitive world system in which a new dynamic of global interconnectedness exists. Advancements in technologies, communication and transport systems have bridged the gap between nations and increased the awareness of the global world within local communities. The evolution of this worldwide system has introduced new challenges and opportunities for those in the agriculture sector. Today, future agricultural professionals must have an awareness of pressing global issues as well as the ability to work in a diverse work environment and address the needs of a variety of clientele. As much of the responsibility for developing these professionals has been placed on institutions of higher education, many universities have increased efforts to promote international experiences, or study abroad opportunities, that may help students gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

As part of the effort to internationalize the undergraduate and graduate experience at LSU, faculty and graduate students in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education and Evaluation began a series of research studies aimed at increasing study abroad participation programs in which College of Agriculture students would be most interested as well as identifying factors that may motivate or hinder them. Several key findings have emerged from this research.

The findings revealed that most agriculture students at LSU are interested in studying abroad during their college career. They believed studying abroad would help them gain valuable life experiences as well as look good on their résumé and increase their employability. Most students identified a short-term study abroad program held during the spring or summer semester as most ideal. Additionally, students identified gaining hands-on experience, taking courses related to their career and learning about another culture as very important activities to include in a study abroad program.

Despite student interest and motivation to participate in a study abroad opportunity, several factors were identified as obstacles that may keep them from doing so. Most students believed they could not afford to study abroad and were too busy with school. Additionally, many were unaware of study abroad opportunities available. Those who were aware reported having acquired the information from friends and the LSU Academic Programs Abroad website. While time and financial concerns can be difficult barriers to address directly, the research findings support the notion that increasing student interest in and motivation to study abroad can reduce their concern over the obstacles. Essentially, students who really want to study abroad will find a way to do so.

So, what now? As College of Agriculture students indicated that friends and word-of-mouth were their preferred means of gathering information on study abroad opportunities, it may be beneficial for college faculty to invite students who have studied abroad to provide presentations to other students. These can be informal in nature to allow for peer-to-peer discussion on the life experiences gained. Advisers and faculty can also influence students by communicating support and encouragement to study abroad. If possible, it also would be beneficial for advisers to discuss with students early on the possibility of studying abroad in order to help students plan their course schedule accordingly. Incorporating an international perspective into the high school agriculture classroom may help initiate student interest in gaining international experience, thus increasing the likelihood they will pursue such an opportunity in their college years.

Shelli E. Danjean is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education and Evaluation.

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College of Agriculture students on a dive off the coast of Tofo, Mozambique. Photo provided by Reagan Errera

6/9/2017 8:29:28 PM
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