• July 23, 2019

Why does student learning abroad matter? Because international experience has the potential to powerfully transform our perspectives, our communities, and the world.

Most international travel doesn’t live up to its potential though. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the evidence suggests that simply traveling to another place does not automatically lead to deep learning.

To help students and educators get the most out of their international experiences, Walking Tree Travel has developed tools that help our travelers mature as global leaders before, during, and after their travel program. These simple, engaging activities are meant to spark discussion, frame the group’s cross-cultural experience, and prepare participants to travel ethically and effectively now and into the future.

At its core, the first step towards global citizenship leadership is developing intercultural competence – “a set of cognitive skills that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts”. Essentially, we want our participants to have the ability to collaborate with people who are different from them and to thrive within different cultures.

Our activities also encourages students to take initiative as leaders in their local communities to make a difference on a global scale, helping them to understand the impact they can have when they combine cultural understanding with personal and social responsibility.

Below are the student learning objectives addressed by the Global Leadership Activities, which are also the key components of intercultural competence as described above. Each exercise address a minimum of two or more of these objectives. 

Student Learning Objectives:

  • Cultural Worldview Frameworks
  • Personal and Social Responsibility
  • Curiosity
  • Empathy
  • Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
  • Cultural Self-Awareness
  • Openness 

Our Global Leadership Activities are divided into three sections: Pre-Program (before students depart), In-Country (during the program), and Post-Program (after students return).

Pre-Program Activities

Our pre-program activities are designed to guide students to think intentionally about culture and identity so that they can better understand how their perspectives are shaped. Students will learn the importance of suspending immediate judgments when they are exposed to a new culture or environment, and will gain practice describing situations or experiences objectively. Some of the exercises will introduce students to personal and social responsibilities and ask them to think critically about their impact on the community.  

While these activities are framed within the context of an impending international experience, they are also valuable lessons to complete regardless of whether or not a travel program is on the horizon. They simply open the doors to a deeper conversation about perspective, culture, and intentional openness, which are useful discussions to have in any educational context.  

In-Country Activities

Throughout their trip, students should be asked to draw on their experiences in the destination country to make observations regarding cultural differences and similarities. Each student will should be challenged to reflect on their interactions with locals and to discuss with the group how these experiences may have changed their perception of what culture, identity, and social responsibility can look like in different contexts. Our in-country exercises help students process their time abroad and consider the ways in which they may be able to bring their new knowledge, skills, and attitudes back to their local communities when they return from their trip.

Post-Program Activities and Resources

Students need support and guidance after they return from a travel experience in order to process their time abroad and translate their new skills and perspectives into life back home. This is why we provide activities that promote student reflection, followed by intentional action in their local community.

Students will practice articulating the knowledge and cultural competence they have gained abroad to help them express their experience in college essays, job interviews, and beyond. We also include important resources for guardians and families, which help them understand their child’s experiences abroad and support them in adjusting to life back home.

Why Awesome Educators Make All the Difference

Studies show that students have the most growth when they have targeted training and educators who help them to do following:

- Immerse in difference - stepping into a new environment is some, but not all, of the equation

- Learn to reflect - becoming aware of the ways that they and others subjectively frame their experiences

- Learn to re-frame - shifting perspectives and adapting behavior to match other cultural contexts

Our complete GLA Facilitator Packet is designed to guide you in becoming a transformative educator in this context, giving complete instructions which will allow you to facilitate the activities and empower students to make the most out of their time abroad. These can be great starting points or additions to lesson plans for educators of all disciplines.

Growing as a facilitator of student learning abroad is a rewarding journey, not only in terms of the amplified learning and growth of your students, but also in terms of your own enhanced experience abroad and increased global competencies. We hope that you find the guide useful and invite you to reach out with any feedback or requests for further support.