Courtesy Reuters

Bursting the Bubble

By J. Chappell H. Lawson and April Julich Perez

Sanford Ungar (“The Study-Abroad Solution,” March/April 2016) convincingly argues that sending more U.S. college and university students to study abroad will “produce future generations of Americans who will know more and care more about the rest of the world.” But the way students spend their time abroad matters as much as whether they travel abroad in the first place.

Ungar himself warns against “‘bubble’ programs,” in which students spend their time surrounded by other Americans and interact mainly in English. This is a crucial admonition. Students can best understand their host countries by living in communities rather than dorms and by participating in a range of activities beyond the classroom. Ideally, international experiences should be integrated into students’ larger courses of study. The strongest international programs are overseen by faculty members, ensuring that study-abroad experiences are not simply instances of educational tourism or opportunities for colleges and universities to charge U.S. tuition for time spent at lower-cost foreign schools.