Student Experiences

Colleges of education are finding ways to provide a growing number of pre-service teachers with opportunities to spend time abroad - despite time and resource limitations and state certification requirements.  Ken Cushner and Jennifer Mahon (2002) argue that "Conditions in the world today demand that teachers have increased internatioal knowledge and experience that they can transmit to the students in their charge.  Developing the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve such objectives requires significant immersion experiences in cultures other than one's own" (p. 44).

Advising students about these opportunities early in their undergraduate education, even during the college application process, increases the likelihood they will be able to fit them into a tight schedule. Admissions recruiters explicitly market the fact that students can fulfill their student teaching requirements overseas, so they come into the program knowing this and can plan accordingly.

Enhancing student experiences with international activities takes many forms, and requires a commitment on the part of the institution.  This sub-section of the site explores the forms that international experience for students can take - exploring research on the impact of these experiences, examples from the field, and resources on instituting these ideas.

The articles under this sub-section discuss study abroad for pre-service teachers, student teaching abroad, and financing study abroad. Regardless of the approach, campus faculty should be prepared to take advantage of the student experiences and integrate learning into post-travel work as it relates to their program of study.

On their own – international experiences can have profoundly positive or resoundingly neutral impact on candidates. To maximize the experience, some campuses have strategically developed programs to accommodate a semester in preparation, the time abroad and follow up with multiple post-sessions after the experience. The University of Connecticut, in partnership with NAFSA, has built a Cultural Awareness Profile for students to self-assess attitudes and perceptions to see how these have shifted as a result of their experience.

Programs abroad that maximize the learning potential of prospective teachers include:

  • Significant pre-departure orientation to clarify goals and prepare personally and academically for the experience.
  • Expectation and support for in-depth engagement with people from the host country through student teaching, home stays, community based service learning, and structured activities completed on-site.
  • Activities in country or upon returning that connect the overseas experience directly to the student’s teaching practice.

The theme for NAFSA's 2013 Colloquium on Internationalizing Teacher Education was "Expanding our Vision:  International and Cross-Cultural Experiential Learning for Pre- and In-Service Teachers."  The two day colloquium - one of several colloquia in key disciplines the association offers as a part of its annual conference - focused on how to offer all types of international experiences to current and future educators and what these experiences entail.  General consensus among the nearly 80 deans, faculty members, and representatvies from nonprofit and governmental organizations in the field is that more reserach is needed on the impact of these experiences, and that these experiences take many forms.  The presentations and reports from the sessions are available on NAFSA's website, as well as resources from past colloquia on teacher education.

Some programs offer study abroad experiences tailored specifically to teacher candidates by creating student teaching experiences outside the United States.  These programs must create other opportunities for students to engage with the local community in meaningful ways – such as living with local host families –to help avoid the pitfalls associated with programs that allow students to spend most of their time abroad solely with American peers. 


Cushner, K. & Mahon, J.  (2002).  Overseas Student Teaching:  Affecting Personal, Professional, and Global Competence in and Age of Globalization.  Journal of Studies in International Education, 6 (2), p. 44-58.

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