Diversity and Global Learning: Expand Your Worldview Before You Graduate

Tyson Schritter / Colleges of Distinction »

Today’s students live in a global marketplace. Employers are beginning to recognize the importance of having a globalized workforce. It’s critical that they learn about other cultures and world views in order to have the best chance of success after graduation.

Diversity and global learning programs provide students with the opportunity to learn about people with different languages, religions, politics, genders, and cultures. This experience provides tools for communication and cooperation in a world where global interaction and travel is commonplace.

Many of these programs enhance classroom learning by bringing students into direct contact with other cultures and ideas through service-learning, community-based activities, and/or study away (domestic or international) opportunities.

Examples of Diversity and Global Learning

  • Independent Study Abroad Programs: Students either select a program organized by a US university or choose a program at a foreign university, and attend classes abroad for a semester or a year. Usually, there is no set curriculum and students choose their courses.
  • Faculty-Led Study Abroad: Faculty-led study abroad experiences are short term programs that are led by faculty in small groups. Sometimes, these study abroad opportunities can be extended or incorporated into the curriculum of a course of study.
  • International Internships: Internship programs at international companies and nonprofit organizations provide professional training and experience working abroad. These may be taken for academic credit.
  • University-Led Study Abroad Programs: University-led study abroad programs are organized by a student’s home university and are often taught by their faculty, but still allow students to study overseas. Usually, these consist of 1-3 courses around a common theme or within a single major. These programs can be offered during the semester, or often take place over spring, summer, or winter breaks. 
  • Diversity Curricular Requirements: Diversity curricular requirements are courses that contain substantial international, diversity, or global learning content. These courses may be found across a university’s curriculum, and are required of all students regardless of major.
  • Intensive Language Programs: Intensive language programs immerse students in a single language, with the goal of building fluency at an accelerated rate as well as providing an appreciation of the related culture. These programs may be taken either at a domestic university or abroad, and generally provide a significant level of fluency in one year or less.
  • Interdisciplinary Programs: In these programs, such as Religious Studies, Black/African American Studies, or Asian Studies, students study the history, culture and other aspects of a region, ethnicity, or topic from a variety of perspectives and from different academic disciplinary approaches.

What Can Students Expect?

In study abroad programs, students get the opportunity to take courses that count towards general education or major requirements while studying in another country. In diversity and global learning courses, students take courses that include information on the history and nature of a variety of cultures and communities either within the US or around the world. One goal of all of these programs, including foreign language study, is to build an appreciation for people who are different from the students taking the courses. Engaged students often find their assumptions and beliefs challenged as they learn how different—and alike—people from other walks of life and cultures are from themselves.

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The benefits of studying abroad include exposure to vibrant communities across the world, the opportunity to learn a language in an immersive environment, and the development of tools needed to work professionally in locations around the globe. Another benefit is the opportunity to travel the world before you enter the workforce — undergraduate programs tend to be more flexible than full-time jobs. Most schools offer plenty of opportunities, so you can narrow down the best places to study abroad for your interests and degree requirements.

Several students don’t understand how to study abroad, especially in independent programs, because of the potential costs and visa requirements. Many universities have made it easy to find scholarships and understand the demands of being an exchange student with advisors that specialize in organizing and coordinating foreign studies and overseas programs. 

How Does Studying Diversity and Global Issues Improve Student Outcomes?

The U.S. Department of Education highlights the need to build global literacy among college students as a key part of ensuring the country can compete internationally and prepare the next generation for successful outcomes in an increasingly global world. Learning about other cultures expands students’ appreciation of diversity and expands their own worldview. It provides opportunities for critical thinking and analysis, new approaches to subject matter, and cross-cultural communication.

How Schools Implement Diversity and Global Learning

St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX

At St. Edward’s, the Global Understanding Certificate provides an examination of a number of different international issues and processes and gives students an opportunity to demonstrate global citizenship and engagement. Students in the program must participate in study abroad and take a number of other required courses, and may also participate in international service projects.

Centre College, Danville, KY

As part of the Centre Commitment, all Centre students are guaranteed an internship, study abroad, and graduation within four years or Centre will provide up to a year of additional study, tuition-free.

Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT

Fairfield University offers a program called Upward Bound that provides free tuition for high school students, providing considerably economic and ethnic diversity within the student body. They also encourage student organizations that promote diversity, such as the Ally Network, and include options such as Judaic Studies, Black Studies, and International Studies in their academic programming.