Internationalization of Higher Education Exchange Programs and Studying Abroad

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Internationalization of higher education has been happening for a long time. The idea of bringing over students from other countries and sending students from the United States to other areas of the world has lots of potential benefits for universities. Breaking down stereotypes and obstacles of cultural difference; contributing to the transfer of knowledge and expertise; familiarizing the outside world with the variety of opinions in the United States, as well as familiarizing Americans to the different views held outside the US are just a few examples of those benefits. In our current society, opening up this worldly view and pushing students to experience different cultures and perspectives is something I find to be quite valuable and necessary to the overall development of our students and our higher education system. To better understand its value, it is vital to look at the history of study abroad and exchange programs to see how they have shaped our higher education, what kinds of trends have happened throughout the years, to consider where it is going in the future, and how that is going to affect the roles of student affairs professionals. This can be done by examining the history of study abroad before the 1900s, during the World Wars era, during the Cold War era, and after the 1990s up until today. By using that information, we can make assumptions about what can happen in the next few years and how the field of student affairs can handle and/or promote the idea of studying abroad.

History of Exchange Programs and Studying Abroad


As William Hoffa (2010) stated in A History of Study Abroad, traveling the world “has educational potential, whatever its inspiration and purpose. What and how much is learned, however, depends greatly on how open the traveler is to what the road offers.” He suggested that students need to be open to learning, however, he was not the first individual to propose this idea. This is a statement that can really be used in today’s higher education system as well. The area of student affairs should have a focus on making students want to learn and international education can be a great way to make that happen. The term International education refers to “education that transcends national borders by exchange of people,” and has been happening for almost one thousand years. For example, Aristotle was born in Macedonia but attended school in Greece. There are plenty of early world travels such as Magellan or Ibn Battuta stopping in foreign lands for a quick language class before continuing on their journeys. In regard to the common description of studying abroad though, it is actually another man who takes the title of “The Pioneer of Study Abroad.” This man was Emo of Friesland, who travelled from northern Holland to study at Oxford University in 1190. Emo, in addition to being quite “sensitive,” was extremely progressive. He began to pave the way for international exchange in Europe for the next 800 years.

Along with the onset of the Middle Ages came years of increased poverty, fewer food sources, poorer educations, and lower living conditions than earlier European generations (Hoffa, 2010). Overall, the lives of the people were harder, and study abroad was reserved for the royal elite. There were many power struggles happening between nations and stark patriotism boomed as countries continued to expand their borders. Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to unite all of Europe into one big empire, and although he was unsuccessful, his idea of peace and unity among nations were not really that far out there. His problem was that he had a different idea of how to get to that point. It is believed that Napoleon was trying to mimic the ideas and thoughts of the Swiss diplomat Emmerich de Vattel, who in 1754 urged the “exchange of professors among various nations,” arguing that “the peace and security of each nation was dependent upon the peace and security of all.” This increased desire to exchange ideas in the classroom for the betterment of individual societies directly correlates to a growing interest in international education (Engberg, Jourian, & Davidson, 2016). The peace meetings that were held following the Napoleonic Wars were a crucial aspect for creating the base for the field of international education that we know and are familiar with today. In 1792, French educator Marc-Antoine Jullien wrote to Louis XVI, demanding the creation of a worldwide commission on education composed of educational associations from the various European states. Jullien saw the potential to create peace and prosperity across the countries of the world as well as take advantage of the opportunity to share ideas and grow mutual trust among the many learning institutions around the world. In the mid-19th century, all of this became reality, as members from a variety of nations met in London to design a plan for a permanent organization responsible for managing international education, which fully came into practice in 1876 (Hoffa, 2010). What this tells us is that it took a lot of cooperation among many nations to create one certified organization to handle the responsibilities of facilitating international education. It just goes to show how grand a scale the idea of studying abroad is played on. Keeping this in mind, we can guess that in the current higher education system, we will still need this large cooperation across the globe.

So, you have all of this happening in Europe, but what was going on in the United States of America? What were we doing during this time span? Well John Diomatari, a man from Greece, was busy becoming the first international student to make their way to an American university (Hoffa, 2010). He attended the University of Georgia and graduated in 1835, after which he went on to serve as the U.S. Consul in Athens, Greece. Forty years later, Indiana University began hosting a number of programs during the summer. They were basically a faculty-initiated study abroad program where university students were invited to go to a few different countries, such as Italy, England, France, Switzerland, and Germany during the summer holiday to study natural history, language, and culture.

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Internationalization of Higher Education Exchange Programs and Studying Abroad. (2019, Aug 19). Retrieved from

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