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Intensive Courses Abroad: Freshmen Friendly, Freshmen Ready

Curriculum Planning and Development

Intensive Courses Abroad: Freshmen Friendly, Freshmen Ready

Intensive Courses Abroad: Freshmen Friendly, Freshmen Ready

More than ever, education can and should prepare students for global understanding and competency. Traditional study abroad programs, which provide excellent opportunities, are often not considered by nor available to students until later in their academic career, nor is spending a semester studying abroad an option for many students for a variety of reasons. Using short-term programs and offering them to students at the very beginning of their affiliation with a university, provides a unique opportunity for the students, faculty, and the institution with long lasting and impactful learning and benefits to all stakeholders.

Intensive Courses Abroad (ICAs) are credit-bearing international academic experiences that take place in 7–14 days. ICAs use learning tools such as guest lectures, industry visits, research, service, and other hands-on activities that transform the host city and country into a living laboratory. They are led by a faculty director in conjunction with pre and/or post instruction on-campus and/or online.

Within the past decade, Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa., has offered more than 70 ICAs during its quarter-system calendar breaks, engaging nearly 1500 students in 40 countries, in subject matters across all disciplines.

I have developed and led numerous ICAs since 2013. In the fall of 2016, I piloted a new “Freshmen Friendly” (FF) ICA which included three incoming first-year students whom had not yet begun their on-campus courses. They joined nine upperclassmen in the program. The course was “Leadership in Film and Practice” and it was administered in the Netherlands. Since that time, and after the success of the pilot, we now have several more FF ICAs; in AY 18-19 there will be 10 offered, of which I am involved in four. Locations include Eastern and Western Europe, South America, and the West Indies. The FF ICAs are adaptations of existing programs; that is, a review was conducted of current ICAs to determine which ones would be suitable for first-year students (considering both the topic and the faculty director).

Like traditional study-abroad, most short-term faculty-led programs at the university level have enrolled upper-classmen. With the increase need for and benefits of cultural awareness and global competency of university students, FF ICAs establish early exposure and development of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that occur from participation in international opportunities, and thus lay a solid foundation for ongoing global participation. Although FF ICAs take some buy-in, planning, training, promotion, and monitoring, the benefits are clear and notable.

The FF ICA Program at Drexel University has several objectives, which include:

  • Expand first-year student global engagement
  • Strengthen student recruitment and retention
  • Prepare students for diverse team projects and internships
  • Encourage further global opportunities and experiences

After the launch of the official FF ICA Program, first-year participation in ICAs went from 34 participants over five academic years (2011 -2016, during spring and summer term breaks only) to 81 participants in only two academic years (2017 – 2018) (and during all four term breaks – fall, winter, spring, and summer). That is a 140 percent increase in one-third the time with double the accessibility.

 Participation by Discipline, AY 16-17 and 17-18

According to the IIE Open Doors Report in 2017, only 10.4 percent of US undergraduates study abroad. Because of the opportunities of FF ICAs, Drexel first-year study abroad alone is three times this national average. Additionally, 22 percent of FF ICA participants studied abroad again in some way in just over the two years that data has been tracked.

Leading any course abroad is both challenging and rewarding; including first-year students adds to both the challenges and the rewards.

Here are some the lessons learned and tips from the development and execution of the FF ICAs.

  • Faculty Training – Faculty leading an FF ICA should first have experience with another faculty-led program, and preferably with first-year students in other courses as well. Discussions should then occur around how to engage with first-year students while abroad, including their unique needs, concerns, and integration with upper-classmen in the program.
  • Curriculum Adaptability – The existing faculty-led course program content should be reviewed to ensure that a first-year student can understand the material and learning objectives and be able to contribute to the discussions and activities. Some adjustments may be needed to provide a meaningful and applicable experience for all participants.
  • Enrollment Size – Because a first-year student may require extra or different support from the faculty director(s), the total number of participants should be considered. A balance between a smaller sized-group and one large enough to provide the first-year students with relevant peer mentoring is helpful.
  • Expectation Setting – First-year students may have had little or no college-level course experience. Setting proper expectations and thoroughly reviewing them (prior to and during the program) is critical.
  • Safety Plans – Approved safety plans are needed for any international faculty-led program, but they become even more important with a new university student who may not be as familiar with overall university policies.
  • Reflection Activities – Although recommended for inclusion in immersive and experiential programs in general, designing reflective activities and tools with the level of a first-year students in mind can truly provide the impact and foundation for further integration and application of the learnings from the program for their remaining academic career.
  • Student Course Loads – An ICA can be either a stand-alone program or one that launches or concludes a term/semester-long course. Consideration should be given to total course loads of participants, and how best to provide the credits and deliver the material.
  • Credits – ICAs should be credit-bearing (at Drexel they are generally the equivalent of a three-credit course but may range from one to four credits).
  • Grading – ICAs should follow the normal grading scales of university-wide courses.
  • Evaluation and Assessment – ICAs are meant to be challenging learning environments. Assessments generally focus on participation, contribution, reflection and relevant projects; daily contact and feedback maintains engagement and allows the faculty director to assess the learning in a continuous environment.
  • Selection Process – Like all ICAs, first-year students must go through an application and selection process. This includes a short essay, a recommendation letter, a brief interview, and proper academic and conduct standings. To accommodate first-year applicants, high school connections are often acceptable.
  • Application Process and Timing – Especially for fall term and winter term break programs (where the incoming student is not yet on campus for the actual program or for the application process), special arrangements may need to be made for system access, university codes, and accessibility. It requires extra time and effort on the part of the faculty director and university administration, so buy-in, communication and support are very important.
  • Price Points – The Drexel ICAs carry a travel fee; the academic credits are included in standard tuition (assuming the student does not exceed the maximum allowed per term). Travel portion fees will vary but should consider budgets and accessibility for diverse students. ICA fees do not typically include airfare to allow flexibility for participants.

Early research and reporting (after two years) from the FF ICAs has shown the following key success indicators:

  • 85 percent of participants stated they were directly influenced to attend Drexel for FF ICA options.
  • 96 percent of participants stated they had an increased intention to have more global experiences in later academic years.
    • 1 in 3 participants indicated the FF ICA was their first time abroad.
  • 100 percent of participants stated they had an increased acceptance of diversity and appreciation of other cultures.

As we continue to grow the Freshmen Friendly Intensive Course Abroad Program at Drexel University, we are also establishing future goals.

  • Expansion of both the subject/topic variety and locations, as well as the participation by not only first-year students but by faculty directors as well.
  • Integration with other global opportunities offered at the university (including our Global Classrooms, Study Abroad, and Global Engagement Scholars), within and across curriculums, and in support of faculty research.
  • Assessment of retention, of student global competency, and of additional engagement (internationally, professionally, on campus, and in the community).
  • Promotion about the opportunities to students and faculty, and about the impacts and results to stakeholders.

Finally, some of our FF ICA participants have said:

  • “This program gives a person a lot of exposure (to) communication… I now place a much stronger value on diversity and teamwork.”
  • “Going (abroad) during my freshman year specifically was a great way to prove to myself how much I can do on my own. It pushes you out of your comfort zone.”
  • “It was easier to understand the topics because I was given real-world experiences.”
  • “Now I know that I definitely want to study abroad again during my time at Drexel.”

For more information on the Freshmen Friendly Intensive Courses Abroad, visit The Drexel University Study Abroad Website.

Dana D’Angelo is a Clinical Professor and Center for Teaching Excellence Fellow at Drexel University. She can be reached at danad@drexel.edu. Ahaji Schreffler is responsible for study abroad program development and Drexel’s Intensive Course Abroad initiative


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