Study Abroad and Culture

I was silent for around two weeks. I was preparing for International Academy of Business Disciplines Annual Convention in Las Vegas. I presented two papers, one project, and co-chaired four sessions. In addition to all this academic work, I tried to support IABD Press project. Shortly, I had quite a busy schedule during the conference.

One of the papers I presented was on the impacts of Fulbright Program entitled “More than a Touristic Visit: Scholar Exchanges as a Communication Method in Public Diplomacy”. I introduced a three-level schema for intercultural encounters. The first level is tourism. Tourists, indeed, see a new country/culture, and go through a highly fabricated and controlled experience. But still, they go through an intercultural experience and they will have something to say about the country. The second level is exchange program participants. Scholars spend longer periods of time in a different country and go through a less controlled experience. After they return back to their home countries, they are considered as information sources about the host countries. The third (and for me the highest) level is the cultural ambassadors. People might start arguing for their host countries and might advocate their rights. We discussed how tourists and/or exchange program participants can be transformed into cultural ambassadors.

Given the international characteristic of the association and backgrounds of participants, we started discussing personal experiences and the importance of study abroad experience (Two people from the audience, both American, became cultural ambassadors of two different countries after their study/teach/live abroad experiences). Dr. Bonita Neff talked about her university – Valparaiso University -, and its commitment to increase the number of international exchange programs. I was amazed by the number of opportunities available for students to go abroad. I am not going to reinvent the wheel but I would like to recap some of the most important obstacles we discussed for intercultural discussions:

– Dominance of American data: We realized that most of the research we were doing was based on American data. For instance, I was discussing scholar exchanges through Fulbright program. Another presentation discussed face-ism through 2008 Presidential elections. The last presentation was on celebrity diplomacy, and of course, discussed mainly American celebrities. The volume and quality of data about the US is more than satisfactory, and we do not feel the need to look at other countries unless we are willing to do a comparative study.

– Dominance of American literature: Even the resources we cited were mainly from the US. Practically speaking, data and journals – maybe unintentionally – cause the scholars to focus solely on the United States.

– Cluster Study Abroad: When students are sent abroad by their colleges and universities to study abroad, they tend to travel in clusters, either with students from their own countries or from similar cultures. Therefore, even after spending a semester abroad, students have no idea about the host culture.

– Plain laziness: Many people just don’t want to take the risk of moving abroad (usually overseas in the case of the United States). So, they choose to stay in their home country and do not interact with other cultures (well, maybe occasional interaction when they want to eat ‘authentic’ food).

In short, go abroad & live abroad. You don’t need to come back as a cultural ambassador, but your intercultural experience will broaden your horizon.

PS 1: This is a photo of me, getting the Global Communication Award at IABD (hopefully, I will get another award for this weird handshake next year.)
Frankly speaking, I am proud to be part of such a diverse organization. This was my second year at IABD, I am looking forward to the convention in New Orleans next year! For further information about IABD, please visit You can reach the press project for IABD 2009, St. Louis at and for IABD 2010, Las Vegas at

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