Satellite Campuses and the Study Abroad Experience

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The full “Room for Debate” can be found here.

Most companies expand internationally in order to grow their market share and increase revenue. The same applies to universities as many have jumped on the global bandwagon by setting up satellite campuses at various overseas locations, often ones subsidized by local governments. While I’m not opposed to U.S. universities expanding overseas, I worry that they limit students’ study abroad opportunities, don’t provide an in-depth cultural immersion and restrict academic freedom.

Study abroad is more than taking classes to learn about globalization and how it affects one’s field and career.

Although U.S. students attending these satellite campuses are actually living in the host country, they’re still part of the American education system. Generally speaking, they are taught by American professors who include an international or local component to their subject material. But all too frequently, the whole experience is more American than international. In order to experience a different approach to teaching, learning and the classroom environment, U.S. students should be encouraged to take classes not offered on their home campus at local universities that are taught by local professors. This will fully immerse them in an international educational experience and enable them to work through the cultural differences that will help prepare them to work later with colleagues, supervisors and clients from different backgrounds. This local academic environment should be further enriched by an immersive living experience, possibly with a host family.

The same is true for local students who attend these American university satellite campuses. They just aren’t experiencing the deep cross-cultural immersion that is the goal of international exchange. And while it can be argued that many students would not otherwise attend an American university were it not for these outposts, sitting in a classroom surrounded by local students is not even close to matriculating on a U.S. campus. The American professor may be a thought leader on a subject, but the environment is still local. And since many of these new expansions are taking place in wealthy, emerging markets such as China, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore, the government subsidizations have an impact on the university, similar to restrictions felt by companies that have been expanding around the world recently. (Google is a good example.)

Study abroad is more than taking classes to learn about globalization and how it affects one’s field and career. It’s also about self-discovery and stepping outside your comfort zone. It’s about navigating different systems, making yourself understood in another language and/or cultural context, and dealing with the unknown – or at least a completely new and different experience. Satellite campuses just can’t offer that to the same degree.