Welcome to our newest member – The Forum on Education Abroad
Interview with Amelia J. Dietrich, Director for Research and Resources & Interim Editor of Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad
Tell us your story. How did The Forum on Education Abroad get started?
The Forum was founded in 2001 by leaders in the field of international education who wanted to create a professional association that focused specifically on education abroad for U.S. students and on developing comprehensive standards and best practices to guide their work in that area. The founders convened the first annual conference in 2004 and led The Forum to earn recognition from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice as the standards development organisation (SDO) for the field of education abroad by 2005. The organization has grown by leaps and bounds since then, adding a Quality Improvement Program for study abroad programs and organisations and a Professional Certification Program for individuals who want to certify their knowledge of and ability to apply the Standards of Good Practice for Education Abroad in their work.
What makes The Forum on Education Abroad different from your competitors?
It’s not about competition for us. As a professional association and the SDO for the field of education abroad, we hope to bring everyone into the fold. Our goal is to develop and disseminate the Standards of Good Practice broadly in order to improve the quality of education abroad and make it accessible to all students. Our annual conferences in the United States and overseas conferences every two years bring together professionals from all different types of organizations around the world and at all levels of their careers to engage in critical dialogue about pressing issues that face our field and share the ways they’re innovating and improving education abroad for their students.
What is your favourite success story from your organisation?
The best successes aren’t ours, but the ones that we hear from our members about how they’ve applied the Standards or the training they’ve received from The Forum to make a difference for their students. We hear about so many of them in our conversations with members! We try to highlight these successes in different ways at our annual events and throughout the publications and resources available on our website.
What can we expect to see from The Forum on Education Abroad in the future?
The Forum is working towards a future in which education abroad is integral to the mission of higher education, programs meet the Standards of Good Practice, and the experience is accessible to all students. This means continuing to grow and diversify our programs and resources to better serve underrepresented organisations within our membership, namely community colleges, HBCUs, MSIs and Tribal Colleges and Universities, as well as institutions and organizations based outside of the U.S., particularly in the Majority World. It also means expanding our support for our members and the field at large to help them reach their goals of diversity and inclusion among the students they serve.
Which trends do you see in educational and active youth travel?
On the administrative side of things, we’re seeing a steady growth in shorter-term programs, that is, programs that last for a summer or a couple of weeks rather than a whole semester or academic year. Along with this comes the rise of what some might consider non-traditional education abroad programs, including programs that do not necessarily carry academic credit, such as internships, community-based global learning, teams traveling for sports tournaments, music ensembles going on tours overseas, etc. And health and safety is a perennial hot topic.
More interestingly, we are increasingly hearing calls from professionals in the field and from the students who participate in their programs that our field needs to think deeply about issues of ethical engagement with all members of the communities our students travel to and study in, that education abroad needs to move towards decolonising aspects of international education in the ways that academic fields such as anthropology have been doing in recent years. The scholarship in our field is growing about the messages sent by marketing materials used to promote programs and “common sense” pairings between certain destinations and certain types of programs, e.g., volunteerism or health-related activities. It’s causing the landscape of what we do as international educators to shift and get more complex perhaps, but I think it’s so worthwhile. I’m really looking forward to seeing how our field adjusts and self-improves in response and to doing my part to contribute to the process.
How do you work to ensure the health and safety of young travellers involved with The Forum on Education Abroad?
Standard 8 of the Standards of Good Practice for Education Abroad states that an organisation engaging in education abroad programming for students should prioritise “the health, safety, and security of its students through policies, procedures, advising, orientation, and training.” It is our most-read standard on our website and often the first standard professionals are drawn to when they seek training.
To help international educators apply Standard 8 in their work to help students stay safe, we offer workshops throughout the year on Standard 8 generally and on focused topics such as mental health issues and crafting an emergency plan. Every year, we convene a one-day conference called the Standards Institute: Beyond the Basics of Health, Safety, Security and Risk Management. On our website, we offer a variety of sample safety and risk management policies and protocols and convene timely webinars on health, safety, security, and risk management topics. Last but certainly not least, our newly launched Critical Incident Database helps Forum member institutions and organisations track critical health, safety, and security incidents that occur on their programs so that they can identify patterns, learn from mistakes, and continue to improve their health and safety protocols for the future.
What was your motivation to join WYSE Travel Confederation?
I’ve had some productive collaborations with WYSE Travel Confederation staff who’ve volunteered on Forum working groups and that got us talking. As I mentioned in response to the question about trends, the lines between what was traditionally called education abroad and what is considered travel are starting to blur. We felt that it was time to compare notes and see what The Forum can learn from the youth and student travel sector and what we can share with WYSE Travel Confederation from our focused experience serving the field of education abroad to better serve all our members and the youth and students who travel and study on their programs.
Have you attended a WYSE Travel Confederation event? If so, what was your experience with the event?
Not yet, but I hope to soon!
What is an industry challenge your organisation is facing at this time?
We hear from our members that they are facing financial challenges due to budget limitations, financial aid restrictions for students, and the rising cost of running programs abroad; that they are constantly competing with on-campus and domestic opportunities such as sports and internships that keep their students from studying abroad; and that the geopolitical environment around the world can scare students and their families and requires lots of resources to be prepared and respond appropriately. Our challenge at The Forum is to prioritise and allocate our time and resources in ways that can help our members address these concerns.
The Forum on Education Abroad is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, membership association recognised by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as the Standards Development Organisation (SDO) for the field of education abroad. The Forum provides training and resources to education abroad professionals and its Standards of Good Practice are recognised as the definitive means by which the quality of education abroad programs may be judged. The Quality Improvement Program for Education Abroad (QUIP) and The Professional Certification for Education Abroad Program provide quality assurance for the field through use of the Standards in rigorous self-study and peer reviews for institutions and professional certification for individuals.
For more information, visit their website: https://forumea.org/
Membership: WYSE Travel Confederation Association Member
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