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Add a Professional Development Project to Your Study Abroad Program

December 13, 2021

By: Elaine Asma | Study Abroad Instructor | Gateway Technical College

Have you ever wondered how you could enhance your study abroad program to both personalize the experience and create a lasting impact for your students?

Good news! You can add an independent professional development project!

Adding a professional development project gets students excited about their studies and broadens their perspectives. Before traveling, students make their own contacts and arrangements for their projects, which deepens their commitment.

Not sure what to assign? Here are a few examples of potential professional development projects:

  • create a poster session that can be displayed in a common area after you return.
  • have students present their study to another class in their major. This will educate and create interest for future travelers.
  • interview a professional in their major to see what their jobs are really like. Contact a company that has a branch in the country you are visiting. Before traveling have the student visit the company in the US and interview someone there. Usually, they will help the student make a contact in the other country. Then, when in country, visit the branch and see the differences between operations in the US and the country they are visiting.
  • use the city Tourist Office to make connections to interesting people or locals who would like to talk about their city.
  • have students sit in on a class in a college or university where you are traveling. They can interview the professor and compare or contrast teaching styles.
  • hospitality and tourism students can interview the hotel manager where you are staying to understand all the elements of operating in that country with foreign guests.
  • culinary students can visit different restaurants to report on the cultural differences in operations.

The professional skills students gain on a study abroad program are:

  • working closely with others in a group
  • completing coursework in another country
  • using critical thinking to solve problems in a new and unfamiliar environment

You can also add a more personalized component by having students design a study for themselves.

The students at our college create their own projects to carry out while traveling with the group. We like to link them to their field of study. It not only gives them some freedom to explore what interests them, but we’ve found it looks great on a résumé, too.

This really hit home early in my study abroad experience. We had a student who traveled to Scotland and participated in a Renewable Energy program. He interviewed the director of one of the companies we visited and created a presentation for another class when he returned.  When it was time for his job search, he was picked out of the crowd for an interview because of his study abroad experience. He impressed his interviewer with firsthand knowledge of innovations in the field, and he landed the job.

Other successful projects have been:

  • a marketing/photography student created a photo journal of our travels in Iceland. His story was presented to the College Board of Directors and used in college marketing materials.
  • A horticulture student who traveled to Belize, and created a plant journal of all the new plants she encountered.
  • an interior design student visited various period homes and buildings in France to create a notebook of styles and motifs.
  • several nursing students in Costa Rica created a series of informational posters that were hung in the halls of the Nursing wing.
  • a graphic design group created a multimedia interactive guide to Paris.

These are just a few ideas that have worked for our programs to excite and engage students. 

When students drive the process, they use their creativity to explore their interests, which enhances their international experience. It’s good for them in the short term, and later, it sets them apart in the job search. Additionally, study abroad looks great on a resume and a professional development project can be a great talking point in an interview. It provides additional value for myself as well, and I am always eager for my next abroad adventure.

About the Author:

Elaine Asma is an English Language Learning and Study Abroad Instructor at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She prepares instructors and students for their Study Abroad experiences. She has participated in 15 study abroad programs in the last 10 years. Her experience includes proposal writing, pre-trip explorations, developing academic partners in various countries, and traveling with students. She holds an MBA from Loyola University Chicago, and a MAT from National-Louis University in Chicago. She recently completed a certificate in Hospitality and Tourism from NYU.


About the Author’s Publication:

Leave Home Just for a Little While: A Short-Term Study Abroad Student Guide was created for students who are participating in short-term study abroad programs. Not all students are able to go abroad for a full semester, but they can still experience the thrill of exploring a new culture. This guide will help the student learn about themselves, the country and people they will visit and use their experience to enhance their academic learning and careers. Students will learn about culture, history, language, money, food, how to get around, safety, packing and navigating travel with a group. The last part of the book is for remembering their classmates, journaling their daily experiences and taking notes.

Request a copy of the author’s publication at