Christopher Adams, IEM

IEM On-Site Perspectives: Team Spain, 2017

Dates: 1/5/2017 – 1/24/2017

Summary of Experience

In January Term of 2017, I participated in the Team Spain: On-Site Perspectives Course in Madrid, Spain with Paige Butler and nine classmates.  The On-Site Perspectives Course in Education Abroad Management has been designed to provide students with experiential learning about the onsite management of international education programs.  Our primary focus was to collaborate with Middlebury Schools Abroad as well as other program providers and local universities to provide them with valuable research and/or deliverable to enrich their offerings to their participants.  We visited three Spanish universities, three US universities with campuses in Madrid, and three providers. Through this research and project work, we worked hands-on with program management in the field.  Not only did the components of the On-Site Perspectives experience strengthen my understanding of education abroad, but also they provided me with important insight into seeking a practicum experience that is relevant to my professional interests.  The On-Site Perspectives course provided me with a rich network of contacts for procuring a relevant practicum site.  The work we completed in Madrid provided me with a solid professional foundation as well as tangible evidence of my suitability to work with any education abroad organization.

Through our visits to the three Spanish universities and various education abroad providers, I noticed three trends in the realm of education abroad in Spain.  The first trend is that fewer students are interested in learning about the language and culture for the sake of learning about learning language and culture.  While I was prepared for this to be the case by readings and class discussions from our Principles and Practices of International Education Management course in the fall, I did not fully consider the implications of this trend.  Before hearing confirmation of this trend from the various contacts in Spain, I did not seriously consider that even in countries like Spain, where the language is a popular language of study, students would opt out of studying the language if possible.  I sensed feelings of despair and disillusionment from several of the on-site staff and directors in response to the falling numbers of students interested in studying Spanish language and culture in Spain.  Some programs have opted to drastically reduce their language requirements and even offer beginner’s Spanish courses, while mainta ing their requirement for students to live with host families.

This response to changing student desires is troubling to me.  Students who are unable to communicate in the language will have a more difficult time in their host family experiences if their host family does not speak English.  In this case, it seems like a last ditch effort to maintain some push for language learning, even if it is not in the best format for learning or in the best interest of the student.  In order for students to maximize their learning, I would keep the language component or requirement, but cater the on-site courses to be innovative and experiential to promote interest in the language.  This would require an investment in revamping the curriculum and programming, but could maintain or even inspire continued language learning.

The second trend I noticed is that on-site positions are difficult for United States citizens to obtain.  Out of all the contacts we spoke with, the non-Spaniards either held European Union citizenship from another nation or married Spaniards and thus gained citizenship and the right to work in Spain.  As the unemployment rate in Spain, especially among younger individuals, has remained quite high, the government has taken steps to encourage the hiring of Spaniards before hiring outsiders. This is frustrating to students working on degrees in International Education Management because they are often more qualified and have more or similar experience to those currently working on-site.  We did hear that the Spanish government recently loosened their requirements and opened the possibility for outsiders with terminal degrees to enter the country and work in positions that are lacking qualified employees.  However, as International Education Management is a unique and novel degree, I do not imagine that it would suffice as a terminal degree.

The third trend is that intercultural training is becoming a more important and integrated part of the on-site experience.  Middlebury Schools Abroad include the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) for all students and require that Middlebury students complete an individual profile meeting.  Almendra Staffa-Healey, a qualified IDI administrator, presented a session on intercultural competence (ICC) to the Middlebury students before they took the IDI.  She introduced various techniques for developing ICC, for example, the Describe, Interpret and Evaluate method.  This tool helps individuals begin to thoroughly consider intercultural interactions and how culture is pervasive in our interpretation and evaluation of daily events.  The orientation sessions we observed at CIEE and Syracuse University contained elements of ICC training for students to encourage them to consider how they can learn about the culture and respond to cultural transitions in a way that promotes their development.

I discovered a bias that I had against programs that do not require a language component or focus heavily on language development.  Specifically, I was skeptical of a Spanish university that promoted itself as an international university with courses and degrees in English and Spanish.  For this reason, I assumed that I would not be as interested in Nebrija University.  I wondered if students would have a truly “culturally immersive” experience at a university with a mission directed at serving international students and teaching Spanish as a second language.  By reflecting on this initial assessment of or prejudice I had against Nebrija, I realized that my mindset is still based in the “relativist” paradigm that pushes student toward full immersion.  While I still believe that it is beneficial to be as immersed as possible, there need to be certain supports and interventions to help students maximize their learning in an immersion experience.  Nebrija is the most versatile organization we observed in terms of providing varying levels of support to students.  They offer homestays, student apartments, and work with providers for housing.  They offer courses in the host university but also have courses in English and courses catered to students learning Spanish or students can take a combination of courses.  This varied level of support for students helps them to choose their challenge and support based on what they think will be best for them.  I would like to see if and how Nebrija markets this aspect of their program.

I was not initially surprised by our IDI Group Profile results because Almendra had managed our expectations quite effectively by explaining the scale to us and where most individuals align to the scale.  The most interesting thing for me about the group profile was that we did not all fall within the scope of Minimization.  Our group is relatively well-traveled and has more international and intercultural experiences than the average person.  However, some members of our group scored in the Polarization category.  This prompted me to think about what differentiates a person in the Polarization phase from someone in the Minimization phase.  Our discussion with Almendra revealed some interesting points about the IDI and what is measures and does not measure.  We further discussed that the IDI is not a tool for ranking individuals, but rather for personal development.  This prompted me to request an individual profile meeting.

I learned a lot through completing an individual IDI profile meeting.  My individual IDI profile meeting revealed that I was one of two members of the group who are on the “cusp of acceptance”.  Almendra mentioned that for all intents and purposes, individuals with this score are coached as if they are in the Acceptance phase.  My perceived orientation was Adaptation, which reveals the difference between how I believe I act and how I actually act.  One of the most pertinent concepts that Almendra shared with me was that of unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, and unconscious competence.  She stated that individuals with my score are often consciously incompetent, which means that we notice cultural differences, but do not quite know what to do with them or how to respond.  I immediately related this to my experiences with language acquisition.  The more I Spanish I learned and acquired, the more I realized that I did not know.  It was helpful to have a similar experience to which I could apply the conscious competency framework.

I effectively met two of the following goals I had for personal development through the Team Spain experience.

Gain a deeper understanding of the logistics related to on-site orientation and the day-to-day realities.

As I have mentioned to almost everyone who asked me about Team Spain, my opinion is that it has been the single most formative experience I have had during my time at MIIS thus far.  Through observations of various orientation sessions, with varying degrees of effectiveness, I learned about what students need to know, want to know, and get bored hearing about.  The concepts we discussed in the Education Abroad Management course about risk management were brought to life during these orientation sessions.  I realized that it is less about what is fun and interesting to talk about, but what students should know in order to maintain their own health and safety on-site.

Network with Dr. Patricia Rodríguez about a practicum with Middlebury Schools Abroad in Spain.

This goal was most successfully met as I was offered a position as a practicum student at the Middlebury Schools Abroad in Spain for the fall of 2017.  In addition to networking with Patricia, I was able to make begin a conversation with APUNE, the Association of American Programs in Spain, about sharing my practicum experience between Middlebury and APUNE.  While I am in the process of deciding the details of this shared practicum, I was successful in meeting my initial goal and expanding it to include additional interests.

Team Spain attends orientation and completes a site visit at the Syracuse University program in Madrid.

Back to Spain Page