As interest in study abroad swells at the nation’s colleges and universities, a USC Rossier School-based center brings together in one virtual place the collective wisdom of more than 100 institutions– a clearinghouse for everything-anyone-could-possibly-want-to-know-about-international-study.
raveling to obtain knowledge is nothing new. A youthful Cicero left his studies in Rome to hear lectures by the best philosophers and rhetoricians of Athens and Rhodes. Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas interrupted his courses in Naples to attend that hotbed of Dominican thought, the University of Paris. In 1766, physician and founding father Benjamin Rush supplemented his Princeton education with a two-year stint at the University of Edinburgh. By then, it was not unusual for patrician youths on both sides of the Atlantic to conclude their studies with a grand tour of the Continent. Thus, Henry Adams’ fabled education took him from Harvard to the University of Berlin in 1859.
The noble tradition of American students exposing themselves to “otherness” continues today. But study abroad has evolved far beyond its original boundaries. More global, more egalitarian and more structured, it has become a mini-industry. Witness the rise of agencies that organize foreign study programs: the Council on International Educational Exchange, the School for International Training and the School for Field Studies are just three brokers used by USC.
Foreign study has even grown into a field of scholarship with its own journals, such as Frontiers, whose editorial board includes Gary Rhodes. Rhodes, who teaches a graduate course on international program administration at USC’s Rossier School of Education, likens overseas study – in all its burgeoning complexity and sophistication – to “a university in miniature.” When done right, he argues, it takes into account everything student’s expect from the full college experience: academic advising and counseling, housing and dining, library services, health care, risk management and more. Historically, however, universities have regarded international programming as a self-contained institutional niche.
The USC Center for Global Education is correcting this error. Launched two years ago under contract with the U.S. Department of Education, the center is a national clearinghouse designed to share information on study abroad issues across universities. The heart of the project is a sprawling Website ( that averages 120,000 hits a month. The site is best described as “everything-anyone-could-ever-possibly-want-to-know-about-international-study-but-never-dreamed-of-asking.”
Rhodes, who directs the project with Rossier School professor William Rideout Jr., has brought together in one virtual place the collective wisdom of more than 100 institutions. Start with a fully interactive database of all known universities in the world. Add a half-dozen study abroad program databases – each fully searchable by country, language of instruction and other criteria – and you’ve only begun to scratch the surface.
The site encompasses everything from the esoteric to the mundane. For students, there are travel checklists, passport and visa information, weather maps, time zones, currency calculators, plus thousands of program descriptions and student evaluations. For administrators, there are templates of policies and study abroad forms developed by colleges with established international programs. There are articles on everything from water safety to common mental health problems relating to isolation, homesickness and “re-entry” transitions. Resources for setting up foreign internships. Information on the best programs for handicapped students. A worldwide database of contacts at 50,000 diplomatic posts. Access to U.S. State Department travel advisories and Centers for Disease Control health advice.
Consolidating this information isn’t just a matter of convenience, Rhodes argues. It’s an urgent necessity because there’s no accrediting agency that reviews and certifies study abroad programs, and no basic standard of how study abroad should be run. Institutional resources vary greatly. One university may allocate 5 percent of a single faculty member’s time, while another devotes 70 full-time administrators.
Rhodes considers it his mission to educate all of higher education about overseas study. “We’re trying to get university counsels, health center directors, student affairs VPs and conduct officers to see study abroad as part of their purview,” he says.
Take, for example, the risk of alcohol abuse when American undergrads head overseas. “Today they can’t drink; tomorrow there’s beer served at McDonald’s,” Rhodes notes. What happens if a student is hit by a car or assaulted in a foreign land where he doesn’t speak the language and where health care and law enforcement systems are unfamiliar? The USC Center for Global Education is helping institutions adapt their policies, procedures and support mechanisms for such contingencies.



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Photograph by Lee Salem

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