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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Local responses to globalization : a comparative study of four North American universities' study abroad programs Liao, Xuehong


Globalization has become an important concept in social science studies and its many facets intensely influence our current economic, cultural, and political spheres. Many within the higher education realm believe that globalization is a converging force imposing itself on higher education institutions. However, some scholars believe globalization could also become a force to recover universities' local characteristics. In a university context, study abroad programs are viewed as an important component of international activities on campus and have been increasingly advocated as a way to provide students with the knowledge and skills required for individuals and nation-states to compete in a global market—a direct linkage to globalization. On the other hand, study abroad programs are also bound in their specific local contexts and history. So, how do globalization and universities' local contexts influence these study abroad programs? This thesis is a comparative case study focusing on four North American universities' study abroad programs. The project investigates why and how these programs are organized at the university level within the context of globalization and explores how the local and the global interplay to shape the arrangement of study abroad programs in universities. The results of this study demonstrate that globalization forces some universities to be strategic players emphasizing internationalization as a direct response. In turn, such emphasis on internationalization enhances the development of study abroad programs in these universities. The desire to present students with the opportunities for developing cross-cultural communication skills also contributes to the development of study abroad programs. Yet the many facets of globalization also present challenges to study abroad programs. From influences of the economic aspect of globalization, the market ideology is creeping into the organizing process, raising the risk of losing these programs' long-term educational integrity to satisfy customer's needs. As travel costs make these programs more expensive, study abroad programs have to compete with other more cost-effective on-campus international activities for increasingly limited resources. From the perspective of a cultural version of globalization, the moving of people and ideas creates spaces for cultural exchange, and thus, adds the agenda of expanding certain ideological influences in some universities' study abroad programs. All these issues create a complex reality for the development of study abroad programs on university campuses. Further research on how the internationalization process influences the development of study abroad programs is needed to expand our understanding of impacts of economic globalization.

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