When someone hears the term “study abroad”, they most likely think of undergraduate students spending a semester abroad. That may usually be the case, but there are actually many different avenues available at the University of South Carolina (UofSC) for students, professors, and staff. One of those avenues is the award winning International Perspectives on Higher Education (IPHE) program. The IPHE program is specifically designed for UofSC faculty and staff. The goal of the program is to allow participants to experience, in-country, how faculty-led programs operate and give better insight to the differences between American and international education systems. There have been eight IPHE programs since 2013, to locations as diverse as Colombia and South Africa. Most recently a group traveled to Sweden.
Comprised of a group of 15 faculty and staff, the team left for Sweden over UofSC’s spring break, March 7-14. The team made it to Sweden before the COVID-19 border closures were announced and travel bans started. Originally, this year’s program was launched by the Director of Education Abroad, Magdalena Grudzinski-Hall, Ph.D., and past IPHE participant and co-leader, Jerry Mitchell, Ph.D., but changes needed to be made to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was exciting and rewarding to prepare the group for their experience abroad. Our pre-departure sessions focused on learning about the different education abroad program structures available to our students, the learning goals and targeted outcomes of such experiences, and practical considerations for travel abroad,” said Grudzinski-Hall. Grudzinski-Hall needed to stay stateside to monitor the situation of the study abroad students; therefore, Taylor Armstrong, an Education Abroad Advisor, took her place. “As a previous participant of the IPHE program in 2017 to South Africa, I was familiar with the program’s goals and outcomes. This year’s program to Sweden was a truly unique experience for faculty and staff to learn more about the day to day operations of study abroad programming and get a feel for what study abroad might be like for our students,” said Armstrong.
Despite the abrupt changes in program leadership, the group was determined to make the most out of their international education experience. The program consisted of site visits to three of UofSC’s official exchange partner Swedish universities: Jönköping University, Chalmers University of Technology, and University of Gothenburg. Throughout the site visits, the participants met with host faculty and staff from each university and were able to learn more about the curriculum and teaching styles in Sweden. Rachel Silvey, a Career Development Coach at UofSC and IPHE participant, said she noticed “how lifelong learning is a true ambition at each university and people are encouraged to come back to school throughout their career.”
IPHE is set up to give participants a more in-depth look at how higher education systems all over the world operate. This year’s group was able to visit with the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKA) and learn about how this independent government agency oversees the 37 higher education institutions throughout Sweden.
IPHE group leader and geography professor, Jerry Mitchell, Ph.D. , described the site visits as being crucial to the experience. “We try as best as possible to have each participant meet with their counterparts to understand how they deal with higher education issues of similar importance to UofSC. So, we have a business professor meet with like faculty, an academic advisor with the same, and so on. It can be very helpful for us to understand why we do the things we do in our own jobs, with an eye toward improvement,” Mitchell said. Participating in an IPHE program allows for UofSC’s faculty and staff to go abroad and observe different international teaching methods and higher education systems. The knowledge gained assists faculty and staff in internationalizing their own classes and resources once back on campus in Columbia.
Visit the 2020 IPHE blog and follow the cohorts as they share their experiences from their journey to Sweden.