Experiential learning, which refers to learning by experience, is becoming more common in schools and universities worldwide.
‘Learning by doing’ allows students to bridge their theoretical study with real-life scenarios, which leads to better understanding and memory retention, as well as effective knowledge transfer.
According to The Power of Experiential Education, “experiential education can also lead to more powerful academic learning and help students achieve intellectual goals commonly associated with liberal education.”
These goals include a deeper understanding of subject matter than is possible through classroom study alone, the capacity for critical thinking and application of knowledge in complex or ambiguous situations and the ability to engage in lifelong learning, including learning in the workplace.
Internships or other forms of work experience embedded within the course structure is usually ideal for students to gain hands-on learning in their respective fields.
They also benefit from study abroad programs or academic field trips, which give students exposure to a wide range of environments.
At Illinois College (IC), a top-ranked liberal arts college, international students get plenty of opportunity to ‘learn by doing’ and become valued members of the international community.
They gain much more than a diploma when they graduate, with practical experience and tools to sharpen important skills they need for the workplace.
Besides internships and industry-relevant experience, students at Illinois also immerse themselves in different cultures.
They get the chance to travel abroad with the study abroad and BreakAway programs, which open the door to life-defining global experiences.
Study abroad programs allow students to spend either one semester or a full academic year in an approved program away from campus, either abroad or within the United States. Students can take courses at a host institution where they may have the opportunity to participate in internships.
The programs are designed to challenge students and help them adapt to new cultures, learn from diverse perspectives, and often enhance their ability to communicate in a second language.
BreakAways, which are group trips led by IC faculty, are another unique aspect of experiential learning at IC. Taking place when classes aren’t in session, these trips have a specific focus and range in length from 10 days to three weeks.
Each academic year, several destinations are chosen with an educational component that connects multiple academic disciplines to specific locations around the world. All students have a US$1,000 grant for their BreakAway trip, should they choose to take one.
Rabea Rachow, a 20-year old international student from Germany, said, “There are many experiential learning opportunities here at IC. One of my favorites was the class I took before going to Japan with IC students and faculty for three weeks. In this class, we discussed what we already knew about Japan and learned more about customs and cultures.
“A grant from the LUCE foundation makes it possible for IC to then send the students and faculty to Japan to gain hands-on experience of living abroad, enabling us to experience a very different way of life.”
It was a memorable experience for her because of the small group setting, and multitude of connections and memories made.
She said, “This class has benefitted me personally as it helped me figure out that I want my studies to focus on international issues as well as cultures. Non-academically, I benefitted from the whole experience because of the memories and connections we were able to make through this class and the trip. There is no better teacher than experience.”
International students in colleges with large student populations can get easily lost in the crowd without adequate support.
Illionis College takes pride in fostering a close community for international learners, hosting many activities they can get involved in.
As Rachow said, “I believe IC’s efforts create a sense of community between all different kinds of groups. IC makes you want to be a part of the community and they make it easy to do so. International student orientation is designed to make a close-knit group of students that know what the other is going through and is there to help make it easier.”
She said that when it’s time for the regular first year orientation, IC plans fun activities that help them learn about both the community and themselves, helping them make connections with fellow students.
On settling in, Rachow said she didn’t find it difficult at all – a rare feat for international students who usually find the adjustment period quite challenging.
She explained, “It has not been hard at all to settle into Illinois College. IC does a great job creating a community between the students early on. Some of the people I met my first week of college through the events that were offered have grown to be my best friends.”
Rachow, who is currently studying International Studies and Dual Languages, said that the experiential learning experiences at IC will be helpful in her future career in either higher education or higher education administration.
“My experiential learning would help me in both cases, seeing as a global perspective is very valuable today. I could apply my knowledge either in the classroom or by working with students from different backgrounds as they apply and attend the institution I would work for. The experiential learning from IC has broadened my perspective which will be valuable in all aspects of my life and no matter which job I end up in.”
A college that embraces the concept of experiential learning, Illinois College offers international students a memorable studying experience and clear pathways to their future.
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