Interview with Dr. Donna M. Velliaris regarding study abroad programs

Explore. Dream. Discover. Dr. Donna Velliaris Speaks on the Infinite Possibilities of Study Abroad

By IGI Global on Feb 20, 2017
Emerging Research TrendsDr. Donna M. Velliaris
Dr. Donna M. Velliaris was the Academic Advisor (Deputy Director role) at the Eynesbury Institute of Business and Technology (EIBT) until 2016. She helped hundreds of pre-university pathway students gain entry into Australian universities by, for example, facilitating workshops to enable the 99% Non-English Speaking Background (NESB) student population to ‘survive and thrive’ the academic, cultural and linguistic conventions of tertiary-level studies. In 2017, she is living and working in Singapore.

She recently took some time out of her busy schedule to collaborate with Promotions Assistant, Elizabeth Leber, to discuss her recent title Handbook of Research on Study Abroad Programs and Outbound Mobility.

Tell us a little about yourself and your experience in higher education.

Dr. Donna Velliaris: Originally a high school teacher in Australia, I hold two Graduate Certificates in (a) Australian Studies and (b) Religious Education; two Graduate Diplomas in (a) Secondary Education and (b) Language and Literacy Education; as well as three Master’s degrees in (a) Educational Sociology, (b) Studies of Asia, and (c) Special Education. In 2010, I graduated with a PhD in Education from the University of Adelaide focused on the ecological development of school-aged transnational students in Tokyo, Japan, where I previously taught at an international school.

At present, my edited books include: (1) Handbook of Research on Academic Misconduct in Higher Education [IGI Global 2016] (2) Handbook of Research on Study Abroad Programs and Outbound Mobility [IGI Global 2016]; and (3) Study Abroad Contexts for Enhanced Foreign Language Learning [IGI Global, forthcoming 2017]. My research interests are many and varied: academic acculturation; authoethnographic studies; human ecology; international schooling; schools as cultural systems; study abroad; teacher professional development; and Third Culture Kids (TCKs)/transnational students.

Did you partake in a study abroad program as a student? If so, how did you benefit?

Yes, I was selected as a Rotary International Exchange Student to Tokyo in 1989. Despite my yearnings for early autonomy and opportunities for individual development beyond the scope of my family, relocating to Japan in the 1980s proved more difficult than I could have ever imagined. My previous life experiences had not prepared me for the completely disparate lifestyle into which I had thrown myself. At once, I had a Japanese father, a Japanese mother, a Japanese school and a Japanese residency. While my host otousan [father] spoke a touch of English, I was propelled into an environment that had no other familiarity. As much as I thought the orientation sessions in Australia had equipped me for my year abroad, I had remained ignorant of the potential for this crossing to alter my ‘developmental ecology’.

My one-year adventure was not all a bed of roses. The public Japanese high school (Years 10-12 only) I attended had a student population of 3,000. On my first day, I was escorted to the assembly hall and led onto an elevated stage where I was instructed to deliver my introductory speech in Japanese; a language that I could not speak a single word. While the cue cards were written in Romaji [Japanese English], I had no knowledge of the pronunciation or meaning of the expressions I had been given to read. Looking out onto a sea of perfectly amassed, black-haired pupils, seated in deathly silence and seiza [Japanese sitting with knees together, back straight and buttocks resting on ankles], I delivered those strange words in sheer terror and in my new school uniform that, at the time, felt like a fancy dress ‘sailor’ costume.

Despite the countless challenges I faced when I was 17-years old, my desire to travel and learn had only just begun. Since then, I have attempted to work-hard and play-hard across the globe to capture experiences that are impossible to replicate in my home setting i.e., learnt about ecological sustainability in the middle of the Amazon Jungle, studied salsa dancing in Cuba, taught English in Nicaragua, helped build a school in Peru, and led team-building expeditions in Indonesia. In the acknowledgment section of my handbook, I say ‘May readers be inspired to go beyond their own comfortable borders into a world of infinite opportunity’, which I wish to reiterate. I then include the well-known quote from Mark Twain, ‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover’.

How did you find yourself involved in research on study abroad programs and outbound mobility?

The personal significance and motivation to commence my PhD program was realised during the period when I was teaching at an international school in Tokyo. My own reflection suggested that there were unique qualities that emerged as a result of childhood years abroad. Time and again, I felt a strong connection to my students and their sense of new adventure coupled with displacement. I was fortunate, however, to have been 17 years old when I first travelled to Japan, to have already completed my compulsory formative schooling, and to have experienced one global transition from Australia.

I networked with international families in Tokyo to collect original data from parents about their experiences of living and working there, and of their children’s schooling. Analysis and discussion of my research data was designed to be descriptive, informative and analytical, to better understand the factors of internationalization and their impact on transnational children in the Tokyo context. It was anticipated that a systematic understanding of the impact of this lifestyle on the development of transnational children would lead to recommendations of ways to support parents, teachers, schools and community services that contribute to their socialization and education in cosmopolitan urban centres such as Tokyo.

Tell us a little about your book. What are the most important issues addressed?

Institutions of Higher Education (HEIs) are investing in study abroad as a major component in their efforts to internationalize their campuses with many having established infrastructures in support of outbound mobility experiences. The international mobility of HE staff and students not only contributes to the internationalization of HEIs, but can impact on the outlooks, subsequent lifestyles, and future careers of participants. As short-term study abroad programs/courses continue to gain popularity throughout much of the world, this handbook presents a collection of works from 60+ leading scholars in the field. I sought to produce a reference that educationalists and others may find valuable as they reflect on outcomes associated with the complex process of HE in a globalizing world. And, while innovation of international curriculum can occur in many ways, study abroad programs warrant evaluation due to the proliferation of related research over the past decade.

Emerging Research TrendsDr. Velliaris Exploring the World
What did you find fascinating in your research of study abroad programs and outbound mobility?

I wish I was afforded the same opportunities offered to students today when I attended secondary school and into my university years. I became engrossed in the incredible array of study abroad offerings that would surely make both the teaching and learning of topics authentic and tangible. Nowadays, students have the chance to participate in uniquely designed, special-interest, and personalized courses guided by the tutelage of mentoring HE faculty member(s) on, for example: Art, History and Culture in Renaissance Italy; Biodiversity, Extinction, and Community-based Conservation in Madagascar; Fashion Merchandising in Milan; German Studies in Lüneburg; Inequality and Society in Contemporary Japan; Literacy and Special Education in the Dominican Republic; Shakespeare in London; Tradition and Cuisine in Tuscany; Studio Art in Florence; Vienna Master Courses for Music; and Water Quality in Uganda. Perhaps my chance of passing first-year pure Mathematics would have increased had I participated in a short-term exchange experience such as ‘Mathematics at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin’. With Leonard Euler, Carl Friedrich Gauß, Karl Weierstraß, David Hilbert and Felix Klein having made Germany a top place in the world for studies in mathematics, I could have had a ‘sliding doors’ moment whereby I became an ‘Actuarial Scientist’ rather than an ‘Educator’. Hmmm...

Where do you see the future of study abroad programs and outbound mobility?

Increasingly, HE students need to be prepared for a global work environment and HEIs have a duty to meet the growing demand for study abroad opportunities that are inclusive of traditional, non-traditional, and first generation cohorts. Proponents stress a number of ‘positive’ outcomes or key competencies for those undertaking a study abroad venture, including such marketable skills as: accepting foreign values and beliefs; adapting behavior; building confidence; communicating across cultures; deepening learning and inspiring rigor; detecting ethnocentrism; encouraging solidarity; engaging in active observation; enhancing civic-mindedness; facilitating intellectual growth; fostering empathy; increasing self-awareness; practicing reflexive understanding; preventing stereotypes and prejudice; showing cultural humility; and tolerating ambiguity—to name but a few. Global encounters are likely to facilitate a clearer sense of personal and professional purpose, as well as vision and ambition that may otherwise have been overlooked by staying domestic.

Who would benefit from this handbook of research?

The 30 carefully selected chapters by 60+ international and cross-cultural scholars raise the consciousness of many: academicians; administrators; advanced-level students; cross-cultural trainers; educational institutions; educators; employers; government officials; HE counsellors; international student services; marketing specialists; participants; policy-makers; program/course managers and developers; and other researchers interested in short-term and outbound mobility programs for both students or themselves.

Is there any message you would like to give to your readers as it pertains to your research?

Study abroad offers an invaluable chance to discover a diverse culture through a personal, professional, and educationally enriching experience. Indeed, study abroad programs should be ‘enjoyable’, thus, they should not be promoted as ‘an easy study option’ or ‘time-off’. Studying abroad is not a vacation and the legitimacy of such outbound opportunities should be linked with fulfilling major/minor and/or elective requirements that students must complete even if they remained at their ‘home’ HEI. Hence, there needs to be an ‘educative’ connection between the home and host destination/organization for advancing HE teaching and learning outcomes. Unquestionably, the more relevant the international experience is to the overall aims and objectives of the HE program/course, the more both staff and students will benefit in the short- and long-term.
A sincere thanks to Dr. Donna Velliaris for sharing her remarkable insight in this area. Please take a moment to view her title Handbook of Research on Study Abroad Programs and Outbound Mobility. To provide feedback or a review of this book please reach out to the newsroom contact below.

Newsroom Contact:
Elizabeth Leber
Promotions Assistant
(717) 533-8845, ext. 132

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