Intercultural and global experiences are key components in meeting the TCU mission to create “ethical leaders in the global community,” as well as important aspects of the student academic experience at TCU. As a result, professors increasingly look to add applied and real- world international experiences to their teaching portfolio. While there are numerous benefits to intercultural and global engagement, it can be challenging to develop global programs that reach beyond educational tourism and push students to truly develop a global mindset. The transformative effects of intercultural and global learning experiences largely depend on careful planning and execution. It is not enough to simply place students in an international location; instead, we must design experiences that put students in situations that evoke new learning opportunities and further frame these experiences in terms of broader thinking and learning.

One such framework for broader thinking and learning is the TCU Center for International Studies’ Global Realities. Drawn from the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Seven Revolutions and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Global Realities framework addresses the interconnection of today’s world and the broader meaning and implications of engaging globally. Designing international programs around the Global Realities framework helps faculty and students think about their global learning experiences in applied and strategic ways. Using the Global Realities framework in class discussions and assignments can help students move from “what” to “so what,” as they develop a more meaningful understanding of the experience abroad. More specifically, the following Global Realities framing questions can provide direction:

Cultural Heritage & Modern Identity: Why are places, cultural practices, and identities so important to people, and how do these influence and play out in today’s interconnected world?

Human Rights & Social Justice: What are the causes and consequences of injustice, and what factors need to be balanced in evaluating individual, collective, cultural, and human rights?

Ethical & Innovative Leadership: What does it mean to be an ethical and responsible leader in the global community?

Healthy People & Societies: What are the issues and challenges for maintaining and sustaining healthy people and societies?

Global Communication & Education: How can communities create knowledgeable societies, and what benefits and challenges come from the free flow of information?

Sustainable Living & Biodiversity: What are the complexities to managing resources and conserving the diversity and health of life on Earth?

Development, Infrastructure & Economy: What are the barriers and approaches to improving infrastructure and growing economies in collaborative ways?

Identifying a Global Realities question as a theme for your program provides a framework for course design. Be sure to consider the value in teaching your content abroad and how your chosen location supports your objectives. Once you have established these broad parameters, start developing your international program, just as you would approach an on-campus course, by defining your purpose and goals, and then designing experiences and assignments to achieve those objectives. Experiential Learning Theory, AAC&U’s Intercultural Knowledge and Competence (IKC) rubric, and the Center for International Studies’ Global Realities framework are tools that can provide structure and direction in this endeavor.

As you think about your students’ experience, it can be helpful to identify intercultural learning goals, as well. The Intercultural Knowledge and Competence rubric by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) articulates six possible learning outcomes for intercultural competence—Cultural Self-Awareness, Knowledge of Cultural Worldview Frameworks, Empathy, Verbal and Non- Verbal Communication, Curiosity, and Openness. While this is not an exhaustive list of intercultural competency markers, the IKC rubric provides a helpful list of learning outcomes and student measures that can be adapted to a course or study abroad program. Drawing upon the IKC rubric can provide faculty a way to define and communicate learning goals for intercultural experiences. As your students encounter cultural differences, you can guide their empathy and understanding of others, encourage them to interact productively with others, and assist them in shifting their analytical and conceptual thinking. This guidance is important as we find students often do not naturally make these connections. One specific exercise you and students can explore is the Change Your LENS model.

Significant research shows we learn best when mechanisms are in place that allow for processing, checking, and experimenting with new meanings. Experiential Learning Theory (Kolb, 1984) expands on this idea and describes a process for moving from experience to understanding to action, called the Experiential Learning Cycle.

Applying the Experiential Learning Cycle means not only providing opportunities for students to engage and experience while abroad, but also providing structured, meaningful opportunities to reflect on the experience, construct meaning from the experience, and apply this understanding through a new opportunity to act. Students might participate in guided conversations, blogs, and photo journals; furthermore, you might capitalize on time with students to deconstruct the experiences and search for meaning. Take advantage of time on buses, at dinner, or waiting in train stations and airports for observation and conversation.

Developing and running international programs is a challenging, yet rewarding experience. As the emphasis on international programs becomes more central to the academic experience, related resources are increasingly available. We welcome faculty to join us as we explore these methodologies and more at our Third Thursday Thinking Global faculty interest group and on our website.


Center for International Studies: TCU Abroad. (2017). Our Mission / Our Global Realities.

Guthrie, Kathy L. and Jones Tamara Betrand. (2012). Teaching and Learning: Using Experiential Learning Reflection for Leadership Education.

New Directions for Student Services (Winter, 140), 53–63.

Kolb, David A. 2015. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Second Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Rhodes, Terrel L. (2010). Assessing Outcomes and Improving Achievement: Tips and Tools for Using Rubrics. Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Sandra Callaghan

Tracy WilliamsThis article was written by Sandra Callaghan, Director of the Center for International Studies, and Tracy Rundstrom Williams, Associate Director of the Center for International Studies for the Fall 2017 Issue of Insights Magazine.