How Science Without Borders Students Perceive Internationalization Strategies in Practice at an U.S. University: A Phenomenographic Study
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Internationalization of higher education (HE) has become more of a requirement than an option for universities and colleges worldwide. Institutions of HE are tasked to prepare students as citizens of the globalized world. This requires students adjust to different cultural settings and to competition in the global market. Internationalization of HE involves the integration of an international/intercultural dimension into the teaching, research, and services of an institution. Brazil has recently initiated a program called Science Without Borders (SWB) that sends students to study overseas. The SWB program is increasing the presence of Brazilian undergraduate and graduate students in prominent universities worldwide and advancing internationalization in Brazil. The recent initiation of the SWB program came about from the awareness of the Brazilian government that to be competitive, it needed to rapidly modernize and internationalize its workforce and scholars in the area of science and technology. This program provided an opportunity to investigate a well-defined effort at internationalization in terms of the goals of the program, the experiences of the student participants, and the effectiveness of the internationalization practices of the host-institution. A qualitative interpretivist approach was used in this study to gain an in-depth understanding of the meaning SWB students gave to their experiences. A phenomenographic methodology was utilized to analyze the different ways these experiences were perceived. The participants that were interviewed included six Brazilian students from the SWB program as well as faculty, staff, and administrators at the host-institution. The findings revealed that the host-institution implemented a wide range of internationalization strategies and provided an academic environment that made it feasible for the SWB program and SWB students to meet their goals. Moreover, SWB students’ experiences with internationalization strategies were represented in these categories: coping with transition and integration abroad, enhancing expertise, improving employability, learning and living with English, cultivating intercultural skills, and improving science and internationalization at home. This study presents several implications for practice for universities, for the SWB program and students.