Curriculum, Co-curriculum, and Community
in Short-Term Study Abroad

The article emphasizes the integration of formal coursework, co-curricular activities, and community engagement in study abroad to create a rich tapestry of experiential learning. The holistic approach is presented as a strategic imperative for preparing students as active learners, critical thinkers, and responsible global citizens in our interconnected world.

For decades, study abroad programs have been extolled as transformative experiences, catalysts for personal growth, and gateways to global citizenship. Yet, in the whirlwind of short-term programs, the quest for academic rigor often overshadows opportunities for deeper learning and integration with the host community. This is where the magic of a holistic approach emerges, one that weaves together the threads of formal coursework, co-curricular activities, and community engagement to create a tapestry of transformative learning.

The Foundation: Curriculum

At the heart of any educational endeavor lies the formal curriculum. Study-abroad programs are no exception. However, the challenge is not merely to transplant classroom lectures to a foreign setting but to seamlessly weave them into the cultural tapestry of the host country. The curriculum should serve as a bridge, connecting theoretical knowledge with the practicalities of the local environment.

Imagine a student pursuing a bachelor’s in education working on a project in an organization in India that specializes in promoting childhood education through experiential learning or a business student studying the innovative strategies implemented by the UAE that has made it a global powerhouse. This integration transforms learning from a passive to an active experience, allowing students to witness textbook theories come alive before their eyes. The curriculum becomes a dynamic entity, adapting to the unique resources and opportunities each destination offers.

Beyond the Classroom: Co-curriculum

While formal coursework lays the foundation, the co-curricular aspect is the scaffolding that supports the holistic growth of a student. Activities outside of academics serve as the real-world application of theoretical concepts, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for the subject matter. Workshops on local art forms, cooking classes, film screenings, cycling tours, excursions to museums and historical sites, etc. all serve as catalysts for experiential learning. This seamless connection allows students to see the academic concepts come alive in the very streets they walk. A research by the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) demonstrates that co-curricular activities contribute to deeper learning and increased satisfaction among study abroad participants (AIEA, 2019).

These experiences not only enrich the educational journey but also instil valuable life skills such as adaptability, intercultural communication, and problem-solving. The co-curriculum becomes a tool for personal and professional development, preparing students for a globalized world that demands versatility.

Connecting Threads: Community Engagement

The true magic of a holistic approach lies in forging connections with the host community. Volunteering with local NGOs, participating in cultural events, and homestays offer invaluable opportunities for intercultural exchange and deep immersion. A study of students participating in programs with a strong community engagement component found significant gains in intercultural competency and civic engagement (Johnson, 2018).

In one of our study abroad programs, engineering students observe the lives of local communities in close quarters, connecting intellectually and emotionally. The intense learning, cultural engagement, emotional bonds, and expert guidance of facilitators help students use human-centered design methodology to create relevant and sustainable solutions that empower local communities. This direct engagement fosters empathy, cultural understanding, and a sense of global citizenship that transcends textbooks and lectures.

Community engagement serves as a two-way street—students contribute to the community while simultaneously gaining insights that enrich their academic and personal growth. It breaks down cultural barriers, promoting a mutual exchange of ideas, values, and perspectives. This symbiotic relationship is integral to the holistic development of students during their short-term study abroad journey.

The Road Ahead

As we move forward in the ever-evolving landscape of international education, embracing a holistic approach to study abroad programs is not just a best practice; it is a strategic imperative. By weaving together the threads of curriculum, co-curriculum, and community, we equip students with the knowledge, skills, and global perspective they need to thrive in our interconnected world. It transforms them into active learners, critical thinkers, and responsible global citizens – qualities that are indispensable in today’s interconnected world.


  • Johnson, J. A. (2018). Service-learning abroad: A meta-analysis of its impact on intercultural competency and civic engagement. Journal of Studies in International Education, 22(3), 301-322.

  • Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) (2019). The impact of co-curricular activities on study abroad participants. AIEA Research Brief.—association-of-international-education-administrators