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Story Abroad

A. Who are we are? Where? Context?

StoryCenter decided to collaborate with two university campuses, the Study Abroad Program at the University
of California
(UCB) in Berkeley, California
, and the Office of Global Engagement at Oklahoma City University (OKCU).  Projects were done as a one-day mini-workshop for three participants from UC Berkeley, and two sessions – a three-day session and a one-day mini-workshop – with a group of twelve participants from OKCU. The approach was similar: introductions to the methods and approach to digital storytelling, and working with participants to write, record, and edit their short videos.

B. What were our goals in the project? Why did it happen the way it happened?

Our interest was to develop a discussion about the use of Digital Storytelling within the context of Study Abroad
in Higher Education in the US. While Digital Storytelling has found some acceptance as a means for young people to reflect on these experiences, we wanted to create some new examples of how these stories could assist with the students own aspirations for their academic and professional careers. In both cases, we worked with the campus-based Study Abroad offices to help us to identify participants motivated to both create a story, and reflect on the experience of creating a story. We also wanted to explore the difference in stories from a context like Berkeley, California on the US West Coast, and Oklahoma City in the central plains area of the United States.

C. What Happened?

Workshops were scheduled originally in July and then August in Berkeley at StoryCenter offices. Workshops were scheduled for November and January in OKCU.  Participants were chosen from suggestions from the Study-Abroad office in Berkeley, and from a mix of students of Professor Hessler's and recent Global Engagement students at OKCU. All participants completed stories.

D. What worked?

The stories reflected a genuine range of experiences, and messages, about what participants take from their international experiences. At the OKCU site, Dr. Hessler used the three-day session to mentor students as co-facilitators, preparing them to use the digital storytelling workshop event as a way to spark ongoing dialogue about international and intercultural experiences.

E. What were challenges?

The Berkeley workshop was originally to be held just as students were returning to campus, with the hope we could work with students who had over the summer been on international study programs. Our original hope was to have eight participants in the Berkeley workshop and eight in the OKCU workshop. However, we had several last minute cancellations, so we decided to increase the number of participants for the OKCU workshops. In Oklahoma the main challenge was simply time compression: the story sharing process, once begun, can open a floodgate of recollections and issues worth exploring in more detail. The digital storytelling workshop gives participants a way to concentrate on a single, important moment to explore in depth, but it also helps us identify additional moments, challenges, and experiences that deserve attention. This is not a problem; indeed, it is a valuable outcome. But this consequence carries with it great responsibility: we educators must seek additional ways to help participants connect with supportive partners and creative outlets for reflecting on and expressing the powerful and complex experiences that arise when living and learning in other countries.

F. What did we learn? How would we approach the project knowing what we know now?

The interest in DST for Study Abroad reflections remains quite high, and the participants were de nitely engaged in the process. One important topic that came up repeatedly in Oklahoma was ‘re-entry syndrome’: students return to their hometowns with too many stories to tell, often a profoundly altered sense of themselves, and they have difficulty adjusting to their everyday lives. They experience an associated communication challenge: their experiences are often too complex to fit into everyday conversations, especially with friends and family who have not travelled extensively, and so they tend to default to fairly superficial or artificially upbeat descriptions of touristy experiences when inside they have more complicated experiences to communicate. The narrower versions of their stories are often what initially bubble up as DST topics because they are simpler and more rehearsed. So the OKCU team (Dr. Hessler, the Global Engagement director, and their undergraduate student researchers) are developing a way to use guided reflection techniques before and after the DST experience to help participants process their recollections in a deeper and more sustained way. In upcoming DST workshops they plan to incorporate assessment tools such as focus groups and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Intercultural Knowledge rubric to help participants make further connections between their initial “story-worthy” experiences and ongoing intercultural interactions. 

Watch a story: The New Norway, by Kari Pederson Behrends