Peggy Gesing

Peggy Gesing, PhD, Program Director of EVMS’ Medical and Health Professions Education program, recently co-edited an academic book that explores the societal and economic factors that shape students’ study abroad experiences, including their ability to take part in such initiatives.

“Critical Perspectives on Equity and Social Mobility in Study Abroad” is the latest in a series of critical inquiries published by Routledge Press. The book, co-edited by Chris Glass, PhD, Professor of Practice in Educational Leadership and Higher Education at Boston College, brings together insights from roughly 23 researchers and academics around the globe.

That diverse, international perspective gives the book an important framework as the authors explore key trends and lessons in the study abroad space, says Dr. Gesing, who joined EVMS in 2019 and is pictured above.

“There is the risk that we can be very U.S.-centric when we talk about study abroad programs, focusing only on the U.S. students who are participating,” she explains. “There is a bigger picture —   students coming to the U.S., for instance, or more students from Africa and South America going to places like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai. We’re also seeing more students from lower income countries using study abroad to increase their social mobility or change their economic future. It isn’t an experience that’s just for the elite.”

Some of the stories shared in the book are poignant, representing the nuanced approach students must adopt as they navigate life and study in a different country.

“One of the chapters details the fears and worries some Muslim students face in coming to the West,” Dr. Gesing says. “The students interviewed were concerned about safety and acceptance, but, at the same time, they saw themselves as ambassadors for their home countries.”

Dr. Gesing traces her own interest in study abroad to her childhood when her family welcomed high school exchange students from Brazil and the Philippines. Later, while working in leadership positions at the College of William & Mary and Case Western Reserve University, she interacted regularly with international student populations, providing advising, instruction and program management support.

The opportunity to co-edit the book was especially compelling to Dr. Gesing because it meant working alongside Dr. Glass, who was her PhD advisor at Old Dominion University. While most of the book was complete before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Gesing and Dr. Glass worked to incorporate data in the final editing stages to reflect new impacts on study abroad from the global health crisis. They also crafted a revised introduction that addressed the effects of the pandemic and reverberations of some of the most significant political and social movements of the past 18 months.

“An immediate challenge to many international students during the worst of the pandemic was simply trying to decide whether they should or could stay abroad or go home,” Dr. Gesing says. “Here in the U.S., anti-Asian rhetoric became strong and anti-immigration policies — those that threatened to send students back home — also certainly had an impact on student mobility and participation in study abroad.”

Dr. Gesing says she hopes the number of international students coming to the United States continues to rise after this prolonged period of uncertainty. She also is eager to continue to explore the many ways culture and connection can be shared among people and communities closer to home. One chapter in the book, for example, examines how a rural community college in the American south is experimenting with cultural exchange opportunities in more urban environments.

Those kinds of interactions can have a profound effect on students, no matter their course of study, she adds.

“I think a lot about EVMS and our focus on cultural humility, which I think benefits everyone,” Dr. Gesing says. “One way to become more culturally humble is to immerse yourself in a culture that is not your own.”