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Instructor's Guide for Study Abroad

Jeffrey M. Sharp and the Smeal Office of International Programs (SOIP) manage several summer study abroad programs and make management decisions about the summer schedule each year. Two of the key questions are: What courses should be offered?  and Who should be invited to teach the courses? Generally, the programs are six weeks long and students earn six credits in two courses. Usually, one course is taught by Smeal instructor(s) and a second by an instructor provided by the program site. Sometimes, two Smeal instructors pair up with three weeks each. Presently, the sites we use for Smeal instructors are Salvador, Brazil; Florence, Italy; Maastricht, The Netherlands and elsewhere. New programs are being introduced each year.


By early August each year, SOIP gathers ideas from interested instructors and makes decisions about what we would like to offer the following summer. By early September, the web pages promoting the programs are opened. By this point course titles, brief course descriptions and all instructor names are needed.

Students are invited to apply for the programs until the application deadline February 1st. As the SOIP staff reviews applications for acceptance, we also attempt to direct students from over-subscribed programs to those that are under-enrolled. Applications for each program will be evaluated by early March to determine if there are enough students for the program to be held. If necessary, a program will be cancelled due to low enrollments. After spring break, there will be a pre-departure meeting for the Instructors to meet the students who have enrolled in their programs.

How to Express Interest

Think about what you might teach that would appeal to rising sophomore or rising junior students. It is usually best if students from multiple Smeal majors would find it interesting. Consider if you have contacts in a company, organization, or university abroad that might be open to hosting students on a field trip related to your topic. Reflect on whether your topic might include a regional flavor. Sometimes this facet may need to wait until you learn what site(s) have an opening. Summer programs are a minimum of six weeks. If you are not prepared to be abroad that long, do you have a colleague that might divide the time with you? When your class concept is formed, make an appointment with Austin Jaffe to propose your idea.

Effectively, there are three requirements which must be met for any study abroad course:

  1. The course must be within the faculty member’s areas of expertise, although it may be a different course than what a faculty member has taught at University Park.
  2. The course should be of general interest to a wide-range of pre-Smeal and Smeal students. Since Smeal majors must take their major courses at UP, there is no demand for narrow, advanced major courses abroad. Ideal courses would appeal to both young and experienced students alike with different backgrounds and connections to the topic.
  3. There must be a linkage between the course and the locale. For example, courses in Europe need to relate to the city, region, country or group of countries where the course is held.


Teaching in a stimulating international setting can be like a mini-sabbatical. Students want to attend the program as an additional feature of their academic program and the resources outside the classroom bring new perspectives to the discussions. The general compensation available to Smeal faculty is an airline ticket, a furnished, quality apartment and about $1,000/week. Instructors retired from PSU are not eligible to be paid. Additional funds may be available to cover related student costs. Since faculty often bring one or more family members along at their own expense, teaching abroad is seldom done to increase income. Classes typically meet for three hours twice a week (6 hours total), so there is ample time to explore the immediate area and weekends may be used for traveling further.

Airline Ticket(s)

Compensation for teaching includes the airline ticket for one or two instructors. Family members must provide their own transportation. So that all can fly together, instructors are very involved in reserving their flights. If they do not fly directly to their program site, they will need paper documentation (with the same date as the airline reservation) that the cost does not exceed a direct flight. The details for getting reimbursed vary depending on the program site. Check with SOIP for more information.


Housing varies somewhat by site. Generally, instructors live in one- or two-bedroom furnished apartments within walking distance (or metro or bus) of their classrooms. The size usually depends on how many family members will accompany the instructor. If there are two instructors, they usually share the same apartment. The first instructor arrives before the course begins and there is professional cleaning before the second instructor takes over.  In Copenhagen, instructors choose their own apartment from a web site, within certain cost parameters. In Florence and Maastricht, the on-site staff assists in securing an apartment. Communicate your needs to Austin Jaffe, as he is the sole contact for communicating with our partners abroad. Because these are city locations with high rents, you should not expect as much room as you are accustomed to in the States. Air conditioning and internet connections are not automatic and may cost extra to operate.


Instructors should be sure to arrive in time for the Orientation Program that students must attend, especially the first year teaching in a new location. This adjustment period is for the benefit of the Instructor, as well as the students. Then, everyone will know what rules apply to student behavior and will have time to learn their way around.

Health Insurance

Instructors health insurance abroad is covered by a PSU policy. They may want to buy short-term international health insurance for their family members. Prepare yourself by reading the PSU Health and Safety information.

Course Syllabus

Like any Smeal course at University Park, each course requires a formal syllabus including an overview of the course, schedule of topics, list of readings, class presentations and basis for grading. The resulting spectrum of grades should reward the top academic performers more than their peers, just as they would at University Park.  If it is not already required by the program site, please consider including mandatory class attendance in the course syllabus with penalties for violators. We also encourage adding statements like:

  • Academic Integrity Academic integrity is as critically important abroad as it is here at Penn State. Penn State Faculty Senate Policy 49-20 defines academic integrity as “the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner… [and] a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception.” Please read (and make sure you fully understand the implications of) this policy, which can be found at: http://www.psu.edu/ufs/policies/. You are also subject to the academic integrity policies of the host institution if you are caught cheating, plagiarizing, or otherwise being dishonest about your work while abroad.
  • Class Attendance You are expected to attend and participate in all of your classes, labs, recitations, and field trips as necessary and as scheduled at your host institution. Please remember that you are a student first and foremost when studying abroad.

  • Behavior According to the Penn State Office of Judicial Affairs, the University can report student discipline information to the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) of students under the age of 21; this includes violations of foreign law and/or host institution rules regarding alcohol or controlled substances, or general discipline problems abroad.

Class Communication

Accepted applicants gather for a pre-departure meeting after spring break. At this time instructors may outline their expectations and any necessary texts or other course materials students should bring with them. The Florence staff is unique among our programs, because they are willing to order course materials chosen by the instructor and sell them to the students, much like our bookstores do here. In this case, every student will be required to buy their own materials.

If a course does not have an Angel site already, the SOIP staff can make an Angel Group for it. The Group operates with most of the same features a Course site has available. Typically, students and Instructors bring their laptops for communication, research and homework.


SOIP welcomes new ideas for courses and expressions of interest in instructing in a study abroad program. We balance many variables in making final decisions about courses and instructors for each summer season. Then, we begin the task of promoting and filling all our programs with qualified students. When both students and instructors benefit from the experience, we have done our jobs well.

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