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How USD is Preparing Students to Work Internationally

by Ian Martin EdD, Associate Professor, Counseling Program  School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES)  University of San Diego 

University training is a common factor shared by all educators. Qualifying for a degree in teaching, counseling, or leadership provides a foundation to build an educational career. Unfortunately, there are very few university training programs that address international issues or prepare graduates to work internationally. The University of San Diego has been working hard to infuse global perspectives into our graduate school of education for over a decade. As a faculty member within the department of Counseling and Marital and Family Therapy, I have been actively involved in these efforts. Recently, we (USD counseling program) have started working more closely with American International schools. We feel there is a tremendous amount of potential for more coordinated programming related to both student training and research. This article covers our journey thus far and offers some future ideas for collaboration within the AASSA community.

In 2008 the University of San Diego (USD) School of Leadership and Education (SOLES) implemented an International Requirement for all students attending our graduate programs in Leadership, Teacher Education, Counseling and Marital and Family Therapy. This requirement is typically fulfilled through short-term study abroad experiences (10 days to 2 weeks) often linked to required courses. Students receive reduced tuition for these travel courses and we’ve had amazing levels of participation. A very small percentage of students opt to fulfill the international requirement locally through a point system, but being so close to an international border allows for some quality options close to home.

I joined USD in the summer of 2009. While I had an interest in international education and travel, I had no idea how this requirement would affect my teaching or scholarship. As a former school counselor and current counselor educator, my training and experience was very US-based. Despite this shortcoming, over the past eleven years I’ve had the privilege to lead students on fifteen international experiences. While the planning and travel involved can be daunting, this work has become one of my true passions.

The benefit of travel and cultural appreciation is powerful. I’ve coached students through their first airplane travel; stayed up late talking with students wrestling with their new identities as ‘Americans;’ spent my fair share of time in emergency rooms; watched countless sunsets; and am well practiced in the art of the group photo. Though beyond the surface power of travel, over time, it has become clear that something unique happens on these trips for new educators and professionals in training.

When we visit schools and clinics students see the thing that they have been studying from a new international perspective. This perspective sparks the comparative process and allows students to start mapping similarities and differences from a professional lens. Some comparisons are subtle or reinforcing, while others are striking or challenging. For example, in Japan we toured a high school and learned that instead of students rotating from class to class, teachers rotate. We noticed that this small structural practice had far reaching implications for teaching, classroom culture, and student relationships. One of my students reflected, “why don’t we do it that way?” This led to a long discussion about systems and the power of tradition. I’m continually amazed that a short experience can provide enough perspective to keep students questioning and challenging the status quo well into their professional careers.

Early in my travels I chanced upon international schools and in particular, American International Schools. Routinely these schools are places that share a similar educational context, yet offer my students a chance to expand their ideas of what is possible. School counselor training, especially in California, is largely aspirational. Meaning that too often what we train in the classroom is not what many of our students see in practice. While we have amazing practitioner partners, there are just too many circumstances within the current Californian public education system that forces counselors into tough situations. We have tremendously high counselor to student ratios, major disparities in resource allocations (super wealthy high stress schools vs high poverty low expectation schools), and a lack of district or state leadership that promotes progressive school counseling practice. Despite all of this, our graduates do amazing work and routinely reach above and beyond what they witnessed in training. Their achievement is multifaceted (i.e., incredible to begin with, motivated, prepared), but I am convinced that our international experience and exposure to American International Schools are key ingredients to their success.

Recently we’ve (USD Counseling Program) began to partner more closely with the International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile. I met Dr. Ana Maria Leon at the AASSA conference in Lima. She is an elementary school counselor at Nido and was instrumental in facilitating two trips to the school. In the past, trips typically involved several site visits with a day or two at one particular site. Both times at Nido we stayed for an entire week. Every day was like a full conference schedule with activities and projects at all levels. Students helped lead lessons and assemblies, cofacilitated groups, talked with parents, attended talks by administrators, and even guest judged a talent show.

Being welcomed by the school and whole counseling team at Nido got us all of thinking more creatively. It turns out a University in California CAN support masters-level interns in international schools. Currently, Nido is hosting their second yearlong intern and we have been blown away by their experiences there. Coordinating online supervision and coursework has been a challenge, but these students have thrived in this environment and it has opened our eyes to the possibilities associated with training students in international settings.

As we engage with and learn more about American International Schools, we must recognize how naïve we are to the various issues that affect this system. Many of you have dedicated your entire careers to these schools and students and we would like to honor that as much as possible within our collaborations. One thing we have noticed is that there is a general lack of knowledge about these systems in university training and an underrepresentation in school counseling research literature. Therefore, we are very interested in pursuing a research agenda dedicated to international schools and their stakeholders. The first project that we are planning is a needs assessment specifically designed for international schools. We feel there are unique issues (e.g. mandatory reporting, third culture identity, mental health stigma) that may benefit from rigorous empirical study.

Many universities have a desire to work internationally. While there are countless examples, it is clear there is no blueprint or manual for how to go about creating quality partnerships or programs. Our process can best be described as iterative; we have had to learn along the way. The benefit of this approach has been a slow build towards greater capacity. The current capacity for international work at the University of San Diego and within SOLES has never been better. While I’ve shared my experiences within school counseling, many of my colleagues are equally invested in their areas of specialization and eager to partner. The university has also dedicated many resources to this work through the establishment of centers (International Center and SOLES Global) and specialized grants to organize and support this work. Capacity related to access and flexibility are also being taken into consideration as we design more online offerings. Even without a blueprint, I feel very confident welcoming potential partners to explore opportunities at the University of San Diego.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our progress and ideas with AASSA. Here are some further details and contacts:

  1. Based on our experiences at Nido, my colleagues and I would like to further explore internship placements and expand our network to other American International Schools in Latin America. If interested, please contact me at:

  2. We are exploring potential professional development opportunities for those of you interested in International School Counseling. We are also testing the waters for interest in an international school counseling certificate that could be transferred into a Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredited Masters program. If interested, please contact:

  3. If interested in any of the other programs offered by SOLES please contact:

  4. My colleague (Dr. Cat Griffith) and I will be attending the first annual Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Conference held at the International School Nido de Aguilas on March 6th and 7th, 2020. Several workshops related to universal socioemotional screening, self-regulated learning, and system-wide SEL support will be offered to conference participants. For further information, please contact:

Dr. Ian Martin in an Associate Professor of Counseling at the University of San Diego where he teaches courses in school counseling and career development. Prior to becoming a counselor educator, he was a school counselor in Portland, OR. Dr. Martin has taught numerous international courses in South America, Europe, and the Caribbean; and was a visiting scholar at the University of Verona, Italy.


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