Beyond Bologna and Bolashak: Work & Travel U.S.A. as a Context for Student Agency in Kazakhstan's Internationalization of Higher Education
Lucht, Laura Elizabeth
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This thesis examines student participation from Kazakhstan in the Summer Work & Travel U.S.A. program. Kazakhstan's government emphasizes the Bologna Process, the government-funded Bolashak scholarship, and the new elite Nazarbayev University as pillars of educational internationalization. The Work & Travel program forms an alternative avenue for Kazakhstan's students to reach the United States. Semi-structured interviews with students, faculty and administrators in the U.S. and in Kazakhstan (N = 22) and a survey of popular media publications indicated that students and their parents know about persistent quality issues that have plagued the Work & Travel program, but sign up nonetheless. This thesis seeks to determine why, despite known risks, significant numbers of students from Kazakhstan continue to participate in the Work & Travel program. Analysis of perceived risks and benefits inherent to the program and of strategies that students use to cope with challenges suggests that Kazakhstan's students prefer flexible exchange programs that accommodate their strong group solidarity and their collaborative decision-making preference. These preferences are explained within the framework of Douglas's group and grid cultural theory (1982, 1986, 1992, 1999; Douglas and Ney, 1998). Changes to Work & Travel mandated by the U.S. State Department for summer 2012 call for closer monitoring of student well-being and require opportunities for cultural enrichment and English language practice during the employment phase of the program. Sponsor companies may contract with third-party providers such as educational, non-profit, or community volunteer organizations to supply this enrichment. The new policy thus creates an opportunity for educators in the U.S. to serve students from Kazakhstan who participate in Work & Travel. Implications of this analysis suggest that educators in the U.S. and the government of Kazakhstan should assess further the reasons why Kazakhstan's students pursue Work & Travel, should consider Work & Travel in strategic planning for international education opportunities, and should seek to create high-quality, flexible, collaborative work-study options that would permit Kazakhstan's non-elite students to offset the costs of their international experience through concurrent employment.