Does “preflection,” as proposed by Jones and Bjelland (2004), enhance student participation in international experiential activities? Students’ experiences and barriers to participation in international research settings was studied through multiple, natural resource, field day demonstrations in south Texas and northeastern Mexico. Students observed experts from Mexico and Texas demonstrate 1) soil and water conservation practices, 2) brush control, 3) grassland restoration, and 4) wildlife management techniques used on several border region ranches. Undergraduates also studied economic, social, and cultural issues in a border-region colonia. Prior to the field days, students participated in preflection exercises to benchmark their cultural awareness of Mexico, its agricultural and socioeconomic systems, and their own internal and external barriers that prohibited previous participation in international experiential situations. Following the field days, students participated in post-experience reflection exercises to compare their initial beliefs to actual experiences.
Respondents had primarily negative, stereotypical attitudes toward Mexico and Mexican agriculture prior to the field days. They expressed concerns about personal safety, language and financial barriers, and missing their families as reasons for not participating in international experiential activities. Following the Texas-Mexico field days, students’ initial attitudes were changed to positive, progressive beliefs about Mexico and its agricultural systems. Post- experience barriers remained largely unchanged; language and personal safety issues were primary reasons for not participating in future long-term international experiences. However, a few students noted a willingness to seek careers internationally. Identification of these beliefs and barriers helped administrators make programmatic changes to the Texas-Mexico experience.
Keywords: Barriers, Border Issues, Culture, Experiential Education, Students