Short-term field study experiences are increasingly popular in engineering education. Where they include an international dimension, they can also develop skills and knowledge needed for working across cultures and in interdisciplinary teams. Such programs can take students out of their 'comfort zone', thereby enabling them to question their previously taken-for-granted assumptions. Here we analyze four different case studies of organizing short-term international field study programs in engineering education which share a methodology of mixing student disciplines and skills, of interaction with people from other cultures or contexts, and using reflection tools drawn from social and human sciences. While such programs appear to directly address skills desired in engineering students, it was extremely challenging to fit them within the constraints of a traditional university program and to have their modes of reflection accepted as valid by more traditional engineering education practitioners.