I was there to clean out a closet.
You read that right. I flew all the way to Australia to inventory, sell, destroy, and ship stuff contained in an approximately 10' x 8' closet located in a tiny coastal town.
the problem with leftovers
In study abroad we talk a lot about program development and creating new ways to immerse our students in the local culture. There are tons of resources on how to build a new study abroad program. We almost never talk about the flip side. What about when we create programs that, for one reason or another, don't work out? I'm referring to programs that need to be dissolved because they are no longer meeting enrollment, financially solvent, or satisfying the needs of our students. What then?
The program in Lennox Head was one of these programs. I won't get into the complexities of why, but the program my institution operated there for over 10 years was closed down. Over that decade equipment was purchased, student belongings were left in storage for the subsequent participants, and there were physical remains left behind.
You might be thinking, why not chuck it in a bin or leave it for someone else, but universities, particularly state universities, have strict protocol for how these sorts of things are handled. For example, you can't donate items to charity if they were owned by the state because it might be seen as favoring one charity over another. And electronics that could contain data need to be wiped and destroyed by a certified tech. It is not so easy as walking away. Last summer it was my role to ensure that every rule was followed and all materials were properly inventoried and handled.
local impact from our global programs
There was another thing I realized when I prepared to say farewell to little Lennox Head. Our programs don't operate in a bubble. It's not just about my university. I had to explain to the locals why we were closing up shop. They asked things like, what could they do to help bring the program back or if it was something they'd done (that one broke my heart).
Our study abroad program had grown to be a part of their community-- our students chatting with locals at the lawn bowling club, shopping in the markets (spending $$$ on surfboards they could barely get up on), and volunteering for beach cleanups. Yes, sometimes it wasn't the best impression we made (mostly loud students coming home from a night at the pub). But the people in town loved sharing their Aussie culture, comforting homesick Midwestern students, and talking about the local history, plants & animals. The town became an unofficial sister-city to our campus.
I suppose I am sentimental about this program because it was where I worked for my first residential study abroad job in 2006. Or maybe it is just because the town is so small, the people so friendly, and the landscape so breathtaking. Regardless of the reason, last summer inspired me to think about program sustainability in a new way.
It's great when some of those items (hairdryers, bath towels, guide books) can be left for the next group. But what if there isn't a next group? Has anyone thought about the impact on the local community? Does your office have an "exit" plan? Are there partnerships with local agencies in place so that students can donate their unwanted personal items on the last day? What measures will the institution take to sell or repatriate equipment purchased with program funds? Are you prepared to incur the cost of sending staff to dismantle the program? Are you familiar with the regulations and laws governing property disposal?
These are important questions for international educators and just as critical as "Where should we build a program next?"
NOTE: If you are an education abroad professional who has experienced the "death" of a program and would like to present on this topic at an international education conference in the future, please get in touch: email@example.com
I love movies. I especially love watching movies about people who are experiencing a new culture for the first time and consequently going through the roller coaster of emotions associated with culture shock, adjustment, and re-entry.
If I had my way, I'd design an entire college course around culture shock in film. (Let me know if anyone knows of a class like this!) It would be amazing to use these movies to frame the study abroad journey with my students.
Here are my top 3 picks to watch through a "post-study abroad" lens:
L'Auberge Espagnole ~ The Spanish Apartment (2002)
The Spanish Apartment is a French film set in Barcelona, Spain, following the story of ERASMUS exchange students from England, Denmark, Italy, Belgium, Germany, and Spain. They are all living together in an apartment while they go to university. How is that for international...
Why watch: This movie is a must-see for anyone who participated in an exchange program. You will have flashbacks to all of the cultural negotiation and awkwardness. It kind of has an Amelie vibe (for obvious reasons).
When to watch: On a lazy day. It's drama -- a slow version of a reality show. Watch when you want to snuggle in blankets or if you are feeling nostalgic about your European exchange program.
Where to find it: Currently streaming on Netflix
LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003)
Lost in Translation takes place in Japan. A washed-up film actor from the U.S. (played by Bill Murray) and a lonely wife (played by Scarlett Johansson) develop an unlikely bond during their mutual cultural disorientation as newbies in Tokyo.
Why watch: This film does a great job of capturing the experience of being in a new city abroad and feeling culturally lost. Just like study abroad students band together to survive the initial culture shock stage, Bob and Charlotte form a strong bond born out of their fear, loneliness, and confusion.
When to watch: Late on a friday night. The film is artsy but has a good vibe. Make a fun cocktail and get lost in the amazing visuals.
Where to find it: Amazon Rental, Netflix DVD
Outsourced (you might be familiar with the TV show of the same name) is a culture-clash flick. The main character, Todd, is a call center manager who gets sent to overseas to train staff at his company's branch in India. As you can imagine, his Indian colleagues have very different ways of approaching work, friendship, and love. The film also showcases the ways in which a global economy impacts national and personal identity.
Why watch: Outsourced is funny because like many Americans who've never traveled abroad, Todd has zero awareness of his own American culture. It highlights that culture shock is not just about "them" but "us". The movie does a good job of showing how we can all adapt.
When to watch: When you need a good laugh. This movie is an upbeat romantic comedy.
Where to find it: Currently streaming on Netflix
You might have already watched one, or all, of these. However, since they are a bit older you should check them out again with fresh eyes-- post-study abroad eyes. And if you have never heard of them, be sure to track them down.
Have other films you recommend? Be sure to share them in the comments section.
When your job is to send students abroad day after day, it's virtually impossible to avoid periodic fits of wanderlust. I'll admit sometimes I spend a lunch hour on ITA Software pointlessly planning trips I can't afford to take. (I know I can't be alone here.)
Here are 3 ways study abroad advisors can deal with a dusty passport:
Ask for professional development
You never know if you don't ask. Approach your boss about a site visit, international conference, or opportunity to serve as a program assistant on a faculty-led program. Be reasonable (and patient). You might have to wait until the next fiscal year. And you should be prepared to communicate how the experience is an investment in your training as an advisor.
While a conference is nice, try to visit a program. There is something to be said for periodic travel abroad with students -- it is an important reminder of not only why we engage in our work, but how scary it can be for them that first time. Working in an office we quickly forget what parts can be confusing. This spring break I got the chance to travel as a program assistant for a new leadership program in Ireland. It completely rejuvenated me in ways I didn't think were possible.
Apply for a Fulbright Grant
If you are familiar with the Fulbright program this one might confuse you-- how can you get a year off of work? Don't worry. Fulbright has a special grant program for international education administrators. You can read all about it here.
The Fulbright IEA program is like a study abroad experience for study abroad pros. You get to spend 2-3 weeks learning about the education system and hot topics in a targeted country abroad. I was fortunate enough to participate in a Fulbright IEA program to the United Kingdom in 2013.
It was, hands down, the best professional development experience of my career. In addition to great learning abroad, I made important contacts with other higher education administrators in the US. I still remain in contact with my cohort. You can read more about my Fulbright experiences here.
Find local opportunity for cultural engagement. No matter where you live, chances are, there are small ways you can step outside of your comfort zone. Find a conversation partner and learn a new language, volunteer to help organize a cultural festival, get involved in international student orientation on campus, see if any organizations have opportunities for home hospitality dinners, etc. You can even do touristy things in your hometown to see it with new eyes. Better yet -- take your international friends with you.
Just know that wanderlust happens to the best of us. It's one of the occupational hazards. If none of the above satisfy your craving, save up those vacation days and keep on Googling.