“I know the deadline has passed, but I’ve just been so busy. Can I submit my application late?”
Which of the following responses would you give?
A) “I’m sorry, it’s a firm deadline. We encourage you to submit an application for the following semester.”
B) “Sure, it’s only one day late. Let me make a note.”
C) “Late applications can only be accepted if you include a 500-word essay on why you missed the deadline and why you must study abroad next term (as opposed to a future term).”
D) “Well, it depends on XYZ. Answer these questions…”
Most offices have a policy on late applications, and you would likely respond according to that policy. But you probably also have a preference based on a personal advising philosophy. In my opinion, each option presents its own set of pros and cons in regards to student development.
“A” is big on the tough love, which preps students for the “real world” and challenges them to get it right next time. The problem with this tactic is that it may leave the student with a negative opinion of you, your office, and/or study abroad in general, which may affect the decision to resubmit the application. This in turn leads to one less person you can count in the ever-important tally of study abroad participation rates.
With “B,” you are securing the participation (assuming the student does not withdraw before departure), and the student leaves happy with you. However, what does the student learn about deadlines? That they do not matter, and there are no consequences for missing them. (Read: Lost student development opportunity.)
“C” may seem like the middle-of-the-road answer – you accept the application, the student learns there are consequences for missing deadlines, and everyone walks away satisfied, right? Maybe, but this option creates more paperwork and an additional check for you when you are already have a zillion things to do.
Lastly, “D” promotes a policy of preference. “Yes, you can submit late if your reason is good enough.” Of course, extenuating circumstances do occasionally surface, and in these cases, showing understanding in a difficult situation can also be a learning experience for the student.
Personally, I have always been a strong believer in the “tough love” strategy (with exceptions for special situations), but studying student development theories in graduate school swayed me toward the “learn from this experience” approach. But situations don’t always play out exactly like any of the options above, so I sometimes wrestle with how to effectively advise these students.
This back-and-forth struggle to find an advising balance also applies to working with our interns (peer advisors). We have been lucky with the caliber of the students that have worked in our office, so I’ve grown to put a lot of trust in them. I expect them to do good work and submit it in a timely manner (as any employer does), but because they are still students, they will at times fail to meet my expectations in one way or another.
When this happens, I struggle to place my disappointment. Should I be upset with the student because they failed to complete a task, or does the fault lie with me since it is my job to help them identify and overcome any associated weaknesses? Does the answer change if the behavior or work is consistently below average? It can sometimes be a tough balancing act, and I have to remind myself frequently that their position in my office is supposed to be a learning experience.
With this in mind, my colleague and I created “Battle of the Interns” to infuse professional development opportunities into the internship and help the students determine their strengths and weaknesses in an office environment (check back later for a post on this!). We’ve received great positive feedback thus far, and for us, this was the answer to at least some of the challenges we were facing with our students.
Do you have any unique advising situations to share or any advice on how to develop an effective advising strategy?
Let’s be real. Odds are, if you’re reading a blog about working in education abroad, you love to travel and are hoping for a position that allows you to do so. In my current role, I have been able to conduct international site visits at exchange partners in France, Germany, and Switzerland and have served as the on-site coordinator for three programs in Belize and the Virgin Islands. Pretty sweet, right? But what most people forget is that when my employer sends me to these amazing places, I do spend most of my time working, so it isn’t the same as traveling for leisure. (No really, that’s the truth.)
For my first trip to France, I wasn’t sure to what to expect, and that’s tough for a girl who likes to always have her ducks in a row. Since this was my first international business trip, I was anxious about getting it “right”: asking all the right questions in meetings with international colleagues, documenting everything from conversations to campus tours to reimbursable expenses, and successfully navigating a culture and language unfamiliar to me.
Having never been to France, I researched cultural business practices, common language phrases, and information on the French education system. Much of this research should be done before jetting off on any international trip, but I was trying to fit this research in with the busy end-of-semester rush. I knew, of course, that I would be fine, but a work assignment of this magnitude can be a little stressful (or a lot stressful, as was the case when my second site visit to Germany and Switzerland was affected by a spontaneous week-long train strike).
Once on site, I’m busy confirming meeting times and locations, actually finding the meeting locations, touring the campus and surrounding area, and speaking with faculty, international office staff, past and future exchange students, and other relevant personnel. Afterwards, it’s on to the next location, so a large chunk of time is also spent traveling between institutions.
Serving as an on-site coordinator for a program brings a completely new set of challenges. Yes, I participate in all of the fun activities with the students. Yes, I have been to paradise for work. But… I’m also the “fix-it” person 24/7 for a week. A student missed the connecting flight? Make arrangements to go back to the airport to pick the student up later. The cafeteria doesn’t have the correct information for your group? Supply them with a detailed list of contracted meals, program participants, and any dietary requirements. The lights don’t work in the accommodation? A student is locked out of his/her room? Call Housing and/or Campus Security after hours. A student needs to visit a health clinic? Set up a case with your insurance provider, locate a clinic, and accompany student to the appointment. The faculty director wants to add an activity to your packed itinerary? Call to see if the transportation vendor can adjust at the last minute. Water activities are voluntary, and a student chooses not to participate? You also do not participate and must find another comparable activity for the student during that time (bummer, right?). Trying to fit in a quick lunch between activities? Expect to be interrupted seven times by students, the housing contact, and the dining contact. Additionally, you are on-call 24/7 in case of emergencies. It’s stressful, y’all. Your job is literally to absorb any problem that arises in order to ensure the students (and on-site faculty, to an extent) experience a seamless program.
I wouldn’t change a thing, though. Travel is my passion, and I have always been interested in education, so I’m lucky to have found a job that combines both of these areas. Plus, these experiences are invaluable opportunities that will benefit me as I work to advance in the profession, and I am able to connect with students, faculty, and colleagues I may not have met otherwise. Besides, even though I’ve done my best in this post to prove that I really do work while abroad, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t manage to sneak in some time to explore on my own!
When I finished my master’s program and began working in my first education abroad gig, I was exhausted. I had studied, volunteered, interned, worked, and interviewed my way through two degrees and into that coveted entry-level position. I’d achieved what I’d been working toward since I was five, and I wanted to savor my success for a hot minute. But people kept asking, “What’s next? What’s your 5-10 year plan?” Couldn’t a girl catch a break? I wanted to soak up as much as I could in my new position and take a break from the “extracurriculars.” But if you’re a career-driven and goal-oriented gal (or gent), those “extracurriculars” (better known as professional development opportunities) are vital in helping you move up. Check out my 5 easy ways to stay on track professionally:
#1: Conferences and Workshops
Okay, this one’s pretty obvious. Attending professional conferences allows you to network with and bounce ideas off of people in your field, learn about best practices from other institutions, complete workshops on focused topics of interest to you and/or your office, and present sessions yourself (which gets your name and bio in front of hundreds of other folks in the profession).The big ones for EA, of course, are NAFSA and Forum on Education Abroad, and while both offer fantastic opportunities for growth, they aren’t always realistic options for some people. Small office budgets or tiny graduate school budgets can be a major roadblock (although lower registration fees for full-time students and travel grants can subsidize costs – always check for those!). Other conference possibilities are NAFSA regionals, state international education associations, Lessons From Abroad (LFA) for recent study abroad alums, software companies, and other specialty areas in higher education that somehow connect to the work you do in EA. All of these are great ways to slowly get your feet wet if the national conferences are out of budget or just too overwhelming. For example, LFA offers one-day, regional conferences with registration fees as low as $15, and those looking to enter the field could volunteer to help with conference coordination and present a session for the students.
#2: Human Resources Courses
Employees (and sometimes graduate assistants) at universities can take advantage of courses offered by the Department of Human Resources to enhance current skills or learn new ones. They may be offered free of charge or for a lower rate than what you would pay elsewhere. Possible examples include Introduction to Microsoft Excel, How to Supervise, Using Myers-Briggs to Improve Team Dynamics, SafeZone (trains university personnel on how to create safe environments for the LGBTQQA community), Active Shooter Response, and C-CERT (Campus-Community Emergency Response Team).
As you can see, some courses are geared toward general skills applicable to many situations while others focus on the acquisition of precise skills or knowledge. All of these contribute to continued development as a professional and may help you explore a new area or build on previous training. For example, for my current role, I had to be trained specifically on managing international travel crises, but Active Shooter Response builds on that training by allowing me to view crises response from a different perspective.
#3: Tuition Benefits / Auditing Campus Courses
Many institutions offer their employees the opportunity to take courses on campus for free or reduced rates. Even if you’ve already completed one, two, or three-plus degrees, you can add another area of specialty to your knowledgebase by earning a graduate certificate. Another option would be to audit a class related to your current position, which means you wouldn’t take the class for credit but could attend to learn about the subject. Would some aspects of your position be easier for you if you had a basic understanding of writing computer code? Take a class in IT. Need to produce new marketing materials for programs? Brush up on your graphic design skills with Intro to Graphic Design. Would you like to write a grant for the office but not sure how to start? Take a class on grant-writing. The possibilities are numerous.
#4: Campus-Wide Committees
This option was a bit of a surprise to me. I came into my role thinking I’d work in a specialty, so to speak, that would collaborate with other specialties (offices and departments) on campus when the need arose (co-sponsoring events, inviting guest speakers, etc.). But there are other offices on campus whose responsibilities include implementing campus-wide initiatives, which requires coordination with multiple offices in a variety of disciplines / specialties / locations. Actively seek out these types of opportunities because their benefits are many: network with people across campus that you wouldn’t have met otherwise, expand your knowledgebase with the addition of unique skills that may grab the attention of a future search committee, and learn about what different offices and departments value and how you may be able to collaborate with them on a project in the future. Examples of campus-wide committees on which I currently serve are the ePortfolio Project, housed in the Office of University Writing, and the Green Dot Bystander Intervention Program Committee, run out of Health Promotion and Wellness Services.
#5: Create Your Own Adventure
Once you’ve explored all of the options listed above and are ready for a new challenge (or didn’t find what you needed in those suggestions), get creative. This one is sometimes a struggle for me because I’m more detail-oriented and less think-outside-the-box. But you know you – what your interests are and where you’d like to end up (if only vaguely). Do you see a future where you’d be asked for teaching experience? See if your campus allows administrative staff or graduate students teach a freshman-level success strategies or study tips course. Want to learn more about the day-to-day workings of another office? Ask to shadow someone in that office for a day or for an hour a week. Feel closed off in your workspace and need a brainstorm session with your office team? Propose an office retreat where you and your team can get away from the same four walls you see every day. A change of scenery does wonders for productivity and team morale. And this doesn’t have to be a big production – it can be as small as taking an extended lunch off-site.
Regardless of what you need / want, the key to getting your supervisor on board is to figure out a way to connect your participation with benefits for the office. While professional development opportunities allow individuals to grow and gain increased knowledge of their field, the assumption is that the individual will bring that knowledge back to the office with the hope of improving services and sharing ideas with the team.
What other professional opportunities would you add to my list? Anything from those who may not work in a university setting?