If you’re reading this blog, you likely have a passion for higher education and foreign travel, and for good reason- ask anyone who has worked or studied abroad and they will tell you the experience changed their lives in the best possible way. Countless studies have shown the positive impact of experiences abroad to a student’s academic career, as well as their personal lives and future professional endeavors. However, even with all of the noted benefits of studying abroad, the percentage of students who actually participate is very small (but growing!). As important as study abroad experiences are, there are definitely challenges students must overcome in order to participate. These challenges can end up being too daunting and can prevent student participation.
One group that faces its own unique set of challenges are students in science fields. Research has shown that students in the sciences are less likely to participate in study abroad programs. While common inhibiting factors such as cost, language barriers, and personal safety are relevant to science students as well, they also face specific roadblocks. By determining and understanding these, higher education professionals can begin to address and eliminate them.
1. Science Faculty and Admin Support
Students in the sciences face pressure from faculty and administration to meet the strict course requirements and deadlines for science majors. These staff members might see study abroad as unimportant in comparison to other strict requirements, or may be unaware of options and opportunities for students in these fields. They also might struggle with how to support students before and during study abroad programs.
2. Sequence Classes
Many science courses are taken in series that require one to be taken in order to take subsequent classes. These courses are often impacted and only offered in certain semesters. If a student skips a sequence course in one semester for any reason, they may have to wait until the same semester in the following year to take it again. This can seriously affect when the student graduates. This is probably one of the most difficult challenges these students face, because it can seem like there really is no way around it. It is much easier for students who take these courses to plan ahead. For example, EA staff can reach out to science students in their freshman year, explain the benefits of study abroad, and encourage students to plan out their courses with their academic advisors, including their time abroad.
3. Lack of Options
The majority of students who participate in a study abroad program are from the social sciences. It seems like so many of the programs that the typical school offers include courses in these fields. While it is entirely possible for science students to take these classes to satisfy elective or general education requirements, it would be ideal to offer major requirements abroad as well. EA staff can seek out partnerships with schools and programs that offer science courses. Further, staff can consider partnering with science faculty to create faculty-led programs in specific fields. UC Riverside is encouraging more science student participation by offering faculty led summer programs in the sciences, such as biology in Panama and computer science, electrical engineering, and computer engineering in Switzerland. Another way staff can help science students navigate their options is by creating a way to search programs by major on their website, which is another step UC Riverside has taken to better help students choose their own program.
4. Simply Unaware
EA staff should be more proactive about working with science students, because many times these students will simply assume there isn’t time to study abroad, or there aren’t any programs for them, or they will not have the support they need. Just like any student who briefly considers going abroad before forgetting the idea, students in the sciences might be interested but ultimately think the process is too much work. EA staff, as well as staff and faculty in the sciences, must reach out to these students to give them the information and support needed to make the decision.
Every school’s landscape is different. Above all, it is important for higher education professionals within education abroad to get a feel for the needs of the students on their campus. Society is becoming increasingly interconnected, and it is imperative for students to experience cultures other than their own. The sciences are becoming more globalized every day. In order to be successful in their fields, science students must be culturally competent and globally minded. While studying abroad is certainly not for everyone, participating in a program has benefits that can enrich the academic, personal, and professional lives of everyone. It is our responsibility to make studying abroad a possibility for anyone who wants to go. Further, higher education professionals should do their best to create opportunities abroad for students in the sciences. Perhaps the best way to begin creating such opportunities is to foster collaboration between administration in science and education abroad departments.
Resources: http://www.nafsa.org/Policy_and_Advocacy/Policy_Resources/Policy_Trends_and_Data/Trends _in_U_S__Study_Abroad/
It's the end of May, which means around the world international educators are packing their bags and heading to Denver for the 2016 NAFSA national conference. You've read about the NAFSA conference on this blog and maybe even wondered if you should attend.
Let's face it, not everyone can be there. But I have some super exciting news for you. Next week Study Abroad Careers will be posting video updates from #NAFSA16, providing an insider view of the conference. You'll get to see the NAFSA career center, learn about conference volunteer opportunities, and perhaps "meet" a few people to hear their perspectives on breaking in to study abroad.
UPDATE: Missed our Facebook Live event? No problem.
Check out the videos below.
First question: How do you feel about intern (or peer advisor) training? For most of us, it comes at a time when we are already super-busy gearing up for the start of a new semester/year, and while student staff turnover can bring fresh ideas and energy to the office, the reality for advisors is that student training can be time-consuming and repetitive. When you have explained office protocol for the 9th, 22nd, and 44th time, you probably aren’t doing so with the same enthusiasm as the first time, and it’s likely that your new students notice.
Second question: Throughout the semester, do you find yourself wondering if students remember anything from the initial training? Do you shake your head at their inability to perform basic office skills? (Okay, that was three questions.) If you answered no, I’m jealous, and you’re lucky. As I touched on in a previous post, it can difficult to strike the balance between a “tough love” attitude and viewing a failure to meet expectations as a learning opportunity.
The solution that my colleague Korbin Dimmick and I developed? Battle of the Interns, or BOI! Don’t worry – we aren’t pitting our students against each other in a fight-to-the-death match where the winner earns the favor of the advisors that week. What we are doing is employing a bit of friendly competition to re-enforce the policies covered on the first day as well as enhance certain professional skills that will help the students transition to their first full-time position after graduation. Plus, it shakes things up and adds some harmless entertainment for the advisors.
We knew we were on to something when one of our former students told us that one of our challenges was something similar to what she was asked to do in a Teach for America interview and that she performed better because of the prior preparation. (She was later awarded a position.)
Korbin and I recently presented a session on this topic at the NAFSA Region VII Conference, and you can check out the full details here. In short, the “battle” takes place throughout the semester, with challenges being completed every other week during our weekly intern meetings. To pump up the excitement, we play a snip of our chosen BOI theme song before each challenge and occasionally bring in small prizes.
The foundation of each challenge is the acquisition or enhancement of a certain skill, such as written and oral communication, event planning, teamwork, and problem-solving. The challenges can be individual or collaborative, vary in length (usually 5-15 minutes), and result in ideas to benefit or enhance the office. We make an effort to balance the number of administrative-type challenges with the ones that are more fun, and we strategically choose challenges to play to the strengths and weaknesses of all of our interns so that the “star” doesn’t always win and the “needs improvement” student doesn’t feel targeted.
At the end of the semester, we oversee the final challenge: an obstacle course of tasks, which include answering a couple of reflection questions to provide feedback on BOI and the internship in general. We adjust challenges every semester based on this feedback and on each intern’s specific need for improvement.
You may be thinking, “What’s the point, though? That sounds like a lot of work, and you should know education abroad advisors don’t have enough time as it is to finish all of their ‘to-do’ items. How can I justify devoting time to something that doesn’t seem to directly benefit the office and/or support the office mission?” In response, I say great questions, but we’ve seen a number of benefits for the office:
As for the time issue, I say touché, but we’ve developed the program over a few years, a little at a time, and are firm believers that sharing is caring. If you’re interested, we’d be happy to share some of our materials, and you can adjust them to work for your office.
After checking out the challenges we’ve used in the past (in the presentation linked above), are there any you think would work well for your team? Do you have suggestions for new challenges?
“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!
If you are interested in an education abroad (EA) advisor position, odds are you have heard that each day brings different challenges and that ours roles require us to wear many hats. I love this aspect of my job, but when my mentors told me these things prior to my job search, I didn’t quite understand how each day could be so varied – you’re an advisor, so you advise students every day, right? However, having now been in my first position for three years, I finally appreciate the unpredictability of day-to-day work of an EA advisor and thought I’d offer a peek inside a typical week for those who want to know what it’s really like behind the scenes.
· Respond to emails that came in over the weekend (or that I didn’t get to on Friday).
·Check Microsoft Outlook calendar to get an idea of the week ahead. Make To-Do List, separating out priorities from routine tasks.
·Meet with co-coordinator to finalize Marketing Your Study Abroad workshop and handouts.
·Meet with office intern in charge of activities and agenda for evening event of the Global Tigers, our SGA organization for study abroad alumni. Estimate attendance and order catering.
·Respond to emails.
·Prepare for and conduct weekly intern meeting: miscellaneous office notes, individual project updates, Battle of the Interns challenge, ePortfolio assignments.
·Oversee Global Tigers event.
· Respond to emails.
· Weekly staff meeting with director. Assigned priority statistics project for provost, so shift tasks to accommodate new deadline.
· Meet with co-coordinator to discuss updates to general study abroad presentation and handout. Assign tasks for each to complete before first Study Abroad 101 session on Thursday afternoon.
· Co-present Marketing Your Study Abroad Experience workshop.
· Respond to emails.
· Respond to emails.
· Meet with office intern regarding questions on ePortfolio assignment.
· Appointment with outgoing student regarding application next steps.
· Study Abroad Fair preparation: Request quotes for Study Abroad Fair print marketing from three university-approved vendors per new policy, submit Campus Event Request form for approval, order tables and chairs, receive and document registration forms and payments for campus and non-campus vendors.
· Field walk-in inquiries from incoming exchange students regarding billing, health insurance, course registration, dining fee, access to campus resources.
· Working lunch with ePortfolio Project cohort members regarding planning for the semester.
· Appointment with outgoing student regarding assistance with program selection.
· Respond to emails.
· Conference call with Lessons From Abroad (LFA) Georgia Conference Committee to confirm final marketing push, registration details, schedule of sessions.
· Update Meet the Staff board with new interns.
· Monthly Advisors Caucus meeting (academic advisors, career counselors, study abroad coordinators, Registrar’s Office, learning communities coordinator, etc.).
· Respond to emails.
· Respond to emails.
· As LFA Georgia School Liaison for Alabama, send final reminder to contacts at Alabama institutions regarding marketing and registration.
· Attend sub-committee meeting of Green Dot Bystander Intervention team to plan for campus-wide launch event in October.
· Prepare for Outgoing/Incoming Exchange Workshop for faculty advisors, department administrators, and academic advisors.
· Two appointments with outgoing student.
· Respond to emails.
· Co-facilitate Outgoing/Incoming Exchange Workshop.
· Field walk-in incoming exchange student inquiry.
· Respond to emails.
· Appointment with outgoing student.
· Answer questions from office business manager regarding purchases for Study Abroad Fair.
· Project for director: Update materials on office website for faculty, department administrators, academic advisors, etc. regarding incoming exchange procedures.
· Continue work on exchange website materials. Send draft to director for approval.
· Respond to emails.
· Fight the mad rush to leave for the weekend.
As you can see, EA advisors do much more than simply advise students. No two days are ever the same. Sometimes, my job requires that I re-prioritize and regroup to keep up. But it is the variety that makes the job so energizing.
So, I'd love to hear from you. Was there anything in my week that surprised you?