Pre-departure orientation for study abroad is one of the most exciting parts of my job. The possibilities are endless. Orientation is an area of my work where I can interject creativity and get to teach fun content that makes a difference in the lives of students. Of course it is also challenging to provide appropriate orientation to hundreds of students going to hundreds of different locations with a tiny staff.
When I debrief with students during re-entry they always have criticism of orientation. It used to bother me, but I've come to realize it has less to do with orientation and more to do with how much they have grown and changed during their study abroad program.
Hindsight is 20/20. Students will simultaneously tell me that orientation was overwhelming with information overload AND say that we did not give them enough information to foresee exactly what would happen through each step of the overseas experience.
This is 100% understandable when you think about it. First-time study abroad is scary. Going to someplace new (alone) provokes anxiety. If I give them all of the details in an attempt to reduce their fear of the unknown, I also create information overload. But if I stick to broad topics they panic that they don't know what is ahead.
There is no perfect orientation. This is something I have come to learn, but it took time. When I first started my study abroad career I tried to create the orientation I wished I had, only to find that it still didn't meet the needs of my students. And as I have interviewed a variety of peer advisors and study abroad career hopefuls, this is a reoccurring theme. Nearly every newcomer says something negative about their study abroad preparation and how it sparked their desire to contribute to the field. [ INTERVIEW TIP: Tread carefully here-- it makes you seem judgemental vs. motivated if you rag on your advisors]
While I've resigned to the fact that pre-departure orientation will never be all that I hope, I have not given up on improving student engagement with the content. My favorite way to do this is through multimedia. You might be thinking, "Wait didn't you say you already have a tiny office?" Yep! There are 3 of us. And I have zero budget. Zero movie-making skills. Limited time...you get the picture...
This brings me to my favorite (free) orientation hack -- YouTube.
I use YouTube videos in orientation to bring things to life and keep the attention of students. There's tons of great content already out there that can be used in orientation. You just have to look.
Sometimes it takes a bit of work to frame the content. For example, I use this video by a study abroad student in Japan to demonstrate the W-Curve model of culture shock and re-entry but always explain that it doesn't matter where the video takes place -- there is commonality in the experience.
I'll show the video first and follow it up with the more technical chart, showing the W curve model (Gullahorn & Gullahorn, 1963) and requisite disclaimers. Then I'll refer back to points in her video where I suspect she was experience the different peaks and valleys of adjustment.
Another example is this video by UCSB I used to use for discussions on cultural stereotypes. It grabs their attention and provokes reflection to hear international students (and returnees) speak about Americans on study abroad. Many of my students haven't considered themselves as "having culture" and only think of study abroad from a position of self fulfillment. Using the clip is a good fun way to provoke dialogue on the ugly American stereotype.
Those are just two examples of easy free ways I spice up orientation with zero time or money resources available. I'm curious to hear from other education professionals on this topic. Surely I'm not alone in using this hack.
Do you ever use YouTube in your orientation?
Are there videos you recommend?
Has anyone found good content on Vimeo? Other sites?
Share your ideas and links in the comments below.