Choosing to study at an international university is a BIG decision for students and parents. So it makes sense that they care a lot about big-picture issues: Is tuition affordable? Will a degree from this school set the student up for a good career? How strong is the institution in my academic area? Is the campus safe?
But “little” things matter, too—more than universities or even students themselves often realize. This stuff comes into play a little later in the student decision making process, or as marketers call it: further down the recruitment funnel.
Prospective students and their families will judge your university not just on the practicalities, but on their emotional response to the institution and the overall perception of the campus environment. Understanding your unique audience segments will give you valuable insights into small improvements in your processes that will make a major impact.
Creating the welcoming environment at your institution has a lot to do with getting broader stakeholder buy-in. Translated, that means when an international student interacts with or arrives on campus, the overall experience is one of warmth and welcome at a very uncertain and anxious time. You've been there yourself: entering an unfamiliar place where you feel just a bit unsteady, not your usual confident self.
At those times, the one or two smiling, welcoming faces brought back that feeling of, "Oh, this is going to be ok." Better yet is conveying the sense that this will be GREAT!
We will be discussing these very common university challenges at NAFSA this year on Wed, May 30 at 1 pm along with Dr. Martyn Miller, Assistant Vice President for International Programs at Temple University and Dr. Jon Stauff, Vice Provost for Global Education at Monmouth University. It will be a lively and valuable discussion. We hope you can join us: "Who's Got Your Back? Building Internal Support for International Recruitment."
You can email Elaine to schedule a meeting with us at Nafsa.
So, what little things may not be so little after all? Read on...
Pronouncing names correctly
Ever read that old self-help classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People? The book was published in 1937, but people never change—and much of Dale Carnegie’s advice still holds up over 80 years after publication. Among Carnegie’s “Six Ways to Make People Like You” is this valuable reminder for recruitment professionals:
“Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
It doesn’t feel good when someone mangles your name. Even if students are used to people outside their home country struggling with the pronunciation, it’s so nice for someone to take the time to get it right.
The University of Iowa takes special care to train their faculty and staff on pronunciation of Chinese names. Would your team benefit from similar training? How about a cheat sheet of phonetic pronunciations of names that are common around the world, but unfamiliar to many English speakers?
Providing a taste of home
If you’ve ever spent a long period of time away from your home country (or heck, even your home city or state), you know how comforting it can be to return home and have your favorite local food—that special dish, or candy, or brand that you can’t find anywhere else.
If your campus is near a major city, international students may appreciate knowing where to find restaurants or grocery stores that specialize in the cuisine of their home country. If you are not near those kinds of amenities, you can still provide comfort food on campus.
Don’t assume you know what students are missing, either--put a box for requests in the dining hall or campus food mart so students can actually tell you themselves. And take requests from students on social media. Pro Tip: be responsive to those requests with a thank you. You could even do a poll seeking student votes for the top requested options.
Another thought: stock some international candy bars at the bookstore checkout—your international students will take note.
Creating video assets for your website or social media? Even if the video is in English, pay attention to the accents of the speakers and the music that you feature. Something as subtle as hearing a K-Pop-style tune in the background of a campus life video, instead of the same-old-same-old elevator music you might usually default to, can send a powerful signal.
This approach is actually especially effective if it is included in a piece of media that is not designed specifically for international students. When international students hear a familiar accent or style of music on a piece intended for a general audience, it will feel like an acknowledgment that international students are part of the campus—not just an “other” group to be considered only when talking about international student life.
Making it easy for parents to embarrass their children
“Moooom!” The word may be different around the world, but the teenage experience of being mortified by a proud parent’s bragging is universal. Help mom and dad enjoy the thrill of boasting about the amazing university their child has applied (or been accepted!) to. Their teens will survive it.
While international students coming to your campus likely speak English well or fluently, their parents may or may not. So give them materials about your institution that they can easily read and share.
- Have fact sheets about your institution available in a variety of languages for sharing on social media and when students come to campus. This will also come in handy for English as a second language parents of domestic students.
- Send your international recruitment agents your collateral in the local language for them to share. Don't rely on them to translate your content. They are likely to miss the brand messaging your team has worked so hard to craft.
- Email your accepted international students a message in their native language that they can forward to their parents—and their parents can forward to a couple hundred of their closest friends.
Need some help creating these kinds of parent-friendly materials? Hmm, we might know an agency that could help. Be in touch by email if you'd like to meet with Ben, Elaine or Patricia at NAFSA this year.