How well are you using your study abroad students as ambassadors for your institution? Are they prepped to represent? Or, do they simply have too many other things to think about and you don't want to burden them? You may be missing an opportunity to give them a gift.
For many institutions, getting US students to take the study abroad opportunity is a real challenge. Not enough of them do it and we wring our hands wondering, "Why are you missing out on this amazing opportunity?" What's needed is a bit more customer-centric thinking to understand the needs, motivations and hurdles to studying abroad. That's a future blog post unto itself.
Today, we focus on setting up your current study abroad students for success and helping your institution brand get a boost as part of the deal.
More than 325,000 US students studied abroad in 2015/2016 academic year with NYU leading the pack according to IIE data (link below). These students fan out across the globe for adventure, cross-cultural experiences and academic connections. For many students, this becomes the real highlight of their college experience. Their time away from their home institution is a chance to learn at a foreign institution, dive into a new culture, gain language skills, and form lasting memories. Huh, sounds a lot like your international students!
Let's explore how you can help your study abroad students help you as they become ambassadors for your institution.
When your domestic students study abroad, they are international emissaries for your brand. The experiences on their new campus (surrounded by students and faculty!) and around town (surrounded by working professionals and parents!) spread awareness of your institution. Of course, you know that. But are you leveraging it in the simple and effective ways available?
The students and others they meet in their temporary home may be looking for graduate programs or for American educational options for their siblings or friends. Or perhaps they are simply seeking a language program to improve their English while experiencing America.
Here's the thing: when was the last time you reviewed the pre-departure orientation for all study abroad students from your institution? How old is the information shared with them? Are you doing all you can to set these students up for their own success AND setting your institution up for brand awareness building?
Take a look at freely available IIE study abroad data to get some context on where your institution fits into the mix compared to your peers and industry leaders like NYU.
Now we know, some of our more cynical readers are going to react negatively to the idea of "leveraging" your study abroad students. We get it. The crass idea of using students seeking a cross-cultural experience for the university's gain. There is a line we, as marketers should not cross. Consider this, though -- you feel pride in your institution and all it does to bring opportunity to your students, right? This work is noble and important.
Now, tap that feeling of pride and consider the pride your students feel for all the hard work they are putting into making the most of the opportunities you work so hard to present. Now, with all that pride welling up in all of us, consider how we might appropriately share that pride with the world. We're not advocating exploitation, we ARE advocating sharing university pride, humbly, loudly, whatever style works for you and your students.
So, let's get to the handy tips. What steps can you take to improve your global brand in an appropriate way? Be sure these simple tips are present in your pre-departure orientation sessions. You will likely see many eager and proud faces staring back at you as you discuss the opportunities to help the institution shine.
- Do your study abroad students know where to refer an interested prospect they might meet during their time away from home? Make sure that they do. It’s not a bad idea to craft a short hand-out for the Study Abroad Office to distribute to students before their departure, explaining how they can refer interested prospects to your admissions reps for questions or information. Share basic information like where the international student information is on your website (they've likely never looked at that before), as well as the names of your international student recruitment staff. Let them know you are set up to help international inquiries and support them in the application process if they need assistance.
- Send them with swag and capture the moments. Consider sending students off on their study abroad semester with a free university t-shirt, sweatshirt or hat to wear around their temporary international home. Want to get creative? Have a "best study abroad selfie" contest and gather some great photos of all the cool things your study abroad students are doing while wearing your colors.
Pro Tip: set up a shared dropbox or other collection point where they can store their own photos and browse others. You'll gather some great content each year to use on your social media showing off all those international connections your institution creates. Be sure you have a stated policy (and capture their consent) about photos received being shared on your social media channels. Set up a system to capture names, locations and a brief caption about what these adventurous souls are up to.
- Invite them to join you at fairs and recruitment events. If you have staff traveling to an international locale on a recruitment trip, find out whether any of your institution’s current students are spending the semester there. If so, invite them to join you for the event!
Your prospective students will love the chance to talk with a current student. Your study abroad helper may be eager to share her pride in the institution and maybe even practice her new language skills. The offer of a free meal usually goes a long way in getting students to lend a hand.
Of course, study abroad opportunities are really not about building brand awareness for your institution. Your pre-departure and post-return discussions must emphasize personal reflection and help your students grasp the deep learning opportunities study abroad brings.
Your study abroad students need your help recognizing the more subtle benefits of their experiences. And your job is to help them convert those benefits, those experiences, into their continued studies and their career moves. Help them connect the dots because when we are in the thick of it, we are not always able to step outside and see what it is we are actually gaining from a particular experience. That's where you step in.
Pride in your institution, while in a new and strange place, is just one valuable part of the study abroad experience. You’ve got a student body full of adventurers—domestic students eager to see the world, and intrepid international students who have left home to learn on your campus. These travelers all have so much in common.
Help your study abroad students of today spread the word, and their pride, to your international students of tomorrow!