Planning travel for yourself can be quite an overwhelming task. Now multiply that by 15 or so 20-year olds and a few syllabi learning outcomes and you’ve found yourself with 10+ extra hours of work a week you didn’t have to begin with. Organizing and executing faculty-led study abroad programs is extremely time-consuming. Trust me, it’s what I've been doing for my whole career. Yet, all the grueling hours of begging students for passport copies and hosting evening study abroad meetings always seem to be worth it at the end of the program. The satisfaction of seeing academics come to life, students’ confidence increased, and deep relationships built to make it all worth it in the end.
Knowing that short-term study abroad programs are life-changing, academically enriching, and better prepare students for the workforce is not the question, however. The questions we ask ourselves are how in the world do you get started? How do you know you’ve created a quality program? What should the balance of pre-departure and in-country instruction be? How many excursions should the itinerary include? What are the best recruitment methods?
Having worked on a college campus leading the study abroad office and now operating as L&LI’s Director of Study Tours, I have had my fair share of shadowing, hosting, teaching, guiding, translating, and coordinating short-term programs for a wide range of universities around the world. Wearing various hats on countless study abroad programs with a range of program providers and universities has given me a unique perspective into short-term, faculty-led programs. In this blog post I’m sharing with you what these programs have taught me and the details it takes to make any “good” study tour program the best few weeks a student ever spent abroad. So grab a cup of coffee, pull close your notebook and pen, and jot down your study abroad ideas as you read through these suggestions.
1. Believe In Yourself and Your Program
Whether your university has a study abroad office or not, faculty, staff, and students on your campus should identify you as the “study abroad person”. That means talking about your program in each of your classes, bragging about the itinerary to your colleagues, and changing your email signature to reflect your upcoming program should be instinctual. The more you embody this program in everything you do and say, the more likely you are to invest adequate time into developing and nurturing it. You must think of yourself as more than equipped to lead this program, and believe it! If you don’t believe in your program, then it will be extremely difficult getting others to believe in it as well.
2. Academics + Location
Pick a location that makes sense. Yes, yes, I know travel is fun. Of course, many of us have bucket list countries that haven’t been checked off. Yet, leading a study abroad program is not about your dream destination. Locations and the program focus must gel well together. Not only will that help in academic instruction but also recruiting. Wonderful examples of a good fit would be gastronomy in Italy, international business in Dubai, and racial reconciliation in Rwanda. The program focus and location should feel like a natural fit for a condensed short-term program.
Booking hotels, planning meals, and calculating the budget all becomes quite cumbersome. You may be a total type A personality and crave the organization required to plan a program. If you’re feeling up to running point on all logistics on top of planning and leading all academic instruction, then more power to you. I am a total type A and was exhausted after planning, guiding, translating, and teaching all on my own in Portugal and Spain. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, but it just wasn’t quite as enjoyable. So be honest with yourself and know your limits. Working with a program provider relieves you from months of planning stress, pre-arrival preparation, and in-country program management. Working with a program provider such as Living and Learning International then gives you the capacity to invest deeply into your students and focus on course content.
4. Make it Academic
This shouldn’t be a shocking one. Yes, a study abroad program should be academic. Students talk, quickly building a reputation around certain study abroad programs. There is nothing wrong with once-in-a-lifetime excursions and epic pictures. But along with the thrilling sightseeing, students should also be able to share what they learned and how it impacted them personally. Some ideas may include adding an assignment to accompany the excursion, selecting sites where students do research and operate as the guide for the group, or simply just hosting a class in an iconic outdoor location. The tension between academics and tourism must be managed and balanced.
5. Communicating the Value
You should daily and often articulate why the program is important to students, faculty, and administrators. Habitually communicating the value will remind students why this will help prepare them for the workforce, why this is a recruiting strategy for admissions, and how it is a retention method for graduation rates. The more you repeat these facts over and over, the more likely these individuals will echo this information and assist you in communicating the value. The more it is repeated, the more it is believed, the more study abroad as a whole will be embraced by your students and university overall.
6. Mentorship + Student Oversight
Observing a range of programs from numerous universities and providers, the top complaint I received from students was a deeper desire for mentorship and discipleship on their programs. Students desired to learn closely from faculty, to create unique bonds, and especially experience spiritual discipleship. Far too often faculty that tried creating an intentional distinguishment between faculty and students ended up missing the mark altogether. In their effort to display dominance, students felt uncared for and unseen. It is possible to be relational and respected at the same time. After all, students are signing up for your faculty-led program because they want to study abroad with YOU! So don’t hold back from investing in your study abroad students.
7. Make Career Connections
Students are well aware that study abroad prepares them for the workforce, makes them a better employee, and overall gain a deeper global perspective. Yet, the trickiest part for students is knowing how to articulate that to friends, family, and future employers. Your job as a leading study abroad faculty is to help them make that connection. I am still baffled by the amount of study abroad professionals that do not include a career-readiness workshop, interview prep, or resume review into their programs. This is one of the key tangible pieces students carry with them for the rest of their lives after studying abroad. I highly recommend walking through all eight NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) Competencies and asking students to give examples of how they demonstrated that competency during their program. Giving them the words to articulate their experience is the missing piece of many programs.
8. Actually Debrief
Far too many programs have deeply failed students on adequate debrief. Hoping that your program provider will host a reentry retreat on their end is not enough to not follow up with students post the program. Universities are stellar at preparing students before a program, yet there is often oversight on receiving returning students well. It will be time-consuming. However, an hour coffee meeting, alumni reunion, or campus reentry retreat will mean more to students than you will ever know.
Planning a solid study tour starts and ends with you as the leading faculty. A short-term, study abroad program will be your work baby for a year until it has been fully executed. So take a deep breath and remember that you have exactly what it takes to build an incredible program. Most of this list was not do’s and don’ts on an itinerary, rather the posture that you will carry as you lead your program and your students. L&LI believes you have what it takes to lead a faculty-led program and we are eager to help you make it happen.
After you marinate on the notes you jotted down throughout this post, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s grab a virtual coffee. I would be thrilled to hear your ideas and partner with you on your next faculty-led, study abroad program.