Back in the history books when I was a student (sigh….where has the time gone?) traveling overseas on study abroad or exchange was a luxury few students could afford or even consider. Some fifteen years on, the situation is dramatically different, with over 4 million students jet-setting across the globe to undertake their studies in 2012 – double the number recorded in 2000!
Now three years on, with ongoing changes in mobility, technology and the availability of exciting new destinations, it is undoubtable that these figures have continued to increase, making it exceedingly important for higher education providers to ‘up their game’ when it comes to catering for the needs of such students. Based on my time working in student services, here are my simple and creative ways, to ensure your newly arriving international students have the best possible experience on your home soil.
Provide detailed and specialised information in advance.
It sounds obvious, but it’s also critically important. Students are packing up their lives to move and study abroad for six months to up to three or four years. Having as much information as possible in a variety of formats (brochures, webpages, apps, and podcasts in a variety of languages where possible) prior to their departure will help allay their worries and ensure they are prepared for what’s ahead. Importantly, whilst detail is important, keeping it simple is equally so – don’t overwhelm with unnecessary details that can be conveyed on arrival or once they’ve settled in. Furthermore, make sure expectation = reality and you’re not presenting a picture that isn’t accurate.
Offer the opportunity to connect.
Who better to talk to students prior to their departure than those who have been there before – other internationals – or even better, with some of the students they will meet and socialise with upon arrival. Work out ways you can connect students together in advance – by email, apps, Skype, Q&A sessions, or social media. Keep it simple by letting students drive conversation or ask your local students to provide information about common themes – what to bring, what to expect, what the weather will be like, what to see when you get here… the list goes on (their concerns may not be what you necessarily expect!).
Make them feel welcome.
This means where possible meeting them at the airport (this is generally standard practice for most universities), ensuring their room is ready to go (if they are living on residence consider providing linen – there’s nothing so unwelcoming as a completely empty room) and offering basic essentials free of charge or at a minimal cost (think a day or two’s worth of groceries/snacks, an adapter or charger, and a phone SIM card). Many universities, including my own, provide fantastic little ‘welcome bags’ which include a basic toiletry kit, a few snacks, maps, drink bottle, vouchers for food outlets, and information about the local area. Bear in mind too that in many cases international students will arrive at odd hours – often the middle of the night or early in the morning – so it’s critical to know exactly when they’re arriving and where they need to be taken.
Provide local flavour.
International students are craving the opportunity to see what life is like in the country they are visiting so ensure you’ve provided plenty of opportunities to showcase what makes your home special. Plan a tailored welcome or ongoing social or cultural immersion program, including trips to local shopping centres, opportunities to travel via public transport (getting the hang of sometimes complicated ticketing systems) and excursions to must-see iconic locations around your area. One of our most popular events here in Melbourne is a trip to the Queen Victoria Market, Australian Rules Football match or our Australian reptile show which enables our students to get extremely up close and personal with snakes, frogs and crocodiles! Why not host a competition for the best photos taken during these events – great for publicity and a fantastic souvenir!
Help them to make new friends.
Ensure that part of your programming involves some form of peer support – this might mean one-to-one buddy programs or one-to-more ambassadors or student leaders who host activities or door-knock in the early days of their arrival to make sure they’ve settled in to their new home. Don’t forget to consider the training and development needs of your leaders – it’s worthwhile hosting cultural awareness or communication training prior to their role commencing to make sure they also feel comfortable undertaking these roles.
Make it easy for them to get involved.
It’s easy to automatically assume that students who choose to travel abroad for study are the extroverted and confident type – willing to put their hand up to participate in everything and anything on offer. However, this isn’t always the case, so it’s important to provide multiple avenues and opportunities for them to get involved across a diverse and varied range of activities and events. Encouraging active participation is as much about them feeling part of the community as it is about helping them to develop essential soft skills so desired by future employers. Think social events (involving both alcohol and alcohol-free), extracurricular and sporting activities, career development sessions, networking opportunities, internships, volunteering in the local community, and undertaking student leadership positions themselves. You can also make the most of their unique backgrounds and life experiences by inviting students to share their culture with others through dinners, foreign movie screenings, festivals and holiday celebrations.
A final critical component of their time on campus is ensuring they are connected with various support departments both within the University and the local community. This includes, but is not limited, to counselling, your equality and diversity unit, student union or social clubs, sports centre, international office, accommodation team and academic support staff who can provide mentoring, specialised skill and language tutoring.
Keep the bond strong.
Finally, when it comes time to say goodbye, make sure you’re providing plenty of opportunities to stay connected. Consider sending them an email or letter acknowledging their impending departure and their contribution, host a farewell gathering, and make sure you’re linking them in with social media or your alumni team if they’re finalising their studies. Keep in mind that these students are one of your best marketing tools, so why not explore ways for them to share their positive experiences via your webpage or social media sites.
What special activities, events, programs or services do you offer to your international student cohort to make them feel at home? Share it with us at @CheckImHere!
This blog post can also be found on Laura’s LinkedIn profile: Arriving on a Jet Plane: Simple Ways to Welcome Your International Students on Campus
About the Author:
Laura Burge is a Residential Education Manager at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia where she is responsible for leading the establishment of a positive on-campus residential community servicing 2400 students and 200+ student leaders across multiple campuses. She is also responsible for the management of a team of Residential Education staff across two sites; the development, review and implementation of new strategic initiatives and supervision of a diverse range of projects and programs including those focused on social engagement, academic excellence, health and wellbeing, outreach and community standards. Laura loves to share and exchange practices, programs and approaches – to get in touch with Laura connect with her on LinkedIn!