What is Study Abroad?
In general, it could be said that study abroad is any academic program abroad from which a student earns credit that transfers back to the student’s home institution. For the purpose of this project, we will focus on five specific types of study abroad programs.
Exchange Program vs. Study Abroad Program
At times, the term study abroad program takes on a very specific meaning, referring to a program abroad in which a student pays full fees. No exchange is involved. In this situation, the length of the time abroad usually ranges from several weeks to a semester or year and the student does not enroll for a degree at the overseas institution. In the most common student exchange program, two students are enrolled at their respective academic institutions in differing countries. Each student involved in the exchange pays his or her tuition at the home campus and the two students exchange “places” for a pre-determined amount of time, usually a semester or academic year. In some cases, college fees, housing and meals are included. The parameters of the exchange are generally outlined in a formal exchange agreement between the two institutions. Exchange programs are generally much less expensive that full-fee paying study abroad programs, and they often provide the only means possible for students from developing countries to study in the United States.
A faculty led program is generally short-term (one to several weeks) in nature. In our experience, faculty-led programs are the fastest growing type of study abroad program. There are two types of faculty led programs – one in which the faculty member escorts the students overseas and stays with them the entire time, but does not teach, and one in which the faculty member accompanies the students and teaches. The latter is called an island program.
A study tour is a study abroad program with a predetermined curriculum that is delivered at a variety of sites. The instructor generally travels with the students for the entire course. Pre- and/or post-tour course work is sometimes required.
International internships are becoming increasingly popular. Internships for academic credit generally require a significant amount of advanced planning prior to departure. A learning agreement, similar to a syllabus, is drawn up outlining goals and additional academic requirements. Internships generally require an internship coordinator, site supervisor and academic advisor at the home campus. The plan for assessment is also outlined in the learning agreement.
Hybrid Programs Abroad
A hybrid study abroad program consists of a blend of programs. One type of hybrid program that is becoming very popular is one in which part of the course is taught on the home campus and part is taught abroad. A second type is one in which part of a course is taught on-line and part at the site abroad. The on-line portion may include more than one institution overseas. A third example is a one that combines an international internship with overseas course work.
What Type of Program Are You Creating?
Now that you understand that study abroad comes in many forms, be creative! Think outside the box, but, at the same time, keep it as simple as possible for at least three years. Once your program is sustainable, you can think about adding new elements. The simpler the program, the greater chance it has for success.
What is a Sustainable Study Abroad Program?
There are situations in which a faculty member may wish to run a program only once, perhaps to incorporate a particular event abroad into a class. The professor may not intend to offer the program on a regular basis, and this is fine. Programs of this nature are very worthwhile. However, this project focuses on the development of programs that will be repeated over time.
The word sustainable means to keep in existence, to supply with necessities or nourishment, and to support. To this end, a study abroad program is considered sustainable after it has successfully run three times, has become fiscally sound and has a strong foundation for continuance.
Sustainability requires partnership, collaboration and teamwork. No matter how excited you may be at the outset of your program, passion does not always translate into student participation. It is critical that you engage others from your institution’s study abroad office, your department, your dean and the appropriate administrators in the various planning phases of your new program abroad.
The Eight Steps to Sustainability
In keeping with our intent to create a practical guide, we present to you the following Eight Steps to Sustainability . The list can be adapted to fit your own needs and those of your home institution. As long as you follow the steps outlined, your chances for creating a sustainable study abroad program should be good.
Step I Conduct a Competition Analysis
Once the seed of an idea for your program has germinated, the first thing you should do is conduct a competition analysis. You can start out by asking yourself the following questions: How many programs already exist at or near the site where you wish to locate your program? What types of programs are they? How much do they cost?
Competition is fierce in the study abroad market. The Institute for International Education lists more than 6,000 study abroad programs on its IIE Passport Web site. Studyabroad.com lists more than 17,000 programs abroad. The State University of New York alone currently offers more than 500 programs around the world! You need to know who your competition is, what they are offering and at what cost.
In about one hour or less, you can conduct a quick competition analysis by searching the Internet. We recommend that you invest at least an hour, preferably more, and do a through competition analysis. Knowing your competition will work to your advantage, especially as you develop your curriculum, budget and infrastructure.
Consider Collaborating with an Existing Program at the Site Abroad
If you find that there are several programs that already exist at or near the site abroad, you may want to consider trying a collaborative approach. Partnership provides economy of scale, and sharing resources almost always reduces the cost of a program. In addition, if an infrastructure already exists, you could save innumerable hours of work by plugging into its existing network. Ordinarily you would have to recruit students on your own (usually a minimum10), but when you collaborate with another institution you may only have to recruit five students to meet your minimum enrollment targets. Collaborative academic programs abroad also provide instant partners for funding opportunities. The increased visibility and reduced cost of cooperative advertising must not be overlooked either.
If a successful program already exists at the site abroad, do a bit of homework and find out if cooperation is possible. You will most likely be able to launch your program quicker, with less work and quite possibly at a lower per student cost, thus improving your chances for success.
Conversely, if there are no programs at the site, try to ascertain why. In order to counter students’ objections to a particular site or program abroad, you have to identify what their objections are. You may even decide to move the location of your proposed program if you find it not to be suitable.
As you conduct your competition analysis, identify what makes your program unique from the others. What makes you think that students will select your program over the others? Capitalize on the unique attributes of your program when developing your marketing strategy.
Step II Tie Your Program into Your Institution’s Mission
Get a copy of your institution’s Mission Statement and/or Long Range Strategic Plan and read it! If the documents include statements or activities that pledge to internationalize your campus, tie your program objective into that Mission or Long Range Plan when you develop the proposal.
As you develop your formal request to initiate a new study abroad program, outline how your program meets the following criteria for internationalizing a campus:
• How does it offer opportunities for students, faculty and/or staff exchange?
• How does it encourage departmental links?
• How does it encourage collaborative projects, research and joint funding through programs such as the Fulbright and FIPSE grant programs?
• How does it enrich your home campus culturally?
Some institutions may have already developed a form to be used for creating a new study abroad program. (See the sidebar for the HSU Faculty Led Proposal Form)
Step III Garner Institutional Support
Creating a study abroad program is a lot like building a new home. Before you can think about aesthetics and design, you must first focus on the foundation. A solid foundation provides a concrete base onto which the framework of your home, or in this case, your study abroad program is built. The purpose of this section is to show you how to build institutional support for your program with three simple, manageable steps.
Consult with the University community and the International Programs Review Committee (IPRC)
You know faculty and staff who are similarly interested in international travel and research don’t you? Your colleagues’ collective enthusiasm for international experiences makes them natural supporters for your initiative, and you, in turn, a built-in supporter of their initiatives. The IPRC, a committee comprised of representatives from the Office of the Registrar, Financial Aid, Risk Management, the Study Abroad Office, and faculty members with a great deal of experience in the field, is a great resource. You have all the key players in one room at the same time!
Network, Network, Network!
People only like surprises when they are not required to do anything new or change what they are currently doing. Therefore, you can bet that letting people know, well in advance, what you’re planning to do will make the program planning run smoothly. Consult with the IPRC, as well as your department chair and the Dean of your college. These people are essential partners to those of us in the study abroad arena. Why, you might ask? It’s because they are the people with whom your students will discuss their health, personal finances and credit equivalency issues.
To prepare everyone in advance for these conversations, you need to share with the appropriate offices such information as immunization requirements, program location, program cost and what that includes, payment deadlines, program dates, and course descriptions. By educating the people around you, you give them the tools they need to answer questions in a professional and informed manner. Without open communication, students are likely to get frustrated bouncing back and forth between you and the other offices as they try to get through the application and acceptance process.
If you would like you can meet with the IPRC to discuss your program details one last time and incorporate their suggestions and feedback into your plan. (We know from experience that making changes to your program before you advertise is much easier than making them after students have signed up for it!) By asking for their opinion, you reinforce the importance of the role they play in the success of your program and, with a bit of luck, you will find yourself with additional program supporters. Before announcing your program to the students, make sure you have presented your final proposal to the IPRC and have the Faculty Led Program Proposal routing sheet signed off.
Internationalize the Curriculum
It is safe to say that we are living in a world where the word global applies to every aspect of our lives. Today the terms global market, global economy, global warming, global energy, globetrotter, and global communication frequently dot our daily conversations. It seems logical, therefore, that education at all levels should include courses that inform and prepare future leaders for productive roles in our global society. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Experience is the best teacher.” What better way is there then to introduce our students to their future in this global society, than through study abroad?
Incorporating international experiences into the curriculum is not difficult, but it does take planning and flexibility on the part of your institution. Here are a few suggestions you can present to your colleagues, department chair and dean to initiate the process:
- Create a three credit hour elective course for the summer session semester that majors and non-majors can both take.
- Add on an international research component to an existing course (such as an overseas eco-tour or theatre excursion), that takes place at the end of the term. Discuss with your department colleagues the option of allowing students to fulfill concentration or specialization requirements by studying abroad for a semester.
- Accept all language courses taken abroad to count toward a major, minor or concentration requirements.
- Develop an interdisciplinary course sequence that requires students to take two preliminary courses leading up to a semester long international internship or service project and then conclude with a capstone course or poster session to document the work/research done abroad.
And, if you receive a less than enthusiastic response, don’t despair. Point out that by providing study abroad experiences for students in your major, your department may benefit by achieving the following:
- Academic recognition for promoting innovative programs
- The ability to recruit new majors seeking overseas experiences
- Increased prospects for semester or year long faculty exchanges
- Administrative recognition for supporting the college’s mission
- Increased opportunities to promote intellectual inquiry and research
Step IV. Create a Realistic Time Line
Developing a realistic time line is important. Consider everything from conceptualization of your project to the students’ return to the United States. Included in the Appendix Section of this manual is a handout that outlines many of the procedures involved in the development and implementation of a study abroad program, along with suggested time allowances.
Our collective experience tells us that you need a minimum of one year to launch a new program, and in some situations, it may take two to three years.
Step V Identify Your Target Student Market
The next step is to identify your target participants. Will you recruit students from your institution alone or from other institutions as well? Will your program be limited to participants who are matriculated college students? Are you planning to widen your market to members of the community? Or professionals? Or high school students? Be aware that opening your program up to members of other groups will widen your market but it can also create challenges. Mixing undergraduate and graduate level students can create unexpected challenges not only because of age and maturity differences, but also because of differences in academic preparation and course expectations. Allowing participants from the community, especially participants from a wide range of ages and academic backgrounds can be a prescription for disaster. If you plan to mix your populations, be ever vigilant to be sure that each group is adequately prepared to participate in the program and oriented prior to departure from the U.S. Also, be aware of your institution’s regulations with regard to the enrollment of minors.
Once you have identified your target student market, assess your program’s accessibility to those students. Below are some key questions to answer:
- Is my program affordable?
- How does it compare cost-wise to other programs being offered at the site abroad?
- How will it compare to other programs abroad offered by my own institution?
- Can students pay for it using financial aid?
- What is the income range of my target student market?
- Is there a language requirement for my program? If so, is this a barrier and how will students deal with that?
- Is there an additional cost to hire interpreters or provide additional services to overcome the language challenge?
- Is my program accessible to students with physical and/or psychological challenges? What services are available to them?
- Does my program carry academic prerequisites that limit the number of students able to attend?
- Will distance limit the accessibility of my program? Distance does not automatically put a curse on programs abroad. In fact, study abroad programs in Australia are among the fastest growing among U.S. students. On the other hand, programs half way around the world in non-English speaking countries could become a challenge when it comes to promotion, especially if the program is in a developing country.
Knowing the answers to the questions above will help you design strategies to meet any existing challenges from the beginning and thus ensure the probability of your program's success.
Step VI. Assess the Location of the Site Abroad: Health, Safety and Security Issues
Now it is time to spend some time assessing the physical location as well as the health, safety and security issues associated with the site abroad. Below is a list of questions that can serve as a springboard to a more in-depth analysis:
- Is the site of your program in a remote location with minimal transportation and health services?
- Are natural disasters common?
- Is there a U.S. Department of State Travelers Advisory or Warning for the location abroad?
- Does the region have a history of political instability? Even if a location is politically stable at a given time, the perception of instability on the part of prospective students or their parents can create serious barriers to promoting a program at that location.
- Are adequate medical facilities limited?
- Does the site pose physical and psychological challenges to students who have special needs?
Each “yes” answer presents additional challenges when putting your program together. It is crucial that you have the ability to implement appropriate safety procedures and have a sufficient number of qualified personnel at the site abroad to meet all types of emergencies.
No matter where your program is located, work with the overseas institutions, from the beginning, to ensure that appropriate health, safety and security measures are in place at all times.
Pre-departure Student Forms Available Through Your Study Abroad Office
Working with your study abroad office will ensure that your students are adequately prepared prior to departure. The staff will be able to assist with issues related to insurance, travel, visas, inoculations, and required medical tests.
Study abroad offices have also developed a series of forms that may be required not only by the home institution but also by the state and even federal government in some cases. These forms will outline to students the conditions of participation in the program and will include some type of legal release and waiver form(s). There should be at least one medical form that verifies that the student is healthy enough to participate in an overseas program. When completed properly, these forms not only protect the institution, but also the student. It is from the information provided on these forms potential problems can be identified and attended to prior to the student’s departure from the U.S.
Step VII. Create Your Budget
Creating the budget for your proposed program abroad need not be a daunting task. The budget should be developed in partnership with your study abroad office. Under no circumstances should you develop your budget in isolation. Your campus must conform to federal or state guidelines with regard to the collection, storage, disbursement and reporting of student funds.
Step VIII. Plan the Promotional Campaign
Once the final changes have been put on your new program abroad and it has been approved by the appropriate offices, you can begin in earnest to promote your program. Even though it may be tempting, you should not begin to recruit for your program until it is fully developed and approved. A bad “first run” with your program will jeopardize its continuance and will leave a negative impression not only on the participants but also on your colleagues at home and your partners abroad. Fight temptation and wait until the program is fully developed before you begin to recruit. You will have more energy and confidence, which will result in a quality program with a higher rate of participation.
If you truly want to be successful in creating a sustainable program abroad, you must think of your program as a product. It is a good product, a product that will benefit hundreds of students, who in turn will have a positive impact on the lives of innumerable other people. However, as mentioned previously, there is a lot of competition out there and in order to compete well you need to develop a promotional strategy that includes an effective publicity campaign and good salesmanship.
An Effective Publicity Campaign
Perhaps the most important rule of advertising is this: The most successful advertising is repeat advertising. There is no better place to advertise your program than in the classroom. Students respect the advice and suggestions of their teachers. They also notice their instructors’ enthusiasm and passion: it is contagious. A few enthusiastic words about your program in each class will most likely bring together the best cohort of participants you could imagine. Tie the academic aspects of the program abroad to the theory your students are learning at home and you are halfway to home plate. Provide information with regard to how the credit earned abroad will be posted on the students’ transcript upon return. If general education credit or credit toward major requirements can be earned, your program will be that much more attractive. Keep that in mind as you plan the curriculum.
Work closely with your institution’s Study Abroad Office to develop a publicity campaign. You will yield greater results by collaborating with the experts in that office. They will most likely have a publicity protocol already developed that includes instructions for on-campus promotion and publicizing on Web sites with free listings for study abroad programs. The staff in the Study Abroad Office will also be able to provide information on upcoming study abroad fairs and special events at which you can promote your program. For example, across the United States, International Education Week is celebrated each November. You may be able to plug into that week’s programming at your institution. Your study abroad office may also be willing to arrange a special information session or highlight your program on their bulletin board.
Next, we do not wish to beat a dead horse but we want to reiterate that an effective publicity campaign depends on collaboration. Do not go out as the lone cheerleader for your program. Once you have brochures and flyers ready, distribute them to students and to your colleagues. Make sure that the top administrators on campus receive copies, too. Try to schedule a few minutes to educate faculty and administrators at department and administrative meetings such as the President’s Council or Faculty Senate meetings.
Make an appointment to meet with your campus’s Office of Institutional Advancement. That office may be able to develop a press release for your campus publications and for regional newspapers and radio stations.
Take advantage of publicizing via the Internet. Speak to your campus’s computing or technology services office to learn about the protocol for sending campus-wide E-mail messages.
Consider setting up an information table in high traffic areas. Once again, this type of promotion is most effective if it is repetitive, so think about who might be able to assist in staffing the table on a regular basis for a designated period.
Sell Your Program
You are the best salesperson for your program. No one is going to have as much passion, knowledge or enthusiasm as you. Take the time to plan your sales approach before you begin to promote your program. A good publicity campaign may make the difference between a program that operates or not. Be prepared.
Identifying Possible Objections
The more certain you can be about students’ objections, the better you can counter them.
What are the objections that your prospective students and their parents may have with regard to participating in your program? You may want to administer an informal survey or conduct a focus group to find out.
In general, the major objections to study abroad include, but are not limited to, the following: I can’t afford it.
• I don’t have time to go.
• I don’t speak the language.
• I’m afraid to go.
• My parents won’t let me go.
How will you counter these objections? Do your homework: have written materials ready to give to students, parents and educators. Be prepared to speak to these same groups in person, by telephone or via the Internet. Have facts and figures at hand. When possible, provide testimonials and references from educators and students who have visited the site abroad to potential participants. Be ready to offer URLs of reliable Web sites offering information that will reassure those who have worries or doubts.
The more confident you are, the quicker you can answer the objections and alleviate fears, the closer you will be to creating a sustainable program abroad.
Now that you have the Eight Steps to Sustainability , you are ready to begin planning your program. It is not important that you follow the steps in the order presented but it is important that you follow every one of them.
We wish you luck as you develop your program abroad.
Contact the Study Abroad Office
Humboldt State University Main Website A-Z Index: