Centering Student Needs and Marketing for Global Education Beyond 2021
Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2021
By: Subgroup of 2020-2021 Education Abroad: Marketing, Outreach & Recruitment Task Force
As college students return to campus and study abroad resumes with increased vaccinations around the world, what will study abroad look like and how will we reach out to marginalized and diverse students to market study abroad? COVID-19 has had a significant impact on all of our lives but it has impacted our students of color even more economically, academically, and socially. Do our students even need to study abroad at a moment when meeting the basic needs of their family and community seems overwhelming?
As we consider reaching out to students about study abroad and marketing study abroad to them, let us consider the needs of our diverse students and work with them to reimagine their own global education and engagement. In this work, we must be mindful of our own office’s capacity and institutional resources that can support students as they chart their own path.
“If students are not well, not only physically, but mentally, if they are not living in a safe space or don’t have access to nutrition, if they can’t pay their bills, those are the things I care about most as a faculty member this semester,” Soria said. “It’s about a change in perspective, having a philosophical shift of mind, to really be more ethically devoted to students and caring and compassionate to students.” (Inside Higher Ed)
The concept of Maslow before Bloom was quite helpful to us in our thinking. Basic needs must be met first before students can study and think about their own path, including study abroad. Even students who were planning to study abroad before the pandemic may have concluded that this is no longer an option for them.
We need to meet our students where they are, with empathy. Let us listen to our students tell the story of this moment and let them guide the conversation about what is possible for them in the post-COVID era amidst disproportionate economic impacts on BIPOC communities, growing tensions from racial reckoning, increases in anti-Asian violence, headlines of mass shootings, ongoing sagas of immigration struggles, and uncertain vaccine regulations.
Marketing to them during this time will look more like individual conversations about their goals and how to help them meet their own goals, as opposed to beautiful pictures of a group of students in a stunning location on social media. Students may have been personally affected by the loss of a friend or relative due to the pandemic and hence desire to ask questions in a more private setting.
For example, in addressing the barriers faced by first-generation students it is important to speak with them about international travel, the fear of being away from family and friends, and the need for a passport.
Global Education & Engagement
While a traditional study abroad experience may not be possible for students who are about to graduate and students whose life situations have changed because of COVID-19, let us reframe the conversation with those students and speak about what is possible and what the options are. The key is to broaden their perspective so that they can learn about opportunities that are available but may not be familiar to them, and to remind them that they can have a meaningful international experience even if it is not called study abroad. Taking the time to explain these opportunities to them is essential, as they may not be familiar.
Some of the opportunities that exist for students to go abroad after graduation include employment opportunities abroad, graduate school abroad, international internships, grants and scholarships, and partnerships. There are numerous opportunities to teach English abroad in a foreign country, whether through an organization such as JET in Japan and the Teaching Assistant Program in France, or through an organization like English First. Students may explore graduate school abroad, attending an American university with a campus abroad or an accredited foreign institution. There are numerous grants and scholarships such as the US Student Fulbright Program and Schwarzman Scholars that support graduate education abroad. Opportunities such as the Peace Corps also help graduating students live and work abroad.
Beyond speaking about international opportunities after graduation, what are some ways that institutions can maintain global engagement with students even while few students are studying abroad? A passport initiative on campus for US citizens who have never had a passport may help students who have never been abroad to prepare for study abroad or international travel in the future. Requiring them to learn about study abroad as they obtain their passport may help your office with visibility.
Virtual exchanges, conversations, and internships with global partners are also an innovative way of helping students and your institution to maintain global engagement during this time of limited mobility. Roundtables with international colleagues and developing events, such as workshops or symposiums on international scholarships can help spread awareness on global opportunities that are usually reserved for International Education Week.
Office Capability & Institutional Resources
Helping students think through going abroad after graduation is not something that study abroad offices regularly do; it will take time and resources at a time when all of us are dealing with so much. Does your office have the ability to do this additional work with students? If so, study abroad team members are uniquely positioned to speak to this, either because of their own experiences abroad or their work in international education.
In speaking with students and helping to explore their paths, it is important to refer them to resources that are available on campus. Several offices can be key in supporting students in their planning. The Career Center will work with students applying for positions abroad; the Fellowship office will support students as they apply for national & international scholarships and grants. Other key offices on campus could be the International Student office, the Counseling Center, the Alumni Affairs office, faculty, student organizations, and financial aid.
Ideally, some of these conversations are best to be held on an individual basis. However, we must be cognizant of our offices’ resources and human capital. When possible, try recording a virtual presentation or create a page on your website dedicated to additional information such as post-graduate opportunities for students to access on their own time. Although it may seem impersonal, especially for non-traditional students, it will be more efficient than trying to schedule individual conversations with every student or it may shorten your meeting time as you can always refer them back to the online resources.
One thing is clear, we will need to redefine global education and how we market it, and despite our best intentions, we cannot do it all ourselves. We will need to leverage our resources now more than ever. Reach out to your professional networks. For example, we can collaborate with outside foundations and organizations that can support our students in their global education journeys with graduate international opportunities such as Schwarzman Scholars. As we ask students to think about things in a new light, can your institution do the same? Can they be flexible with certain policies to allow students to study abroad before they graduate or create new ways for students who have just graduated to earn graduate credit for a summer study abroad experience? Can you work with your providers to offer faculty workshops or fundraising strategies for students?
As you assess your students' needs in the post-COVID era, you may be able to identify not only the challenges faced, but also new opportunities to make global education a reality for your students. We believe the key will be to always maintain an empathic approach.
Reimagining Global Education. Our Thoughts for the Future
Schedule a primer meeting with your office. Maslow before Bloom does not only apply to your students. We encourage you to check in with your team regularly and take a pulse of where they are in their wellness journey. How are they coping with the myriad of social, economic, and political issues happening at the same time? Like the students we work with, our team members are navigating unprecedented challenges. What can the team realistically take on during this time as additional projects? Are there resources across campus that would be helpful during this time that would decrease your team’s workload? First start with ‘self’ and then organize on what can be done.
Empathizing with students. Show compassion for life circumstances and missed opportunities by engaging with them in meaningful conversation and working through the range of emotions. Acknowledge the difficult truth that students may not have the quintessential study abroad experience that can be a hallmark of the undergraduate experience. FOMO is real, so how might that inform future opportunities to pursue? Be mindful of the difference between espoused or publicly stated support, versus the support that is actually enacted in day to day interactions. Be courageous in naming the impacts of today on our mental health and normalize the asking for help.
Market with empathy. Hold a focus group with students you wish to target and build some strategy around what their specific needs are. For example, developing a passport initiative, like Georgia State University, to offer free passports to underprivileged students that are interested in studying abroad later or going abroad after graduation. Events like this promote your office and programs while addressing a roadblock for students. Consider ways of involving parents and families in clarifying what global education can do for students’ future job and career prospects. What is the cost, time, and energy required to embark on these alternative paths? Parents will benefit from seeing this experience as an investment.
Use your programming as a pathway for global education. Lead with budgeting and finance workshops that can help with study abroad and general goal planning. Or tag along in workshops from your financial aid office to identify ways for self-fundraising you can recommend to students concerned about meeting the costs of study abroad. Coach students through exploring other opportunities to gain hard skills, work experience, language skills, and post grad opportunities. Especially nowadays, encourage students to join language study initiatives where virtual programs can accommodate high quality practice with native language speakers all over the world.
Finding time to reflect and enact the lessons learned. Hold debrief sessions with students to keep reframing our work. Hold round tables with past participants and prospective students to co-author a new vision of global programs. Take time to review their experiences with their program’s and office staff. If possible, create a brief report that can be used as documentation to advocate to your institution’s leadership.
Additional thoughts for the future. We leave you with other questions to consider in this conversation. What are the needs of students' most impacted by COVID and how might you prioritize them? What is your office’s capacity to account for the imbalances of resources on campus? How can you create more purposeful and intentional marketing towards students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to engage globally due to COVID? How can you expand your professional network to include people that can better support your marketing strategies? We don’t have all the answers but offer these insights to help you create change in the places and spaces that matter to you the most.
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GSU Free Passport Initiative: https://mystudyabroad.gsu.edu/freepassport/