15 Minute Activity to Rethink Study Abroad on Your Campus
Try this quick activity to incorporate some design thinking tools into your next study abroad office meeting
Every day before I start work, I take 30 seconds to mentally zoom out from the tasks at hand (the overflowing inbox, the project management to dos, the bright post its decorating every inch of my desk) and think about the WHY. Why it is I do what I do. For me, it’s always been about people. I currently work on a large campaign to increase the number of U.S. students who study abroad — (Did you know that less than 10% of American students will go abroad during their college experience?!) — I’m committed to our mission because I believe in the importance of cross-border conversations, and the necessity of exchange to facilitate these conversations.
The activity below is to help you facilitate an activity with your staff to do just that. To take a step back, with your team members, and think about the why — and in this case, the who — motivating the work you do.
Creating a persona for study abroad — who are we missing
Get out a stack of post it notes and some colorful pens. Gather your staff around a work table (make sure to include your work-study students and any student ambassadors who work with you). You’re going to create a persona. In marketing, a persona is essentially a visualization of your customer — or in this case, the students you are serving or trying to reach with your study abroad opportunities.
You want to imagine the students on your campus. You’ll be thinking about what it is they value, how to speak to them, and where they spend their time.
Set the tone for the exercise by setting aside judgement of any ideas that will arise. Make sure that everyone is able to share what comes to mind. Everyone at the table will be defining your expectations — and then evaluating them.
- Visualize the “ideal” candidate for study abroad. Write down their characteristics — GPA, personality, etc — on separate post-its. Do you have ideas of a student who would do well traveling abroad?
- Think about the student who doesn’t walk into your office — what is their GPA, their personality? How do they spend their time? Where are you most likely to find them? Write down everything that comes to mind.
- Brainstorm study abroad perceptions. How do you think students on-campus view your office? If you were to do word-association with students (what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the worlds “study abroad?”) — what do you think the responses would be? Are study abroad options visible on your campus — if so, what does that look like to students?
- Now, organize the post-its by theme and place them where everyone can see them. Grab a new color of post-its and name each category.
- Evaluate and analyze the themes. Does anything surprise you? Where there similarities in what people wrote down?
Lastly, step back and look at what has emerged from the activity. Perhaps, “out-going” was a characteristic of students who are “ideal” for study abroad. Consider the opposite. Imagine what it looks like to reach out to introverted students. Will an introverted student be more interested in a study abroad fair, or are there ways to utilize faculty to reach these students? By reviewing the themes, you have a place to start from. Dig a little deeper into the themes that you labeled and have conversations with your team.
One aspect of the type of student who you imagined would, and who would not, come into your office is a part of understanding our own unconscious bias. We all have bias — and it impacts the way we interact in the world.
Activities like this can help bring awareness to our own bias — and give us space to creatively address them. Brian Welle, director of people analytics at Google, says “We are so powerfully guided by the things we expect to be true in the world”. And the same can apply to people and our interactions. Our assumptions about who we expect people to be, will play a role in how we treat them and relate to them.
As professionals in international education, we inevitably shape the field and shape the opportunities that students have when they step onto our campuses.
The aim of the #GenerationStudyAbroad campaign is to challenge current perceptions — and move towards a more inclusive future for education abroad.
This exercise comes from Design Thinking practices. If you’re interested in learning more, join us October 24–25 at the IIE Summit on Generation Study Abroad.