Helping returning students unpack
Returning home from studying abroad does not have to mean the end of the international experience for students, thanks to a student organization called Global Ambassadors (GA).
Working closely with the Global Projects Program, GA helps students “unpack” their off-campus experiences upon returning, and works to reinforce the added value of off-campus programs to the students’ academic and professional lives. The organization also serves as a resource for students who have not yet studied abroad but are interested in learning about off-campus opportunities.
According to Erin Koontz, assistant director of the Global Projects Program, returning students are invariably full of stories they are anxious to share.
“After having such a new and different experience during their time away, it’s only natural that students will start to bring it up with family and friends,” she explains. “Global Ambassadors provides a way to formalize what students already want to do when they return from an experience abroad of off-campus, which is to talk about it.”
Koontz notes that family members and friends may be receptive to rehearing the stories to a point, and sometimes not all. GA, however, offers a captive audience that wants to listen. In addition, GA regularly organizes events aimed at giving students opportunities to share their off-campus experiences with the WPI community.
Last weekend, Koontz and several new GA officers attended the New England Study Abroad Returnee Conference at Babson College, which was designed to help groups such as GA work with returning students. The conference covered topics such as finding international opportunities in New England, sharing stories with people who have similar interests and experiences, and learning how to pursue further international opportunities.
The conference was hosted by study-abroad professionals and volunteers from New England colleges and universities. The daylong program featured a presentation by a Brandeis professor whose book Global Dexterity examines ways to integrate into other cultures without losing one’s own identity.
The annual event has been going on for at least five years, says Koontz, and usually attracts more than 100 students from around the region. She called it a “fact-finding” mission to see what might be viable approaches at WPI. “We thought about applying the strategies from the speaker’s book to help international students integrate into the culture at WPI.”
She says the day offered a valuable networking opportunity for the WPI participants, who were able meet returned study-abroad students from area colleges, and to connect with businesses that organize other international opportunities such as internships, graduate learning, and teach-abroad programs.
Koontz says the plan was to learn from the conference, then work on designing a similar session for WPI, in addition to holding several smaller events throughout the year.
“In D-Term we will have a photo and video contest where people can share favorite memories from their time away. We would also like to work with the Career Development Center to host a presentation on how to incorporate your time abroad into interview questions and your resume.”
Continuing similar programs at WPI, she adds, will help students feel like their off-campus experiences don’t have to end when they get back to Worcester. Sharing pictures, stories, and memories lets them continue to feel connected to the journey, she believes.
GA will hold an information session Thursday, Feb. 27, at 5 pm in Salisbury Labs 105. A second session is scheduled for the start of D-Term. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
BY MIKE D’ONOFRIO