Since university I have been attending every event or conference I can in order to find out more about studying or working abroad during a degree course - from research for my own life-changing year in Italy at 19 to now, 10 years later, preparing to relaunch our brand in an attempt to help even more students through the process. Most recently I attended the Universities UK Go International Conference and, yet again, I enjoyed hearing about the industry’s success stories and examples of best practice alongside the problems - which I am attempting to solve through my chosen means: social technology.
While some of the issues discussed revolved around staff being expected to deal with students’ long-distance dilemmas, ‘helicopter parents’ hovering around, and students not responding to emails, the best of which I’ve listed in this funny article on ThirdYearAbroad.com, I spoke to many staff who wanted a better and more effective way to promote the huge range of international experiences offered by their university. When you consider that “young people aged between 16 and 24 spend more than 27 hours a week on the internet”, it makes sense for staff to go online too, and engage with current - and prospective - students in a way they are used to.
The huge advantage International Offices have over other departments is that we are dealing with a breathtakingly social media-friendly subject: students spend up to a year living abroad, exploring, trying new things, learning new languages, eating brightly-coloured picture-perfect foreign food and, best of all: they are blogging about their experiences. Some are even making money out of it! This is social media GOLD. Not only are they instagramming envy-inducing photographs (check out #ThirdYearAbroad on Instagram!), but they are tweeting links to their fact-filled blog posts to keep friends and family in the loop while they are abroad! Just think how often you go onto Facebook and click through irresistible photos of friends on holiday in sunny locations, or you pin #wanderlust pics on Pinterest, mentally planning your next adventure. (You might even have chosen a role as an International Officer because of the opportunity to travel!) This is what your students are doing while their friends are immersed in foreign cultures: they are tweeting “I WISH I’d done a year abroad!” The problem is that only their own friends and followers see this tweet and, by then, it’s too late. The peril of social media when you’re not famous is that it revolves around friend groups, so this lamentation is not seen by the sixth formers or younger undergraduates it could inspire - and even if they did see it, would they know what it was? People often mistake a year abroad for a gap year, and don’t realise that they are eligible for these opportunities which are available to them at university, opportunities that more often than not come hand-in-hand with support, a grant and an Instagram feed to die for!
So you can see how harnessing this content for good could benefit your university. The problems are twofold: technology and time. First, how are you supposed to find this content? Once you’ve got it, who do you need permission from to publish it on your International Office landing page and, how do you even edit content on there in the first place?! Second, who on earth has the time?!
This is where I come in. Although you may not have realised it, I’m collecting this content for you. Your students are writing articles for us, you can see the questions they are asking and answering about their experiences, they are blogging and we will be pulling in their latest posts to our system - all ready to be tweeted or facebooked at the touch of a button.
I am the Founder of ThirdYearAbroad.com, 2,000+ articles contributed by the UK’s biggest community of students who study or work abroad during their degree. I also run TYAanswers.com, our Q&A platform, and GlobalGraduates.com, our jobs board filled with opportunities that require ‘global skills’. Running three websites is not easy, and I am also aware that universities are offering so much more than the traditional “third year abroad” now, including 5-12 week scholarships or 8-week internships in China, 2-3 weeks’ cultural immersion in India, 2-4 month teaching placements in Thailand, summer language immersion courses, and of course the option to spend just one semester abroad in second or third year. That’s why I’m working to bring these three websites under one new roof called (*spoiler alert*) GlobalGraduates.com - helping your students to become global graduates through international opportunities, intercultural skills and language learning during their degree, while supporting them at the start of their career.
The new all-in-one website, launching later this summer, is the goal I’ve been working towards since ThirdYearAbroad.com first launched. Finally the stars seem to have aligned and I can make it happen. It will enable students to have a professional-looking profile page to showcase their writing, photographs and expertise, and they can browse the site’s user-generated content while relevant internships and jobs are displayed. Meanwhile, it will give staff a dashboard where you can see and easily share all the latest articles, photos and images your students have created, you can channel questions from students and parents there to give them answers from their peers, you can see what your students are really worried about to inform your live seminars and talks, and… so much more.
The reason I am writing this post is as an impassioned plea for advice and support! I would be beyond delighted if you could help me. If you have any ideas as to how you would like a website like this to help you, or if you have suggestions for features, or think this might be relevant for some funding you know about, or have met someone with similar aspirations who I should be put in touch with, or simply want to voice your support for what I’m doing, please do get in touch. Thank you very, very much.
Lizzie will be speaking about "Promoting mobility and supporting your outbound students through social technology" at InnoConf16: Enhancing Employability at the University of York next Friday, 17th June. http://innoconf2016.weebly.com/programme.html