With 2014 behind us, now is the time to be firm in the goals of your study abroad programming for 2015. Whether you have already begun this process, finalized it, and/or are in the midst of international travel at this very moment, here are 5 considerations and examples of explicit goals that will help you to prepare for 2015:
1. Your Mission
What do you want your students to get out of your study abroad program?
Have you been explicit in determining exactly what your group travel should accomplish for the travelers? The more targeted your goals, the better your activities will be to reach them.
How well-defined and well-communicated is this mission?
If you haven’t written your mission down in two sentences or less, this is a great place to start refining it. Even if you have done so and are satisfied with the clarity of the mission, ask yourself: Do student travelers know what the mission is, and what they should expect to attain from their experience traveling with your faculty-led program? The mission should certainly appear in any formal course or program description. Depending on the complexity of the mission, you may want to build pre-travel exercises for students that helps to illuminate it.
e.g. 2015 Mission Goal: My Netherlands trip is designed to immerse students in Dutch-speaking situations to improve their command of the Dutch language. For 2015, I would like to improve my Mission by adding explicit student score benchmarks for each of the four sections of the Nederlands als tweede taal Dutch language exam.
2. Assessment and Feedback
Do you provide enough opportunities for feedback?
There is no better way to know how successful your trip was, than to ask those involved. If you don’t have a formal survey system in place for trip leaders and students, websites such as AbroadScout.com have ready-to-use tools for you so that you don’t have to work from scratch. In addition to surveying students, think about your traveling faculty, vendors, tour guides, etc. Providing a way to obtain feedback from them may give you opportunities to negotiate better deals, in addition to understanding their perspectives better.
When is your scheduled time to organize and review feedback?
Do you have a strategically scheduled time after the trip when you collect feedback from students, vendors, etc.? Handing students a survey during a return flight home can be a great way to ensure that you collect as much feedback as possible, but you’ll need to decide if a confidential online survey will get you more genuine responses. In order to obtain feedback from vendors, it may be helpful to mention to them in advance that you will be asking them for feedback at the conclusion of the trip. As for reviewing the feedback, it may help to identify a specific week or other focused time period when you can gather all of the feedback, analyze it, and start making decisions about your next trip based on the results.
Does your feedback indicate that you have been succeeding in your mission (Surveys, questionnaires, written assignments, etc.)?
Your feedback mechanisms might include written assignments by students, in addition to formal surveys and questionnaires. Once you have had a chance to review the results, you’ll want to reflect on how well they indicate you have served the mission of the trip. Asking this honestly can help you to identify improvements that can be made for the next trip.
e.g. 2015 Assessment Goal: I will create a survey for the travel vendors I partner with in the U.S. and Peru to complete that will help me work more smoothly with them during future travels, with specific surveys for hotels, tour companies, and restaurants. The surveys will include a plan for when and how to solicit the survey’s completion, as well as a date when my office will review survey feedback and suggest improvements.
How well is your destination(s) serving your Mission?
Reviewing your feedback, you might make some observations about how well the destination brings your mission to life. Are the enough historic and cultural stops on your tour that help to uniquely embody what your mission aims to achieve?
Are there other destinations that could potentially function better than your current destination(s)?
If you get the sense that there is room for improvement in how your destination truly communicates your mission, consider researching more travel destination options that are also relevant to your mission, to see whether they might be a better option. As with international exploration of any kind, you may be surprised with what you find that a certain destination may have to offer.
e.g. 2015 Destination Goal: I’d like to challenge myself to create a list of 3 new travel destinations for my Silk Road Runner course, and compare them to our current stops in Turkey and China.
How satisfied are you with the number of students attending your faculty-led trip?
Your administration may have explicit goals for the number of participants in your study abroad program, or you may simply have a less formal hope for where that number of participants may be. How well did you do in engaging the number of participants you were looking for?
What methods are you using to market your trip to potential participants?
If you hope to increase the number of students participating in your program, reflect on how you’re getting the word out to new potential students. In addition to posting ads and flyers on websites, on campus, etc., consider more creative ways to engage potential participants, perhaps with a performance or meal designed to build excitement about the trip’s mission. If there are students who have enjoyed your program in the past, involving them to speak with others about their positive experience is highly recommended, as genuine positive word of mouth is always the best marketing tool.
e.g. 2015 Participation Goal: I’d like to increase the number of students participating in my Prague ‘Velvet Revolution’ Summer trip, from 18 this past summer, to at least 23 next summer.
5. Your Network
Do you have connections with enough key people at your destination?
Do you have local, unbiased contacts in the area who are friends or colleagues, not vendors? Making connections with these types of individuals can help you to gain insider tips about the types of places to stay, sights to see, tours to take advantage of, etc., and may even allow you to find unique deals for your group.
Is your networking strategy helping you to continue to make more strong and beneficial connections?
Think about every vendor and service you engage while you travel with your group. How well do you know each vendor? Have you conducted research on competitor offerings and prices? If you are traveling regularly to the destination (say, once or twice per year), it may be helpful to periodically review what other vendors are offering. You might also ask each of your vendors if they will offer some discounts or other special incentives for your group’s repeat business, such as a deeper per-person discount as your group grows each year, or an appropriate souvenir, etc.