Pre-Departure Orientation is arguably one of the most important, yet often overlooked or glazed over aspects of a faculty led abroad program. It is essential not only for the students, but for the benefit of the leaders. It is a time to set the tone for the program, lay out expectations, procedures and for faculty leaders to get organized and address any concerns or questions.
Where to start?
Coordinate with your study abroad office on dates and times for meetings with committed students, it can be helpful to have a study abroad representative present to answer any questions, but be sure ahead of time both of you are on the same page with key information like final budget, dates, itinerary etc. It is paramount that all information about the program has been finalized and approved before telling students.
What to discuss?
This may sound like a no-brainer but since you, the faculty advisor, has undoubtedly painstakingly reviewed and gone over the logistics of your program for months it is easy to leave out important information unknowingly. It can be helpful to make a powerpoint or visuals for your students to follow and to help make sure you cover all the needed information.
Some topics to cover:
- itinerary and accommodations
- academics, courses to be taught or offered
- safety and how to handle emergencies
- the host country including political, cultural and religious conditions
- student documentation/visas
- money or currency conversions
This can seem like a a lot of information all at once and it is a good idea to prepare a printout for students to remember the information covered and to highlight important dates and next steps.
Getting to know the group
Covering logistics can be a lot for one session so it is best to schedule an additional meeting to get to know the students. This could involve some introductory or bonding activities. It could also be helpful to have each student share their goal for the program, what they are most exited for and what they hope to learn. Give students time before sharing these responses aloud to write down and record their feelings so they can reflect upon them after the program.
Getting to know the students in advance can often help with behavioral issues that could arise. By emphasizing that the program is still considered an academic experience and reminding them that they are constantly representing the United States, your university and your own reputation as faculty leader. Setting clear and reasonable boundaries with the group in advance orients students to what is expected of them.
Be clear with students what to procedure is if the rules are broken and encourage them to help each other met the expectations for a successful trip. Emphasize what is required of them and what they should do, rather than what they shouldn’t. This can include reminding students to respect others on the trip as well as local attitudes to diversity and public behavior.
Many study abroad destinations have different laws and restrictions in place regarding alcohol consumption and while this is can be a more taboo topic for students in front of professors, it is worth addressing in advance to ease behavioral conflicts. To start the conversation it is helpful to brainstorm with students the perception of consumption in the host country and then reflect on how that is similar or different to America. Remind students of the consequences of overconsumption including missing activities and a poor reflection of the group. Follow up with students during the program if behavioral issues arise.
Pre-departure orientation should be an exciting time but it is also essential to set the tone and guidelines for a successful program.