GoAbroad’s second annual Innovation Award Ceremony celebrated innovation in study abroad programs.
You might expect study abroad programs to be taking a nosedive right now. After all, given the uncertain state of the economy and the slim budgets of most college students, living in a foreign country for a semester or more might seem like an unnecessary expense.
But faced with a tough job market at home, some students see more value in spending time abroad, particularly to work and volunteer. After a semester spent working in a foreign country, students can return home with valuable job skills, an expanded worldview and experience adapting and relating to different types of people, all of which can make a college graduate more employable in the long run.
In other words, students are realizing that learning abroad doesn’t always mean studying abroad.
An increasing number of programs are catering to that vision by offering alternative travel experiences, allowing students to volunteer, intern and teach in foreign countries.
GoAbroad.com — an online resource connecting students to alternative forms of travel — honored the organizations, institutions and individuals that are breaking new ground in the ever-changing study abroad field at its second annual Innovation Award Ceremony this month.
Tiffany Harrison, the partnership and outreach manager for GoAbroad, said the award ceremony is meant not only to celebrate a year’s worth of study abroad related innovation, but also to get conversations going about what should happen next.
“It gets people interested in talking about ideas for the future,” said Harrison. “It gets people collaborating.”
Harrison added that GoAbroad is beginning to observe student interests shifting increasingly toward alternative study abroad programs, like some of the honorees in the award ceremony.
“There are a lot of volunteer abroad and intern abroad opportunities, and we’re starting to feel the increased interest,” said Harrison. “Those types of opportunities are helpful when you’re looking for a job. They set you apart from the crowd.”
But if students really wants to use their study abroad experience to market themselves to employers, they also need to know how to sum it up — say, in less than five minutes in a job interview. Blake Cooper, the study abroad communications coordinator at University of California – Davis, oversees a social media hub that gives UC Davis students valuable practice summarizing their study abroad experiences for others. The Aggies Abroad Network, which snagged GoAbroad’s Innovative Use of Social Media award, connects UC Davis students studying around the world to the campus community, particularly other students considering going abroad. The network fully integrates Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, making it possible for students to document their travels and answer questions over a variety of platforms.
The way Cooper sees it, there’s great value in knowing how to clearly, concisely express what you learned and did abroad. The Aggies Abroad Network allows students to practice articulating what studying abroad taught them, which they may need to do in job interviews down the line.
“I think that having a network where you have to focus on telling stories through blog posts and telling stories through images and videos really prepares them for that moment,” Cooper said.
CRCC Asia, a program focused on connecting students to internships in China, also encourages participants to reflect on and document their time abroad. This year the program hosted an inaugural video competition. The student winners, Kate Gantner and Andrew Ignacio, picked up GoAbroad’s Innovative Student Video award for their short film.
Edward Pearce, director of CRCC Asia, said that Gantner and Ignacio’s video captured how many different ways students learn and grow from studying abroad.
“They managed to encapsulate several different aspects of the program,” Pearce said. “It just really epitomized what you would see if you spent a month in Beijing.” Not only were the students learning from interning in a different country, but also from being immersed in an entirely different culture.
The organizations, institutions and individuals recognized at GoAbroad’s Innovation Awards show that studying abroad can be about a whole lot more than kicking back in a foreign country for a semester. Innovative, alternative programs and platforms are helping students see their time spent abroad as a constructive — even essential — investment in their future.
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