Getting Started: A Guide for New Education Abroad Advisers

April 01, 2009

by Heidi M. Soneson and the SECUSSA Team of NAFSA

Welcome to the world of education abroad!

This guide provides an overview of the basic resources available to assist you with education abroad advising and programming. While many additional resources exist on specific topics, this guide is designed to be a helpful introduction to get you started and to help you identify the key resources to have at your fingertips.

The information in this guide is divided into eight major sections:

  1. Professional Organizations
  2. Publications
  3. Electronic Resources
  4. Education Abroad Opportunities
  5. Campus Resources
  6. Professional Development
  7. Current Issues
  8. Important Names and Addresses

Each section provides an overview of the key resources available. The information is by no means exhaustive, and you will no doubt find additional helpful materials as you network with colleagues and continue to work in the field.

1. Professional Organizations

There are a number of organizations which provide services to education abroad professionals. The ones described below are three of the major organizations which distribute a variety of publications on topics in international education and provide a range of support services to their members. Each entry briefly describes what services the organization provides. In many cases, it is useful to belong to more than one of the organizations below in order to benefit from their range of services.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators (NAFSA): NAFSA is the primary organization for professionals in all areas of international education including education abroad advising and administration, international student advising, campus internationalization, admissions, community outreach, overseas advising, and English as a Second Language (ESL) administration. NAFSA's members play a key role in the governance of the organization and in its outreach. NAFSA sponsors an annual conference which brings together professionals in all areas of international education to discuss current issues in the field. For new professionals, NAFSA organizes a twelve-hour professional development workshop (Core Education Program, or CEP, Foundations workshops) during the annual pre-conference program and periodically at the regional level to give newcomers an overview of the critical issues in the field and to enable them to network with their colleagues. These Foundations workshops are led by experienced professionals in international education and provide an excellent opportunity to discuss critical and current international education issues. NAFSA also offers annual regional conferences which allow international educators to network with colleagues in their region. In addition to conferences, NAFSA distributes a variety of publications for international educators, including a bimonthly magazine International Educator and a weekly electronic newsletter. Many NAFSA regions also issue their own newsletters. The NAFSA Web site also hosts a Job Registry of positions available in international education.

Each of NAFSA's eleven regions has a member on its leadership team focused on education abroad. The representative in your region can serve as a resource for you and can also identify education abroad advisers near you who would be willing resources. NAFSA elects and appoints professionals from among its membership to serve on NAFSA committees, subcommittees, and task forces. You can find these members through NAFSA's member directory.

Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE): CIEE offers both education abroad programs to students and services to education abroad professionals. CIEE sponsors an annual conference on current education abroad issues, offers a wide variety of programs overseas for students, and distributes publications of relevance for education abroad advisers and administrators. CIEE also issues the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) which provides travel discounts and basic emergency insurance coverage for students while overseas.

Institute of International Education (IIE): Among the variety of services IIE provides, it produces a number of well-known publications of importance to education abroad professionals and works with U.S. schools to compile annual statistics on education abroad and international students. IIE has also assisted in the selection and administration of the undergraduate NSEP (National Security Education Program) fellowships for education abroad.

2. Publications

A number of organizations provide useful, reasonably-priced publications for education abroad professionals. These publications range from comprehensive listings of the many different kinds of education abroad programs available to students to more theoretical discussions of current issues in international education. The list below highlights some of the main publications currently available for your reference and for your students.

IIE Passport: Academic Year Abroad and IIE Passport: Short-term Study Abroad: Produced by IIE, these two books are updated annually and provide students and advisers with a comprehensive listing of the types of programs offered by U.S. and international schools and organizations. Academic Year Abroad focuses on programs offered during the academic year, while Short-term Study Abroad focuses on shorter programs, including summer offerings. Each listing includes a description of the type of program offered, eligibility requirements, cost, and contact information. These books are considered a staple in most education abroad offices.

Peterson's Study Abroad and Peterson's Short Term Study Programs Abroad: As with Academic Year Abroad and Short-term Study Abroad, these resources provide listings by country of the many international programs available to U.S. students and contain additional details not provided in other publications.

AIFS Adviser Resources: Available free of charge, these guides provide concise and practical overviews of issues relevant to education abroad advisers. Topics include promoting ethnic diversity, health issues, promoting education abroad on your campus, and political advocacy.

Basic Facts : This classic brochure provides basic information to U.S. students on international educational experiences outside the United States.

NAFSA's Guide to Education Abroad for Advisers and Administrators: The Guide provides an overview of the major areas involved in education abroad advising and administration. Written by current education abroad professionals, chapter topics range from advising students to program management to issues of financial aid and safety considerations for overseas study to marketing to assessment. The Guide also contains a references section which lists printed resources and online information available in a wide variety of areas.

Transitions Abroad: Produced bimonthly, this magazine features articles on various international experiences, including study, work, and travel abroad. Having these magazines on hand for your students can provide them with suggestions on unique opportunities not mentioned in more traditional publications.

3. Electronic Resources

The organizations mentioned above also provide information on the World Wide Web and via e-mail, and their addresses are included with the reference information in section 8 of this guide. The list below highlights some of the additional World Wide Web sites and e-mail addresses relevant for education abroad professionals.

International Opportunities Program. This site complements the Academic Year Abroad and Peterson's Guide by providing directories of US and non-US-based education abroad programs, as well as guides on working abroad.

Mobility International, USA. Mobility International is considered the primary clearinghouse in the United States for information and resources for students with disabilities. Their Web site provides information on international programs relevant to students with disabilities.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators. NAFSA's Web site provides information on NAFSA membership benefits, resources for international educators, and also identifies links to other relevant Web sites.

SECUSS-L: This open, unmoderated e-mail discussion group focuses specifically on issues relevant to education abroad advisers. Requests for information, announcements, job postings, and topics for discussion are posted on this listserv and archived in a searchable database. To subscribe to SECUSS-L, type "SECUSS-L" in the box on the University of Buffalo's listserv subscriber site.

U.S. State Department Travel Advisories. U.S. State Department Travel Advisories provide current information on safety issues, visa requirements, and medical considerations for any country in the world. Updated regularly, these advisories can help students prepare for their experience overseas and provide advisers with information on any changing security issues.

4. Education Abroad Opportunities

Education abroad programming takes many different forms. In some cases, colleges and universities organize and run programs for their own students, either led by a faculty member or managed by an on-site director. In other cases, they identify a select number of programs offered by other organizations which they endorse for their students, or they join a consortium of schools which have similar interests and offer joint education abroad ventures. Many institutions establish international student exchange programs or identify sites where direct enrollment is possible. Still others allow their students to search among the many programs available in order to find the program that best meets their needs. The best option or options for your students will depend on your staffing resources and your institution's mission.

As you consider your options, several resources can provide you with further information. NAFSA's Guide to Education Abroad for Advisers and Administrators provides helpful considerations to keep in mind when deciding on the type of program or programs you want to offer your students. In addition, both Academic Year Abroad and Peterson's Guide list the different U.S. consortium organizations which offer international programs, and you may identify a consortium in your region or nationally which offers attractive programs for your students. There are also private organizations and other U.S. colleges and universities listed in references such as Academic Year Abroad and Peterson's Guide which offer a range of programs overseas to students nationwide. Some of these programs focus on specific areas of the world, such as the United Kingdom or Australia; others offer a variety of programs or specialize in a certain type of program, such as internships. As you investigate your options, you may find that joining some of the consortia or private education abroad organizations gives your students a wide range of program options without exceeding your administrative capacity.

Many of the organizations which market to students nationwide have field representatives who travel in their region or nationwide to promote their programs. These representatives can be valuable resources for you. Not only can they provide information on the programs they offer, many have had experience working with education abroad advisers over the years and can provide advice on a broad range of issues you may be facing. Representatives can also assist you in promoting their programs by visiting classes, meeting with faculty, or handing out information to students at your student union. You might also consider organizing an annual education abroad fair at a central location on campus and inviting different organizations to present their materials and provide information to interested students.

As you consider these different options, it is important to weigh your institutional needs. You will want to consider such factors as program cost, services provided, the types and locations of the programs offered, and the needs of your students when deciding on the programs to support at your institution.

5. Campus Resources

It is often easy to forget that some of your most valuable resources are right on your own campus. Faculty, for example, often conduct research, give presentations, or live overseas and may know some of the sites where your students wish to study. These faculty are not only helpful contacts for students, but they may also be willing to speak to students about living abroad as part of your orientation session. International students on your campus can also be a valuable resource. They are often eager to meet U.S. students and are willing to take the time to talk about their country. International students can be helpful during orientation sessions by talking about cross-cultural adjustment and the contrasts they have noticed between their home and the United States.

Other administrative offices on campus can also provide support to you and to students wishing to study abroad. The disability services office, the counseling center, the women's resource center, gay/lesbian/bisexual support services, multicultural centers, and international student organizations often have staff who are interested in helping students prepare for an overseas experience by addressing adjustment issues or identifying support systems overseas. Staff in the registrar's office, admissions, and financial aid are important links as you help facilitate financial aid and credit arrangements for students. In many cases, they have already worked with international students who have studied on campus and are aware of some of the credit issues which a student might face while studying overseas.

Returning students can be one of your best advising resources, particularly if you are not familiar with the many program options available. Having evaluation forms of returned students available in your office allows you and future students to learn more about the experiences students have had on their programs. Of course, student experiences vary, but students often read other student evaluations with interest. If the returned students are willing to be contacted, future students can talk directly with the returnees to find out more about their experiences.

6. Professional Development

Education abroad professionals have a number of opportunities for professional growth, including the possibility of programs conducted overseas. Listed below are some of the major programs that are available:

Fulbright Programs for International Educators

There are three short-term programs (2-4 weeks) in Germany, Japan and Korea. These programs take a small group of international educators to learn about the educational systems of these countries. They are an excellent means of getting a broad overview of international education as well as specific information that could be used in education abroad advising and program development. For information contact the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES).

Other Overseas Opportunities

NAFSA helps administer education abroad opportunities for international educators to Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, and to Saudi Arabia. These programs examine the educational systems of these areas and are one to two weeks in duration. Projects in International Education Research (PIER) are small research groups of NAFSA members who produce publications on educational systems from around the world. Participating in these projects is an excellent way to develop your knowledge of a country's educational system. For further information contact NAFSA. NAFSA also organizes country and culture-specific workshops at different locations throughout the United States. Attending these workshops can deepen your understanding of a particular country or world region.

7. Current Issues

As we face the challenges of encouraging our students to study abroad, we also wrestle with a number of critical issues which accompany these efforts. Several of the current critical issues in education abroad are discussed briefly below, and more detailed discussions can be found in the publications provided by the organizations mentioned in this guide.

Campus Commitment

One of the most challenging aspects of your job can be to determine what level of support your office has on campus and how to increase that support among faculty and your administration. Involving faculty in education abroad is an excellent way to ensure that studying overseas becomes an integral part of a student's academic program. You might identify faculty willing to lead short-term programs overseas and to recruit and select students to participate in their programs. You might also create an advisory council of faculty on your campus to assist you in developing a mission statement for education abroad at your institution and with whom you can consult regarding new programs, appropriate departmental credit equivalencies for courses taken overseas, or ways to increase the visibility of education abroad for students. In addition to involving faculty, it is important to identify which university officials support your efforts and might be appropriate sources for financial support or for fostering education abroad visibility on campus. Determining multiple strategies for institutionalizing education abroad on your campus will be critical to the long-term success of your efforts.

Diversity

Diversifying the body of students on your campus who study abroad is an important consideration and one which often requires special efforts. Diversity can take many forms including gender, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation and academic majors. Fostering diversity, then, requires a varied approach. Working with relevant administrative offices and student organizations which represent the different types of students on your campus is one method for increasing diversity. These offices can assist in advising and promoting programs and in providing you with outreach suggestions. Including statements in your promotional materials to encourage underrepresented groups to consider studying abroad can also help diversify your education abroad population. Finally, working with faculty in non-traditional disciplines to identify programs and courses of study which would appeal to their students can further expand the range of students who study overseas.

Financial Aid

The use of financial aid to help finance a student's education abroad program continues to be a topic of frequent discussion among education abroad professionals and financial aid administrators. NAFSA's publication Financial Aid for Study Abroad is a valuable resource for understanding the details of this issue and what steps to take on your campus to make financial aid available for education abroad. For many students, using financial aid to help pay for the costs of their overseas program may be essential, and the considerations may involve both state and federal aid. The necessary infrastructure for this possibility will consist of close cooperative efforts between the education abroad office, the financial aid office, and your registrar.

Health and Safety

Health and safety issues involve both the information you gather and provide prior to a student's departure and consideration of the circumstances of the student's location overseas. Most institutions and organizations now gather health information from their participants. While this information is not used to determine a student's eligibility for the program, it can provide the education abroad office or organization with vital information prior to the student's departure and allow the education abroad professional to consult with the student about necessary precautions. The education abroad office also has the responsibility to provide students with basic information about insurance issues, liability, and health and safety considerations at the overseas program location. A number of recent publications have tackled the complexities of these issues and can provide valuable suggestions.

Integrity of Advising

When encouraging students to study abroad, the advising session can be the critical link in their decision-making process. While an education abroad adviser cannot not make the decision for students, there are some basic questions which can help students select a suitable program:

  1. What are the student's academic goals for this program? Does the student have some flexibility or does the student need to fulfill specific courses?

  2. Is the student interested in an integrated experience or would the student prefer to be in a group dynamic with other U.S. students?

  3. Does the student have sufficient language training to enroll in courses in the target language overseas?

  4. What kind of support system will the student need while overseas? Is the student fairly independent or will the student need significant guidance and support?

  5. What year is the student in school? What is the student's academic standing? Does the program which the student is considering have a minimum requirement in this area?

  6. What kind of financial considerations are at issue?

Identifying the answers to some of these basic questions can help a student narrow the range of possible education abroad options.

Pre-Departure Preparation and Reentry

Students will require different levels of assistance both prior to departure and upon their return, depending on their previous experience overseas and the nature of the program in which they will be participating. A number of publications provided by the organizations mentioned in this guide provide practical suggestions for interactive and informative pre-departure and reentry sessions. Reentry, in particular, can be the most challenging aspect to address, because students often return to the United States at different times and may or may not be aware of their own reentry adjustment. Finding ways to address reentry with returning students, however, is not only important for the student but also a valuable way for the education abroad office to maintain and foster an international community on campus.

As you gather materials and develop your expertise, please be reassured that there are education abroad colleagues nationally and internationally who can provide you with advice and assistance and who look forward to working with you in this valuable endeavor.

8. Important Names and Addresses

The contact information for the key organizations mentioned in this guide are listed below. These represent only a small sample of the resources available to you.

American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). 102 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich, CT 06830; tel: 800.727.AIFS; fax: 203.863.6009.

Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). 205 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017-5706. toll free: 888-COUNCIL; fax: 212.822.2699; e-mail: info[a]ciee.org.

Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES). 3007 Tilden Street, NW, Suite 5M, Washington, D.C. 20008-3009. tel: 202.686.4000; fax: 202.362.3358; e-mail: info[a]ciesnet.cies.org.

Intercultural Press. PO Box 700, Yarmouth, ME 04096; tel: 207.846.5168; fax: 207.846.5181; e-mail: interculturalpress[a]mcimail.com.

Institute of International Education (IIE). For publications: IIE Books, PO Box 371, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701-0371; tel: 800.445.0443; fax: 301.953.2838; e-mail: iiebooks[a]iie.org.

Mobility International, USA (MIUSA). Box 10767, Eugene, OR 97440; tel: 541.343.1284; fax: 541.343.6812; e-mail: info[a]miusa.org.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators. 1307 New York Ave, NW, Washington, DC, 20005. For membership information: tel: 202.737.3699 x0; fax: 202.737.3657; e-mail: inbox[a]nafsa.org. For publications: NAFSA Publications; tel: 866.538.1927.

Peterson's, a Nelnet company. 2000 Lenox Drive, Lawrenceville, NJ 08640; tel: 609-896-1800; fax: 609-896-1811.

Transitions Abroad. For subscriptions: Dept. TRA, Box 3000, Denville, NJ 07834; tel: 800.293.0373. Editorial offices: 18 Hulst Road, PO Box 1300, Amherst, MA 01004; tel: 413.256.3414; fax: 413.256.0373; e-mail: trabroad[a]aol.com.