We know that you've heard the spiel about all that a study abroad program offers a student—a chance to travel, see other cultures, learn more about yourself and step out of your comfort zone—blah blah blah.
And while all that is good and true, we're sure there's one benefit you haven't fully recognized: the opportunity to befriend some amazing and inspirational global citizens (a.k.a. your study abroad program leader or on-site staff members). These individuals would probably jump head over heels at the chance not only to get to know you, but also to become your friend and maybe even your mentor!
Who doesn't like to hang out with rad people? We'd put money down that your study abroad program leader or on-site staff are pretty awesome. They'll be there every step of your journey while you're actually abroad, and will make a great resource for future inspiration (or even recommendation letters!), once you've returned.
Here's what you need to know to make the most of your relationships with the program provider staff while you're studying abroad:
1. They really want to get to know you.
Educators who work for study abroad programs are psyched about travel as a tool for learning. They want to be part of your story, give you advice on how to give culture shock the 1-2-punch, learn the names of your family and friends back home, leak insider tips on neat weekend excursions, and that's just scratching the surface!
Your study abroad program leader is a great source for ‘local’ advice as well as general LIFE advice!
Study abroad field / on-site staff genuinely want to develop relationships with their students, the kind of relationships that last even after you head back home to your university. Don't freak out if they start inquiring about your hidden passions, what you see as your strengths and weaknesses, or your hopes and plans for your future vocation.
2. You have to meet them halfway.
Yes, your program contact abroad wants to get to know you, but much like your college professors, you need to put some effort in too. Your local contact interacts with many students every year, let alone every semester. Since they can't magically create a day with 272 hours, there physically isn't enough time to get to know each and every student on a personal level. However, the ones who make the effort to engage with them will reap the benefits of a positive relationship with an interesting person.
Set up random coffee dates, pop by their office, strike up a conversation on a hike during your study abroad program. Whatever your tactic, we know your study abroad program leaders will be oh-so-pumped to get to know you better.
3. Remember this: They have a life back home, too.
Have you ever found it difficult to imagine your Calc teacher serving supper to his kids around the dinner table? Or that your choir director enjoys zumba'ing in her free time?
Yes, it's true—your teachers, much like your study abroad program leaders, have lives outside of their work. Your program leader has a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with you. Instead of looking at them as your superior, start to recognize them as your equal—just a couple humble humans trying to survive (and thrive!) in a crazy, foreign land.
4. Be sure to ask them questions.
That being said, if you're not willing to ask your study abroad program leader questions, you may never get into the juicy, fun details about their lives back home or their lives off the clock.
Ask them how they came into this super cool job, what they would do differently if they ever went back to college, why they've chosen to move abroad to work, what gets them pumped about education abroad, which phrase in the local language is their favorite?
Our hunch is that your study abroad program leaders and on-site staff have a number of interesting stories to share. Sometimes, the most lasting lessons are learned from simply hearing them.
Be curious, inquisitive, and open to what your study abroad program leader has to share.
5. Get their contact details and stay in touch after your study abroad program ends—They're GREAT recommenders!
Hit your study abroad program leaders up for general life advice, suggestions for return trips to your beloved study abroad destination, or to give you feedback on your resume. Depending on the quality of your relationship, you might even be able to score a recommendation letter!
If you have an awakening while studying abroad and realize you too would like to work internationally someday, who better to share insight than someone who made that very dream happen? Do your best to keep this relationship fresh; just because you don't share an address doesn't mean you can't stay friends (and no, the occasional Facebook "like" doesn't really count as “keeping in touch!”).
Check out these 5 programs with highly rated on-the-ground staff
If having top-notch experts ready to welcome you—and guide you—through a meaningful study abroad experience is important to you, we highly recommend you consider the following programs. These options have been vetted and praised for their program leaders:
- Explore European Studies for a semester with the CEPA Foundation in Strasbourg, France
- Discover one of IES Abroad’s incredible international programs in over 35 locations around the world
- Enjoy a comprehensive study abroad program with CISabroad and grab the chance to combine study abroad with an international internship
- Live like a Brit through CAPA International Education’s Study and Intern Abroad program in London
- Experience life in the Czech Republic with CEA Study Abroad in Prague
Get the most out of life abroad as a student!
Amidst all of your grand adventures studying abroad, don't forget to tap into the wisdom of your study abroad program leader. Whether as a mentor, a buddy, or a friend, he or she will undoubtedly be a great source of inspiration.
Give your wanderlust more direction with the help of your study abroad program leaders!