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Peer engagement could boost study abroad, say Gen Y

Peer mentorship could be key to building participation in study abroad, particularly among underrepresented student groups, and could also help students who have studied abroad to better articulate the skills they have learned to future employers.

L-R: Amanda Wheat, climate change specialist, USAID; Steven Brown, international events intern, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group; Asim Ali, US Department of State; Hannah Smalley, coordinator for women, girls and population, UN Foundation; Giffin Daughtridge, cofounder and CEO, UrSure Inc. Photo: The PIE News.

“It’s important to know your demographics”

These were some of the key messages shared at IIE’s Generation Study Abroad Summit in Washington DC last week by a panel of millennials who studied abroad in destinations including Hungary, France, Colombia, Ghana and Egypt.

These were some of the key messages shared by a panel of millennials who had studied abroad in destinations including Hungary, France, Colombia, Ghana and Egypt at the Generation Study Abroad Summit held by IIE in Washington, DC last week.

“At the end of a year abroad it’s incredible how much much advice you can give”

All of the alumni agreed that their experiences overseas have been formative in their careers, and reflected on how institutions could encourage more Generation Z students to study overseas.

Giffin Daughtridge, who received a Fulbright scholarship to conduct research in Colombia after his pre-medical training, said that he actively sought out advice from older students on whether to study abroad and what kind of programme to take.

“At the end of a year abroad it’s incredible how much experience and knowledge you build up and how much advice you can give,” he related.

“I got the advice ‘You’ve got to get outside the university and go explore nonprofits and other opportunities, and that ended up being hugely beneficial,” he said.

That advice had a huge impact on his career, he explained, as his experience in the nonprofit sector overseas inspired him to found his own company to help prevent the spread of HIV on his return.

Steven Brown, a former Gilman scholar to Budapest, said that as a first-generation student, having the opportunity to speak with multiple students about their experiences played a big role in encouraging him to study overseas.

“It’s important to know your demographics,” counselled Brown, adding that institutions should ensure students can interact with diverse alumni, not just ‘traditional’ study abroad students.

The panellists all indicated their willingness to share their experiences to students, demonstrating that alumni are often a willing resource for institutions.

“It gives the opportunity to give back and also to share my own experience,” commented Asim Ali, who said his year spent in Egypt helped to equip him for his current role at the State Department. Having immigrated to the US from Pakistan at the age of 10, he agreed that proactive outreach to underrepresented students is critical.

The panel at IIE's GSA Summit, chaired by The PIE News's Beckie Smith. Photo: OneWorld Now.

The panel at IIE’s GSA Summit, chaired by The PIE News‘s Beckie Smith. Photo: OneWorld Now.

However, the discussion brought to light that many universities don’t take advantage of this resource.

Having the chance to engage with alumni was “the one thing that was missing from my study abroad experience”, commented Hannah Smalley, who studied in Ghana and is now coordinator for women, girls and population at the UN Foundation.

The panellists also noted that as well as boosting participating in study abroad, continued engagement with alumni could help students to pinpoint and articulate the skills they had gained after studying abroad.

This is an area where many of the alumni felt they could have received more support: Smalley, for example, said that she had not received any form of guidance or training on how to articulate the skills that she had gained during her study abroad.

Amanda Wheat, now a climate change specialist at USAID, noted that as a Boren fellow to Brazil, her funding required her to write a thesis and to take a language test on her return to the US, as well as to spend a year working for the US government after returning.

“Those three things forced me to think about what I learned,” she said.

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