Facilitating re-entry through student leadership programmes

Facilitating re-entry through student leadership programmes

Encouraging students to participate in an education abroad experience because it is ‘career-enhancing’ or ‘life-changing’ is a common promotional message. Education abroad offices (EAOs) spend the majority of time, energy and finances on preparing the student to go on this ‘life-changing experience’, however EAOs often lose sight of support that is needed upon return. Now that a student has completed this experience that has altered their professional goals, why do we drop the ball when it comes to supporting them upon return?

It can be common to have a basic one-off returned student event such as a lunch or debrief session, however I would like to introduce a model that prolongs the intercultural and professional development of returned students.

Meet Emma, undergraduate Law student

Emma went on exchange from Australia to Norway and, like most students, fell in love with her overseas experience. She couldn’t stop raving about how beautiful Bergen was and what great support she received from local staff and students. Emma was eager to return the favour to students that would study on exchange at her home university in Australia, so she contacted the education abroad office about volunteering. Luckily, her home university EAO was prepared for enthusiastic requests from returned students, so they had devised a system of rewarding students who volunteer at events such as incoming orientation and pre-departure with a free cinema voucher.

Over time, Emma collected quite a stash of cinema vouchers (you see, she volunteered much more often than she went to the cinema) and in turn her EAO wished that Emma could help out with more complex tasks that required training. This on-demand model of volunteering was not sustainable and did not assist Emma with her professional development or the office with growing needs of students.

Presenting the Global Officer Programme

Emma’s experience prompted her EAO to create a programme that rewards participants with professional experience, prolonged engagement with the mobility experience as well as financially. The office employs seven Global Officers (GOs) each semester to conduct basic student advising, coordinate key events and complete relevant projects. The professional development of each Global Officer sets the scene for the program with tasks that assist them in gaining skills in project management, event coordination, and expanding networks with internal and external stakeholders.

What sets this program apart:

1. Global Officers are given meaningful projects and are treated and respected as staff members.

2. Whether the student aspires to do a PhD in astrophysics or become a barrister at one of the top firms, their professional goals are taken into consideration when assigning projects.

3. Their GO experience is enhanced with professional development opportunities, such as resume critiques and attendance at international education industry events.

4. They commit for at least one year, and are paid competitively for their time.

5. Prolonging the international experience through returned student programming is embedded in the office’s culture.

Who benefits more, the chicken or the egg?

Each semester when budgeting to employ the seven GOs, I contemplate how the office would function without them. The work they do has completely re-shaped how we advise students and the offerings available to them. The GOs are the public face of the office and many students’ first impression of the office. They easily connect with and provide relevant advice to students who are going through the same arduous process of subject approvals and host university applications in unknown foreign languages. They are keenly aware of peak student periods such as mid-term exams or orientation festivals and advise staff, who can then better empathise with the student experience.

In return, the Global Officers learn the behind-the-scenes processes, politics and priorities of the university and higher education in general. They can demonstrate commitment to a professional position and the understanding of an office environment on their CVs. And in some instances, like our friend Emma, they go from wanting to work in politics to being inspired to become an international education professional.

Learn more about Monash University’s Global Officer Program.