Embarking on a Learning Abroad experience can be exhilarating, challenging and exciting, among other adjectives. Considerable resources are poured into ensuring students are well prepared for their overseas sojourn. However, institutions, groups and organizations don’t place much emphasis on engaging Learning Abroad Alumni (students and graduates who have gone abroad for a learning experience). These returnees have overcome adversity, have stories to share, experiences to relate and learning to assemble from what they accomplished.
Alumni are a valuable resource to any Learning Abroad office because they can give peer-to-peer advice, knowledge and information to those looking to embark on an International experience. Most importantly, Alumni themselves still have much to learn about their experience through reflection and sharing (some say this is where most of the learning actually takes place (Young 2014:66). As institutions wanting to make sure students and participants gain the most from an international experience, we should be working with our Alumni and offering them support when they come back.
A number of Canadian institutions have recognized this opportunity and decided to come together to engage Alumni on a national scale. In April 2017 the Canadian Learning Abroad Alumni Community was formed with the goals of facilitating networking and engagement among Learning Abroad Alumni across Canada to help promote Learning Abroad opportunities, support Alumni with their careers and spark mentoring for future Learning Abroad students. It also aims to provide platforms for Learning Abroad Alumni to share stories, exchange information, develop and enhance soft skills and continue to engage with their institutions.
CLAAC launched a LinkedIn group in April to facilitate networking and engagement and already has over 330 members. The group posts an announcement each week (less in the summer), asking questions around supports, Learning Abroad barriers and skills developed. The engagement on the questions and posts has been fantastic, and is a great mix of those who have just returned and those who are further along in their careers.
Where to from here?
The group hopes to continue this engagement by analyzing the discussion board to inform institutions to better serve students going abroad. They also plan to develop other social media sites to engage Alumni in different ways, as well as to bring together future Learning Abroad students with Alumni.
If you are interested in learning more, there will be a session at #CBIE2017 in Halifax dedicated to CLAAC. If you are an Alumni of Learning Abroad and you want to join the online group, click here. Finally, if you have any questions, or want your students to know about this group, contact CBIE to learn more.
The CLAAC team
Young, Gretchen E. (2014). Reentry: Supporting Students in the Final Stage of Study Abroad. New Directions for Student Services (146: 59-67). Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ss.20091/pdf.