By Missy Gluckmann, Founder of Melibee Global (www.melibeeglobal.com)
Acting because you’re required to isn’t always exciting. I really do ‘get’ that!
However, there is a reason that many schools and program require that education abroad participants complete an evaluation before releasing a transcript. The good news is that there are some really positive reasons for sharing your feedback – beyond receiving your grades.
Here are my top five reasons why you should complete an education abroad review, even if you’re not ‘required’ to:
1) Your truth can save a life
Education abroad is (or should primarily be) an academic experience. However, the daily living realities of being abroad can feel as foreign as new skin. Your insights into the nuances of your host city and/or country can really impact the lives of others who are following in your footsteps. I’m not talking about things that seem quite important at the time of packing (‘Do I need an adapter for my hair straightener?’) but more along the variety of potentially life saving safety tips. While it is not the norm, students have died abroad from a variety of incidents ranging from drinking too much alcohol and getting lost in frigid weather with less than adequate clothing to drowning because of being pulled into a much stronger ocean current along the western coast of Central America. Sharing tips with your own personal flair is what can truly save someone’s life and can be a great addition to safety tools that are available via the ClearCause Foundation. While program advisers may write about the strength of a local ocean current in Costa Rica in pre-departure materials, reading about it from a peer who felt the overwhelming pull of the salt water and describes it as being ‘almost completely unmanageable, despite being a certified lifeguard ’ WILL resonate with future participants and their families. Telling your peers that ‘the alcohol in the region’s pubs is 100% proof and that you really do only one third of the amount you’d drink at home before feeling rather unaware of your surroundings’ may prevent others from putting themselves in a place of such needless risk. Your voice carries when talking with other students. Your voice can have that kind of power. You can save a life by being candid in your review, while still being professional.
2) Enhance your portfolio
Writing is a lifelong skill. It is one that you will use in your academic career and your job search. Documenting your experience abroad by completing an evaluation provides a tremendous opportunity to beef up your ‘body of work’ that is available on the internet that potential employers and headhunters will peruse as they look for possible candidates for positions in their companies and organizations. The time that you take to reflect and consider the seismic impact of an experience abroad -and how you document that in a constructive, mature manner – may result in a new document for your ever expanding portfolio. Potential employers are known to ask for writing samples. Your genuinely crafted review can serve as an sample that you’ll ultimately need in these scenarios.
3) Reflection = Growth
Going abroad changes you. Coming home feels familiar but strange too – and students are typically so busy plugging back into “life” that they rarely sit down and really THINK about who they were before they departed for their host country and who they are now. Intentionally taking time to ponder how you’ve changed and what you learned is necessary for measuring our growth. Reflection is an art form, one that requires dedicated time and attention – and a structured set of questions to guide you. The education abroad evaluation is an ideal way to start your reflective journey. What was it about your program that you really appreciated? How did those well delivered (or not so well delivered) services impact you? What would you want to change about the program and how would it impact future participants and your host community for the better? Despite it being a ‘mandatory’ exercise in some cases, you may find that you are actually grateful for someone asking for your opinion and observing your own trajectory of growth and increased maturity.
4) Role Reversal – You become the teacher
Part of the reason that many program administrators request or require evaluations is that they want to know what works well and what aspects of the program abroad need to be re-examined. Despite putting a complex education abroad program together, they do not have the luxury of experiencing the program first hand as a student. (Imagine how hard that is – crafting an exciting learning experience that involves seeing new cultures and not being able to go along with the group. It is torture!) So, despite them preparing guidelines and tips for students prior to departure and reinforcing them in country, when you are abroad, you begin to transition to the role of ‘subject matter expert ‘ on certain aspects of the program. You know what it is like to eat in a college cafeteria abroad every day (skip the meats but make the most of the potatoes!) or what cultural experiences are must see (the Guayasamin Museum in Quito, Ecuador is more than just a one day visit). With this level of customized feedback in your evaluation, you’re actually TEACHING US! What an exciting and empowering experience that is!
5) Writing through journaling
For anyone who has kept a journal, you know the power of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and documenting your feelings, perceptions and realities in the moment. The process of journaling is essentially documenting your life’s story, one page at a time. The beauty of having to complete an evaluation is that you have a searchable series of life’s important memories in one place, allowing you to return to the internet to recall where your mind and body were at a specific moment in time. Being able to jar your memory to the highs (and even the lows) of your time abroad is a simply priceless opportunity, one that you may not be able to fully appreciate until months or years later. Taking the time to review your program online may also develop into an interest in taking up journaling or even blogging. After all, an education abroad experience is one that you will to process for your entire life. Continuing to write about the impact of it, even decades later, is a joyful and cathartic experience.
I hope that these five tips will give you reason to pause and seriously consider how you complete a mandatory evaluation or to encourage you to consider filling one out, even if it isn’t required. The impact truly does extend well beyond your time abroad!
About the Author:
Missy Gluckmann is the Founder of Melibee Global, which aims to elevate the discussion about education abroad, culture, diversity and the lifelong path to global citizenship by offering trailblazing tools, speakers and professional development for the global education and travel communities. Raised in New York, Missy has lived abroad three times and traveled to dozens of countries. Missy currently resides in North Carolina and experiences culture shock there on a daily basis! She can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.