Career advice: how to run an international student exchange

Andrew Southgate and Rob Turner offer some tips on organising a study-abroad trip following a visit to a Japanese university

August 10, 2017
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Start small
Our link with a Japanese university came about through appointed education representatives in Japan working on behalf of an institution in Kobe that was seeking a UK partner for an English-language short course.

It was clear from feedback from the staff and students at Konan Women’s University that everyone enjoyed the experience of the course. That passion and enthusiasm for internationalisation from both institutions led to discussions to explore how a partnership could be expanded.

During these conversations and subsequent scoping visits to Japan, we learned of a Japanese government initiative to ensure that its healthcare workforce is prepared to work with people from many different cultures during the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

As a result, our English-language programme was combined with a bespoke nursing education programme.

Start planning early
Don’t underestimate how long it can take to make arrangements for international exchange projects.

Before reaching the time-consuming stages of planning trip schedules and arranging travel, there is likely to be a great deal of background work to be done, which can take months or even years to complete.

Partnership agreements between the two parties may well be necessary, and these can involve due diligence procedures and the exchange of financial and insurance documents, which often require input from several different departments at both institutions.

Get started on each part of the process in good time, and don’t leave anything to the last minute.

Insider knowledge is crucial
A pre-departure briefing for staff and students is essential to help ensure that the trip runs smoothly.

An excellent source of insightful tips and crucial information for visitors will be people at the host institution and also colleagues from other faculties and schools who have “inside” experience of the country. Other information can be found on the Foreign Office website.

It’s important to know about dress codes as well as any rules about what may be posted on social media. For instance, permission may be needed from people before photographs are taken, and some countries restrict or ban the taking of photos near airports and military bases.

Cultural differences can also be important to consider. We had to adapt to the formalities associated with Japanese culture. In Japan, the giving and receiving of gifts is a deep-rooted tradition. Initially we found it overwhelming, but when we embraced this tradition we began to enjoy sharing gifts from the UK with our colleagues in Japan.

Expect the unexpected
Even with the best-laid plans, something is likely to go awry when travelling internationally.

Planning for the unexpected can reduce stress and prevent the experience being ruined. Taking two days’ clothing and toiletries in a cabin bag is a must, especially if more than one flight is involved, because luggage does sometimes get lost.   

Make sure that you have electronic copies of e-tickets and accommodation vouchers for the group, and check that everyone travelling has copies of their passports.

Think about how you would manage a range of scenarios, such as lost wallets, credit cards and boarding passes. We did have boarding passes go missing, but because we had a copy of all the students’ e-tickets, the situation was resolved quickly.

Keep an open mind
Travelling internationally means working and studying across different cultures and traditions, perhaps doing things in a way that may seem strange.

This will create a unique set of challenges, and it can be frustrating and tiring when you are overseas and are expected to behave and work in a way determined by an unfamiliar culture.

Try to keep an open mind in these situations – they all form part of the experience and provide opportunities to learn about how things are done differently around the world.

Enjoy it
Students may have self-funded, so factor in time at the start or the end of the exchange for sightseeing. This can help students maintain focus on the academic elements of the visit.

Sightseeing is also an excellent way to learn about culture, and getting to know where local people eat, drink and shop reveals valuable insights that can’t be found in textbooks and classes.

You should also consider writing a journal, noting down what you feel, think and see, which can help with writing reports and presenting seminars when you return.

Andrew Southgate is a senior lecturer in adult nursing at Canterbury Christ Church University, where Rob Turner is international development manager.

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Print headline: Don’t book those tickets just yet…

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