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Top Tips for Hosting Virtual Study Abroad Events

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January 29, 2021

In 2020, we experienced a shift to a nearly completely virtual world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Study abroad fairs were no exception, and with little time to plan, our field adapted quickly. Last fall, the IFSA Institutional Engagement team participated in 75 virtual fairs, expos, and info sessions during the fall semester. Through trial and error, we learned a lot about what makes a virtual event great and we hope to share a little of that wisdom with our partners. A few of our colleagues joined in to share with us what helped make their virtual study abroad events a success.

1. Keep it Concise

Our team participated in events that ranged from quick, 30-minute info sessions to day-long fairs that students could drop in to when they had time. We found that attendance wasn’t any better at longer fairs and students were actually more likely to attend a shorter session. Jill Burya, Associate Director at the Center for Global Engagement at Columbia University, decided to keep her provider info sessions concise. “We provided partners with the option to host a 30-, 45-, or 60-minute information session to connect with Columbia students,” she said. “Our decision to offer sessions of this length was because students were balancing both classes and extracurricular activities throughout the day. We wanted to be mindful of their schedules, while still providing them with an opportunity to learn more about study abroad.”

2. Check in with Your Partners

During virtual events, we really appreciated the chance to connect with study abroad staff. Barbara Hoffman, Associate Director of Off-Campus Studies at Whitman College, shared our sentiments. “One of my favorite aspects of our pre-COVID, in-person study abroad fairs has always been connecting with our program providers—such wonderful, interesting people work in this field!” she said. “When we moved this year’s virtual OCS fair to GatherTown, an online meeting platform, my goal was to help our partner program representatives feel welcome and comfortable in the platform. Plus, I enjoyed catching up!”

3. Make it Count

Make sure to collect student contact information if possible. Create a way for your students to let you know they attended the event and are interested, just like they would at an in-person fair. This may sound obvious, but many events we attended via Zoom didn’t give students a place to enter their contact information. Framingham State University did an excellent job of organizing pre-registration for their event. Jennifer Hyde, Assistant Director of International Education, said, “Pre-registration using Google Forms provided us with student information in a user friendly and effective manner, allowing us to continue the conversation and advising process with interested students post-event. It ensured a more accessible event for all students, as accommodation requests may be submitted through a pre-registration form.”

4. Try Out Handshake

One of the platforms that we found great success with this fall was Handshake, a recruiting platform often used by career services. Handshake allowed us to pre-schedule short information sessions as well as one-on-one meetings with students, and attendance was usually good at events hosted on Handshake. Talk to your career services office on campus to see if they use the platform and can get your office set up to use it as well. We enjoyed partnering with institutions like the University of South Carolina, Wabash College, and Providence College via Handshake this fall.

5. Save it for Later

It’s always a great idea to record info sessions or panels for later viewing. Even if no students are present during a live session, we’re happy to present anyway so that the content can be shared later. “Recording our virtual info session with IFSA has been a great resource to use in advising,” said Carmen Eyssautier, Study Abroad Coordinator at the University of Puget Sound. “Even though we didn’t have many attendees for the live event, I have been able to share the recording with many students in a follow-up advising email. It helps that the information is tailored to only our approved programs and is specific to our policies. I have heard from students that they found it very informative.”

Ali Janicek, Assistant Dean for International and Off-Campus Study at Franklin & Marshall College shared similar sentiments. “We noticed very early on that students were less likely to attend live virtual events, but our Mailchimp marketing platform indicated 55-65% of our audience regularly engaged with our weekly newsletters, so we recorded all of our promotional info sessions via Zoom webinars and then linked to those recordings in ensuing Mailchimp newsletters. Some videos got as many as 25 unique clicks, which is more than we would expect for in-person attendance.” Whether you send the recordings via email, post them directly to Terra Dotta pages, or add them to your website or social media, we think it’s a great idea to record your virtual sessions.

Until we can gather in-person again, we hope these tips are helpful in planning future virtual study abroad events! IFSA also has a wide selection of on-demand recordings available on our website for students and educators. Let your IFSA field director know if you’re planning virtual study abroad events in the coming months; we’d love to help.