Study-Abroad Tips From the Pros

Young alumni who participated in the Dickinson-in-Bologna program as students. Photo by Joe O'Neill.

Young alumni who participated in the Dickinson-in-Bologna program as students. Photo by Joe O'Neill.

Young alumni help students get ready to study abroad

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Students preparing to study abroad have questions, and students who’ve just returned can help. So for years, Dickinson has trained returned study-abroad students, known as global ambassadors, to connect with fellow students, share their experiences and offer their best tips for study-abroad success. But when the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in travel, the supply of recently returned study-abroad students dried up. And when study-abroad programs relaunched last spring, there was no stable of global ambassadors to lend a hand.

A new program fills that gap and offers an additional source of guidance for Dickinsonians contemplating study abroad.

The Alumni Global Ambassadors program pairs students who plan to study abroad with Dickinson study-abroad alumni who graduated from the college five or fewer years ago.

“Education abroad is an essential component of the Dickinson education,” says Samantha Brandauer, associate provost and executive director of the Center for Global Study & Engagement (CGSE). “Our study-abroad alumni can help students make the most of their experiences, because they understand and can help bridge both Dickinson and local community contexts abroad—and they believe strongly in the mission of Dickinson and global education in general.”

Timely, tailored advice

Eighteen young alumni currently take part in the program. They represent a variety of majors and abroad programs—both the programs led by Dickinson and those offered through the college’s partner programs.

Amy Soba ’21 majored in psychology and studied abroad in Copenhagen. As an alumni global ambassador, she’s spoken with numerous Dickinson students and worked closely with two who were interested in studying in Copenhagen, connecting with them primarily through text and apps. One of the students she worked closely with has already studied abroad in Copenhagen, and the second one plans to do so in the fall.

Soba answers questions about Copenhagen and the Copenhagen program, provides insights on dealing with homesickness and on adopting a flexible mindset and recommends the CityMapper app to students preparing to head to a new city. She helps students unsure of where they want to go to make a more informed decision and gives insider’s tips, including restaurant, shopping and academic recommendations, to those with Copenhagen already in their sights.

“We also can give you a firsthand perspective on the logistics of traveling abroad, such as buying flights, opening a bank account or getting a credit card, finding a phone plan and budgeting, because we all had to do it too,” Soba says. "And we can be your hype man, your sounding board or your fellow problem-solver as you navigate both the abroad process and coming back from abroad, which is a transition in itself."

Some alumni global ambassadors additionally have volunteered to answer questions about aspects of their identities with regard to study abroad—meaning that students of color, LGBTQ+, first-generation, high-financial-need students and student-athletes may connect with a study-abroad alum who shares some of the same experiences and points of view.

And because some time has elapsed since their experiences abroad, global ambassadors have had an opportunity to form a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the benefits of those experiences—including the ways in which skills they gained while abroad are benefiting them professionally. Dickinson plans to continue to harness this resource, perhaps in evolving ways, as newly returned study-abroad students are once again available to offer on-campus advice.

It starts at the top

This culture of community mentorship is also baked into to the college’s global education staff.

Brandauer is a member of Dickinson's class of ’95, while Laura Long Raynaud ’01, Ellen Laird ’02 and Nedra Sandiford ’10 are administrative directors with the Dickinson-in programs in France, Italy and Spain, respectively. And Lauren Feldman ’21 worked as a program coordinator in England during the past year.

Each of these alumnae studied abroad as Dickinson students, and each is passionate not just about study abroad but about Dickinson’s celebrated approach to global education. And each one can speak to the benefits of those programs from both a professional and personal point of view, to the benefit of the students they work with.

“Both my education at Dickinson and my time abroad while at Dickinson have immensely informed my work. To now be a part of that experience as administrative director is an enormous privilege,” says Sandiford. “One of many things that I love about this position is the opportunity to encourage Dickinson students to think about how their time abroad can change or enhance the trajectories, professional and personal, that students have set for themselves.”


Published July 19, 2022