The findings below are based on the project team’s chapter in the Handbook of Research on Study Abroad Programs and Outbound Mobility and the project’s final OLT report.
This study attempted to reveal the critical components of short-term study tour preparation, identify who is currently responsible for providing this preparation, and the ways by which preparation may be improved. Our findings revealed that appropriate pre-departure preparation is a critical factor contributing to positive student perceptions regarding their short-term study tour experiences. In addition, the study has also underscored the crucial role played by staff, the University, and student themselves, in relation to preparation.
Eight academic study tour leaders and three administrative staff members who had recently participated in short-term, intensive study tours of two to four weeks duration were interviewed to learn about how they prepared themselves and their students. Participants from the University-organised Asia study tours had travelled to Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China. In total, five student focus groups comprising 32 students were asked about their thoughts and experiences regarding their preparation for study tours and placements.
For students, adequately preparing for their study tours was viewed as a way to alleviate anxieties and concerns they may have regarding travelling to a foreign destination. Travelling to an Asian destination, in particular, were identified by students as being different to travelling to a Western country, largely in terms of the practical preparation needed. Examples included knowing about acommodation, health, safety and risk, food, culture, language, responsibilities and expectations. Students relied mainly on the study tour leaders to inform them regarding what they needed to know beforehand, and what they could expect from the trip. They were more likely to be satisfied about their study tour experiences if they felt that they had been provided with comprehensive and useful information about the programs, well in advance. Overall, although students identified gaps in the preparation and delivery of their study tours, they were overwhelmingly positive about their experiences.
Staff were more likely to cite logistical, practical and workload challenges when describing how they prepared their students for study tours. Another frequent issue raised by staff was dealing with students’ expectations and the challenge of managing group cohesion, given the time constraints inherent to short-term, intensive study tours. Staff also highlighted the importance of being well-organised and well-prepared for their roles. The perceived, ideal qualities embodied by program organisers included being passionate about their role, being self-motivated and having relevant travel and administrative experience. Support from their institutions was another key component in the successful preparation and running of the study tours. Concerningly, staff felt that they were not adequately supported by the University. Specifically, they mentioned a lack of resources, administrative support, training and guidance.
Professor Darla Deardorff, Executive Director of the Association of International Education Administrators at Duke University, speaks on the amount and various types of preparation that staff who organise and run study tours need to undertake (and also provide to their students).
The Five Main Categories of Preparation
The figure below shows the distribution of the five main categories of trip preparation, based on analysis of responses from students and the University staff members who participated in the study. The categories are described in more detail, as follows:
Logistical and Practical Preparation
- Logistical, administrative and practical aspects of preparing for a trip (e.g. accommodation, visa applications, insurance, travel bookings, what to bring on the trip, and general program administration) were foremost on the minds of both students and staff.
- Preparation was undertaken via students attending pre-departure workshops and through resources such as handouts and ‘survival booklets’. Staff and students regarded these arrangements to be the responsibility of the study tour leaders.
- For students, attending preparation workshops/seminars constituted a vital part of their trip preparation.
- Examples of tasks performed by staff included: designing the study tours, administration, providing information seminars, liaising with tour partners, organising accommodation and travel, creating assessment items and preparing program materials.
- University staff professed the desire for students to demonstrate greater initiative in undertaking independent preparation.
- Staff felt that the logistical and administrative aspects of trip preparation constituted the most important and also most labour intensive aspects of trip organisation.
- Staff were aware of the importance of being adequately prepared and recognised the value in having relevant experience to be able to manage such programs.
- Nearly all staff members interviewed mentioned the burden of heavy workload and responsibility.
A former participant from a University of South Australia Global Experience study tour provides a brief description of what aspects of the preparation workshops she found useful:
Culture and Language Preparation
- Staff recognised that a crucial aspect of trip preparation involved making students aware of the history, culture and social norms of the countries they are to visit.
- Students wanted to learn more about the following: language, cultural norms, customs and local foods, and how to conduct themselves in different, culturally specific situations.
- Some students opted to conduct their own research by looking up the history and culture of their intended destinations, and speaking to friends and family who had travelled there before, or connecting with people from the culture they are intending to visit.
Below, several former University of South Australia Global Experience study tour participants provide examples of how they prepared themselves for their intercultural experience, when it came to learning about culture and language.
Preparation Relating to Student Behaviour and Expectation Management
- For staff, this area of preparation involved articulating expectations surrounding student behaviour, socialising and demonstrating appropriate cultural awareness of the host culture (e.g. imposing a set of standard expectations and expecting students to abide by them, and providing students with relevant information regarding appropriate conduct).
- Staff cited some examples of the steps they had undertaken during preparation to promote greater group cohesion. A useful example was a student-developed code of conduct, whereby students were able to discuss and formulate their expectations in relation to behaviour and responsibilities in a group setting, as part of their trip preparation. Making such expectations explicit and transparent can assist students in gaining a sense of ownership over the code of conduct.
- Students were largely unaware of what was expected of them in terms of preparation. The few examples of independent preparation undertaken by students included researching their intended destinations and speaking with others who had visited the country.
- Students were cognisant of the fact that preparing for a study tour was inherently different to preparing for a holiday, and that travelling to an Asian destination would likely entail different preparation activities. Cited differences between going on a holiday and being part of a study tour included academic requirements, structured format, level of cultural immersion, and opportunities for professional experiences afforded by the study tour.
- Many students commented that an important aspect of their preparation concerned meeting fellow travellers, getting to know each other, attending preparation workshops together and making friends. Preparation in the form of actvities that boosted the group cohesion amongst the travel group was also cited as being helpful.
In the videos below, former University of South Australia Global Experience study tour participants describe the importance of connecting with other study tour participants, and how this also assisted other aspects of preparation.
Health, Safety and Risk Preparation
- Preparation relating to health, safety and risk involves providing students with advice relating to vaccinations, food safety, hygiene and personal safety.
- Most of this information was relayed to students at information seminars (which included presentations by travel doctors), via program websites, and support materials such as handouts and ‘survival kits’.
- Typically, administrative support staff oversaw the provision of health information prior to departure, while academic staff members focussed on in-country safety issues.
- This preparation category was mentioned least frequently by both staff and students
- Academic preparation involved aspects of the study tour program such as readings, group work and assessments.
- Academic staff members were responsible for this aspect of program preparation.
- Much of the information in this category was covered in pre-departure information sessions (e.g. providing assignment outlines and readings in hard and/or soft copy, clarifying assessment requirements and assigning working groups).
A former participant from a University of South Australia Global Experience study tour described how she prepared for the academic component of her program:
Hiring Administrative Help
Of the five study tours that were involved in this research, only one study tour had hired an external administrative assistant in the host country, to assist with logistical and organisation aspects of the study tour. This was seen to be more cost-effective than bringing an administrative staff member from the home University, even if the staff member in question had already been heavily involved in the planning and organisation of the program. Another study tour engaged a professional liaison from an external organisation that facilitates internships. The role of the liaison was to assist communication with program partners in the host country, and to coordinate activities. The study tour leader who utilised this particular service cited that the benefits included having a person ‘on the ground’ who was familiar with the host country and had established networks and resources that could be called upon.
Positive Staff Perceptions
Despite nearly all staff members mentioning the heavy workload and responsibility, particularly in relation to the logistical and practical aspects of preparation, staff nevertheless highlighted positive aspects of their study tour organisation experience. For some staff, the major successes of the study tour came from the opportunity for both staff and students to form relationships with their country hosts (such as mentors or buddies).
For other staff, successful study tour programs were not just about what happened while on the study tour, but was also about the sense of satisfaction, and the recognition achieved from leveraging the successes of the program and facilitating useful networks once the students were back home.
Some staff spoke about the unique, life-changing experiences gained through the study tours. In many instances, there was the perception among staff that despite the challenges of organising and managing such programs, the outcomes were worth the effort.
In terms of positive aspects pertaining to institutional or external support for the study tours, funding provided through the institution and/or through the Government was cited as a valuable contributing factor that enabled students to take up the opportunity to participate in the programs, and allowed tour leaders to run more successful programs.