New Pre-Departure Conference Prepares Students for International Adventures

May 24, 2016

More than 500 Kennesaw State University students are studying abroad this summer, with another 300 expected to do so in the fall. Thanks to the Education Abroad Office’s new mandatory Pre-Departure Orientation Conference, those students are armed with the skills needed to be safe, savvy world travelers.  

Kennesaw State’s inaugural Education Abroad Pre-Departure Conference was held in the spring, with students given the option to attend a March 26th session or a follow-up on April 23rd. The Education Abroad Office developed the conference agenda with input from faculty members and other stakeholders to provide students with the information they would need to ensure they have a successful, enriching, and safe education abroad experience.

PreDOC Plenary

Iyonka Strawn-Valcy, director of education abroad programs and exchanges, leads the conference plenary session.

“Studying abroad is about more than improving your own future,” Director of Education Abroad Programs and Exchanges Iyonka Strawn-Valcy said during the April 23rd welcome session. “It’s about shaping a world that we all share. We want to make sure that you have the tools you need to look at the world around you and see it in the context of your community and yourself.”

Conference workshops addressed a variety of important topics such as helping students improve their intercultural communication skills, tips for maximizing foreign language acquisition, and ways to incorporate an education abroad experience into their professional lives.

PreDOC plenary panel

Panelists at the plenary session. From left to right: Iyonka Strawn-Valcy; Dr. Michael Sanseviro, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs & Dean of Students; Michael Sweazey, Director of Global Operations

A critical topic covered in multiple workshops throughout the conference was risk management. Mike Sweazey, director of global operations for Kennesaw State’s Division of Global Affairs, led a session offering up best practices students should follow to improve their health and safety overseas. Recommendations included drinking plenty of water, keeping only small amounts of money in their wallets, and not resisting if confronted by a pickpocket.

“Nothing you own is important enough to get hurt for,” he told students.

While many people have concerns about terrorism and political violence while abroad, Sweazey encouraged students to put things into perspective. “While there is a chance that you could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get involved in a terrorist attack, the odds of that happening are far less than other things. The trick is not to dismiss the danger, but to prioritize it.”

Students were encouraged to exercise good situational awareness and were provided with information about whom to contact in the event of an emergency.

PreDOC Students

The Pre-Departure Orientation Conference gave students the chance to get to know their peers traveling on different education abroad programs (a special mention goes out to the photobomber in the back!)

The EAO developed the Pre-Departure Orientation Conference to supplement the program-specific pre-departure meetings organized by each program’s faculty director. An ever-increasing number of programs offered each year – 45 this summer in addition to the 20 offered in the spring and the 33 programs this fall – has made it difficult for the EAO to guarantee each student receives the same information before going abroad. The Pre-Departure Orientation Conference ensures all participants receive a consistent message from the EAO and has the added benefit of giving students the opportunity to meet and interact with their peers participating in other education abroad programs.

Although students gained plenty of practical knowledge at the conference – such as the best time to exchange U.S. dollars for foreign currency (hint: it is not at the airport) and the best smartphone apps to download to contact home without an international calling plan – the real message that the EAO hopes students take away is the impact an experience like studying abroad can have on their personal development.

PreDOC Lance Askildson

Dr. Lance Askildson, Vice-Provost for Global Affairs & Chief International Officer, talks to students about the importance of their education abroad experiences

“The most important thing you will do abroad is not learning about new cultures or language skills, but is actually getting to know yourself better,” said Dr. Lance Askildson, Kennesaw State’s Vice-Provost for Global Affairs and Chief International Officer.

In his address to conference participants, Askildson described how an education abroad experience can encourage students to challenge their own preconceived notions about the world.

“You have your own ideas about what makes you an American, a Georgian, or however else you define yourself,” he said. “The values on which you base that identity are going to be challenged because you are going to see different ways of expressing those values. You’re going to question why you express them the way that you do. That is the value I want you to focus on.”

PreDOC Erin Rashce

Education Abroad Coordinator Erin Rasche discusses travel do's and don'ts with students during her session "Travel 101"

More than 400 students registered for the Pre-Departure Orientation Conference between the two days. Students who could not attend were required to view an online version of the conference sessions before leaving for their trips. The EAO plans to hold another conference next spring.

“We are thrilled with the student response to the Pre-Departure Orientation Conference!” Strawn-Valcy says. “We expect that the energy and excitement of the Pre-DOC will generate student enthusiasm about going abroad.

“We also hope this endeavor will increase the number of students who have easier access to pre-departure information, will better prepare students through encouragement and relevant information about their upcoming experiences, and will enhance the consistency and quality of pre-departure information.”

-Patrick Harbin