Intercultural awareness and the ability to conduct business or, at the very least, social interaction in a foreign language is systematically recognised by employers as a highly desirable added value to any graduate’s attributes. (CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2014 )
In line with one of the key aims of the university’s strategic plan 2015-2020 of having “engaged and internationally-aware students” and in keeping with the next phase of the university’s Student Transitions Enhancement Themes (2015-2017) which will look at transitions through and out of university, the Transitioning the Year Abroad – Before / During / After project has focussed on this key transition phase for all language students.
The project aims were to:
The project was undertaken by a team of two student interns (in a sequential timescale over a period spanning two academic years). The first phase (summer 2016) saw Hayley, our first student intern, work on information gathering and analysis, under the supervision of a team of academics and professionals from Modern Languages and the Careers Service. After researching the various issues mentioned above through a variety of means (literature review, targeted surveys, interviews) our student intern produced a report with recommendations.
During phase 2 of the project (summer2017), Mhairi, our second student intern, focussed on the development of tools and materials, for a planned implementation for students during the 2017/18 academic session. After selecting the most relevant and achievable items amongst the recommendations, she concentrated on developing the best platform for delivering them, with an initial focus on improving communication between cohorts, practical information sharing amongst students and creating a sense of community around the year abroad.
Thus was born the ‘Year Abroad Information & Support System’ (YAISS!), a galaxy of social media tools aiming to improve information flow between students as well as between the various official stakeholders and the student body.
With the shell in place, Mhairi started populating the various channels with materials produced with the support of HaSS IT (micro-videos) and students embarking on their year abroad (Twitter / Instagram posts).
On 23 October 2017, the Year Abroad Information & Support System was launched. Two years after the initial idea, tentative steps along the way and a lot of work from our two student-interns, the Transitioning the Year Abroad – Before / During / After project was resulting in a very concrete outcome: a lively, flexible and sustainable platform run by students for students and facilitating the flow of information around the year abroad.
The key to the long-term viability of this system will be student and staff involvement in creating more material and making the platform the ‘go-to-place’ for all things Year Abroad.
There were quite a few challenges along the way, but it is a credit to both our interns that, each time, they managed to find solutions. The first major challenge was to gather feedback and information at a time (summer) when it is difficult to contact students and involve them in such a project. However, Hayley did a fantastic job, using both personal contacts, social media and more traditional email communication to gain solid evidence for her analysis. Mhairi faced a similar challenge during her time with us but did find students free and willing to be interviewed for the micro-videos to be used on our dedicated YouTube channel.
Overall, as with all such projects, time slippage was probably the main area of concern. In the end, however, it proved to be entirely manageable.
The main lesson learnt from this project is very positive: trust the ability of young people when put in charge. Both our interns produced high-quality work and concrete outcomes with only minimal guidance from staff. This was a deliberate approach, as we wanted this project, and its outcome, to be truly student-centred.
Both in its project phase and in its outcome management Transitioning the Year Abroad – Before / During / After has been and is a truly student-centred project. Involving not only student-interns but also a number of language students throughout the feedback and information gathering, analysis and creation phases, the project outcome is now being managed by the newly created Language Champions group. This approach, we hope, will guarantee the long-term sustainability and further development of the Year Abroad Information & Support System.
By Hayley Caldwell (first year intern)
After finishing my final university year as an Italian and Spanish Honours student, I worked as an intern with the Humanities and Social Sciences department of the University of Strathclyde. The aim of the project, entitled, Transitioning the year abroad – Before / During / After was to research the positive and negative aspects of the study abroad period, that students within the faculty undertake each year. I then used the knowledge I gained by reading literature and conducting surveys and interviews, to compile a detailed report. What I hoped to take away from the project, was an improved knowledge of the year abroad, and a new understanding of this unique experience from different perspectives. I faced challenges, such as finding students with whom I could conduct an interview, as many were still abroad. However, this only improved my problem solving skills. During my time as an intern, I gained several valuable skills such as improved organisation while working towards deadlines, along with a sense of responsibility and independence. I thoroughly enjoyed both working alongside the professors, and independently.
By Mhairi McKenna (second year intern)
As an International Business with Modern Languages Student, I have always had a keen interest in being able to utilise both my business and my linguistic abilities within one project or job. Therefore, when I received the e-mail detailing the ‘Transitioning the Year Abroad’ Internship, I was immediately interested in applying.
Following on from my application and interview, I was delighted to be offered the internship role working within the Year Abroad Team. I decided that in order to truly benefit from the role, it was essential to begin by putting together a list of aims and goals that I hoped to achieve throughout my time with the team;
- To be able to work efficiently and effectively by myself, without relying on other team members
- To improve my communication skills
- To put into practice that which I have learned at University thus far
The project itself was proved to be both challenging and rewarding. Focusing on improving communication, I spent the Summer creating an online platform on which students could share their experiences, useful tips, and photos of their own. After creating an Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter account, I focused on creating as much ‘buzz’ as possible surrounding the project. I interviewed students who had completed their year abroad, as well as those who were about to embark upon the adventure, and shared these interviews on all Social Media Platforms. I also held focus groups with students in order to gain a sound understanding of what the student-body required, and the ways in which we could meet these needs.
This project allowed me to not only put into practice that which I had learned through studying Marketing, but also allowed me to use my creative skills in order to develop a unique online platform for the University. I was able to work independently, whilst also improving my ability to communicate my thoughts and ideas with others, and was able to build upon these ideas by speaking to fellow pupils. Although at times it was challenging, I found the overall experience to be incredibly rewarding and I look forward to utilising the skills I have gained in future projects.
By Cedric Moreau
The initial idea and motivation behind the Transitioning the Year Abroad project stem from a chance encounter and a deep conviction. Attending the first Transitions Theme event at Strathclyde two years ago was the catalyst for the idea of developing a project around what is THE major transition language students go through during their degree. My belief that students offer a fantastic, and often untapped, source of knowledge and experiences lead, in turn, to the decision to shape the project around student participation and active involvement with the outcome.
Starting from a simple question - How can we improve the overall transition around the year abroad? - the two year project started with our first intern, Hayley, concentrating on gathering views from students back from their year abroad about the types of improvements they were looking for. This led to the production of a substantial report and a series of recommendations linked to the various stages of the year abroad transition: before, during and after. Overall, the main conclusion of the report was that we should focus on improving information sharing and flow, both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Stage two of the project saw our second intern, Mhairi, picking up where Hayley had left and focussing on a series of achievable goals drawn from the report’s recommendations. Very early, we decided our information ‘platform’ needed to have three core qualities: being dynamic, multi-channel and pertinent to our student body in terms of both content and design. Hence, Mhairi developed what we soon named the Year Abroad Information System (YAIS!) based on a ‘galaxy’ design and using the most relevant social media tools for our students. A small-scale trial of the system ran in the summer with some students going abroad the coming academic year, enabling our intern to start creating original materials for the platform (YouTube micro videos, Twitter posts and Instagram images from students).
In terms of personal satisfaction, as the leader of this project, two highlights stand out. Firstly, working with our two interns has been a very refreshing experience for all of us on the team and has reinforced my belief that students have a lot to offer the institution when given the chance to flourish in the proper environment. Secondly, seeing a project produce a palpable outcome, which is now taking off and being run by students for students, was very rewarding indeed.
Available below is a diagram of the Year Abroad communication and support system, and a range of images representing project activity.