It is time for a Top 10 list!
Here are Melibee’s Top 10 ideas for planning an exciting, effective and educational study abroad fair:
1) Create a meaningful invitation list: Whom are you inviting to the fair and WHY? Are you only asking study abroad program representatives to attend? Are they only from your institution’s “approved program list” or are they from programs that might be of interest to students, but require a bit more work to seek approval to attend? Are you inviting tangential service providers such as representatives from your local Post Office to hand out passport applications? Are you asking for representation for programs that are non-credit bearing (such as volunteer, working abroad, travel and other options?) Will you invite representatives from organizations that provide grants and scholarships? It is critical that you know what you are trying to achieve by having the fair and then prepare the invitation list accordingly.
2) Think beyond your prospective “study abroaders”: Engage potential study abroad advocates such as career services staff, academic advising teams, faculty and financial aid number crunchers. The more that these colleagues know about study abroad, the more opportunity there is for effective collaboration. Be sure to invite your campus’ admissions and foundation offices too, as their understanding of the breadth and depth of programs abroad is integral to your ability to involve new students and raise funds to support your programs. Senior leadership should also be extended an invitation – and encouraged to stop by during your peak fair hour!
3) Create a mini-conference around your fair: Book a meeting space close to the actual fair. Ask representatives from several programs to give 20 – 30 minute presentations on topics related to education abroad. For example, instead of an organization giving their standard “sales pitch” about their program abroad, ask them to facilitate a discussion on current events in the country with a faculty member. For example, if there is a program in South Africa – ask them to discuss the historical and cultural significance of the World Cup taking place there this year. Or if you want something more playful, consider an interactive event. I once had a State Department rep who had students name a country or city to try to stump him on finding them on a map – it made for a great discussion during the day! Post this schedule before the fair so that students, faculty and staff can stop by for more than “table talk.”
4) Provide materials prior to the fair: By having a floor plan to hand out prior to the fair, you can direct students to specific tables/organizations ahead of time. This is particularly useful for students who have a tight schedule. Additionally, your program representatives will appreciate not having to go hoarse over talking with someone who simply isn’t a good fit for the program.
5) Invest in clear signs: There is nothing more annoying than not being able to identify an organization at a fair because there is a crowd of people in front of the banner that is hanging off the front of the table. Arrange for your guests’ banners to be hung HIGH UP so that people can easily spot them!
6) Prepare your guests: Send a FAQ sheet with the invitation so that the invited representatives can assess whether their program is a sound match for your institution. It is important that they know who studies abroad on your campus and what your campus goals are for study abroad. What eligibility requirements do you have for students? Do you have specific application deadlines? Is there a financial aid deadline that needs to be considered also? Offer an optional information session facilitated by the study abroad and financial aid offices an hour before the fair starts so that you can present key information. Better yet, take advantage of technology and prepare a simple on line video that you can email to representatives. They’ll appreciate the change in communication style too!
7) Feed your representatives – WELL: Many of these folks are on the road for weeks at a time. They lug boxes of brochures into each fair – rain or shine – and drive/fly countless miles to attend these fairs. Treat them well – they deserve it! This may mean finding funds on campus for hot meal, despite budgetary challenges. When faced with financial crises, ask your student government to help with the cost, as there is always a club that has money to support these kinds of events. As a representative at these types of fairs, there is nothing worse than racing to your fourth fair in a week, driving 100 miles to get there in a not so great rental car and being offered a less than fabulous boxed lunch with the basic stale bread sandwich and not so fresh apple. Splurge here people! Go hot, order up some fruit and offer something beyond endless amounts of Coke and Pepsi. They will thank you for it!
8) Ask for raffle items – and I don’t mean box of luggage tags: That’s right, go for the big “prizes” – a round trip plane ticket for a student and for your foundation to offer at its next study abroad fundraiser, a $1000 scholarship, or something else that will help move you closer to your study abroad goals. There are enough stress squeezy balls in the world handed out on our campuses, for goodness sake! (Make sure to check your university’s code of ethics/purchasing policies prior to receiving any sizable raffle items.)
9) Ask your guests to bring a guest: A representative from a partner institution abroad or a recently returned study abroad student is a great way to enhance the quality of information shared at each table. And you’ll appreciate the opportunity to hear a different perspective on the program.
10) Have an updated globe and wall map at the entrance to your fair: Geography is a struggling discipline in the US and this is a great opportunity to share the joy of staring at a map and plotting your first (or twentieth) excursion abroad. And needless to say, there is nothing worse than having your students approach a table and not know where they could be applying!
Good Luck with your fairs! Looking forward to your feedback – feel free to comment!