The Study Abroad Sprint/Marathon

If you’re a study abroad administrator in the US, you can relate your academic year to running. The fall is a sprint.  The spring, a marathon.

It is April and you are nearing mile 25.  You may be tired.  Your feet may be aching.  Your spirit may be worn. Budgets have been cut. Some of you haven’t had a pay raise in a couple of years.  Some of you are worrying about whether there will be a job for you next year.  Some are one person offices, trying to grow programs with little to no resources.  And some of you are blessed with solid funding and a team of supportive colleagues.

Hopefully, you’re feeling that spurt of energy that runners often talk about. You know there are only a few weeks before the end of the academic year in the US, Some of your students are ready to graduate, while others have made it through their first year despite the challenges of transitioning to a new environment.  And there are a few that haven’t.  You have worked diligently to do all that you can for them – prepared them for an academic experience abroad, helped the exchange or degree seeking international students to adjust to the US. You managed to also squeeze in time to meet the needs of the faculty, your boss(es), peers, and let’s not forget your family.

You had a particularly crazy year indeed.  Major earthquakes, a tsunami, and revolutions. Seriously, who could make this year up?!  You spent hours counting students names on rosters to make sure everyone was accounted for.  You may have spoken with your insurance provider more than your spouse this semester. You reached out to your students who have family abroad to help ease the emotional burden. You worked with your colleagues to ensure that resources were available to help everyone feel supported.  You stayed up way too late, you got up way too early, you made sure their needs were met before your own.  You wondered, for a brief moment, WHY am I doing this work?  Is this really worth all of the stress?

And you know the answer. It is yes because you know that your students are like your family.  Sometimes they are naughty. Sometimes they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Sometimes they surprise you.  But when you know that they’re tucked in to bed, safe and sound, you do sleep better at night. And you know that they are our future. You wouldn’t have it any other way.

As the semester in the US begins to slowly wind down, I want to acknowledge all that you have done this year.  Sometimes you don’t hear it from your colleagues, boss(es) or family and friends – and not because they don’t think you are doing a great job or that you aren’t doing something worthwhile, but simply because you pull it all together to make sure they’re not burdened with one more item. But your work is important, it changes lives, it is transformative and one of the biggest challenges that we face in this work is that we often go unrecognized, because one truly cannot appreciate the work that you do without being in the hot seat and in most cases because you do your job so very well that no one realizes the time and detail involved in getting it right.

So, congratulations for making it close to the finish line. Mile 26 is just ahead.  Look for it.  Know it will come.  Know that you will make it through another year – even with budget cuts, environmental disasters, and the uncertainty of the unexpected.

And if no one else is doing so, pat yourself on the back and imagine that this pat represents the students, their parents, your family, your boss(es) and colleagues saying THANK YOU.  Cause, dang it – YOU deserve it!

(Now back to work!) 🙂