Going abroad to study is such a huge challenge for international students. After admissions are secured and visas are granted, the real adventure begins for the learners. There are so many things that may cause students to be anxious and this is why a carefully thought-out pre-departure briefing session is important for them to prepare for what lies ahead.
Preparing the students for what they should expect once they begin their studies overseas is a vital component and the starting point of institutions’ efforts to integrate foreign learners into the classroom.
Having pre-departure briefing sessions is more like welcoming a foreign friend into your home where you put your best foot forward to make a good impression. Since they are from a different country, you try to explain the basics of culture ahead of time, much like giving an insider tip. Ultimately, we do this to make them feel more comfortable and prevent instances of culture shock.
And more than making students feel more at ease, these sessions have a greater purpose. In this article, I will talk about the benefits institutions can receive from conducting pre-departure briefing sessions.
Pre-departure briefing is an opportunity to extend all the useful information to incoming international students before they arrive at study destinations
In the time of the pandemic, pre-departure briefing sessions serve a greater purpose as they become a tool to disseminate information on travel and health protocols
These virtual sessions can also be used to set expectations and build connections between the students, their families, and the receiving faculty members
Ultimately, the pre-departure briefing session is the starting point of student integration
1. Disseminating Information
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, pre-departure briefings had always been face-to-face. However, since the onset of the pandemic, most pre-departure briefing sessions have had to be done remotely through Zoom or Meet.
The main purpose of these briefings is to provide critical and helpful information before the students’ flight to their destination country. They normally serve to give out information on the students’ school campus, student accommodations, the documents students need to prepare or bring, and other basic details about the country of destination such as language, currency, transportation, climate, among other things.
With the onset of the pandemic, these briefing sessions were used to also let incoming students know about travel and health measures, and even vaccine requirements that need to be complied with before, during, and after their flights.
2. Setting Expectations
Pre-departure briefings are also used as an opportunity to set expectations for both the students and the faculty members.
Through these sessions, students can be informed ahead of time about the classroom culture, student services, and academic policies in their chosen institutions. It is the perfect opportunity to tell them what they can expect while they are still within their support system home base. Having their families involved in the pre-departure session is also helpful as the advanced information provided will help them support the students’ preparations.
Although students may not be able to absorb or acclimatize themselves to their new schools’ policies instantly, at least they become aware of what they can expect once they set foot on their study destination.
3. Building Connection
Apart from giving information, the pre-departure briefing is a great opportunity to gain trust and build a connection with the students. Here, students can be made aware of possible issues that may arise once they arrive at their study destinations. They can be briefed about common issues on language gaps, cultural differences, and classroom practices.
Students would then know that institutions have services that can help foreign learners overcome such issues in case they encounter them in the future.
Letting the students know ahead of time will not only help them build trust but also give them a sense of assurance that their schools recognize such issues – and that the institutions themselves will be there to assist international students to deal with various predicaments in or outside the campus.
Maximizing the Benefits of Pre-Departure Briefing
Some international education experts suggest that pre-departure briefings must not only be a one-time thing but instead it should be a series of sessions. Institutions and their third-party recruitment service providers can also tap other resource speakers to partake in these initiatives such as the foreign student alumni, agents, and other experts in international education.
At MSM, we conduct pre-departure briefings as part of our exclusive services to partner institutions. We invite the students to come with their parents in the sessions where we let them know about almost every basic information they need to equip themselves in their adventure – from language preparations, climate adjustments, financing help, and maintaining visa status to introducing avenues for social advancement and career placement. In short, we orient the students by giving them tools for survival, socialization, and success as they study abroad.
Aside from talking to students and their parents about what to expect, MSM also briefs faculty members of partner institutions through our staff internationalization workshops. For instance, in these sessions, MSM talks about the Indian culture and education system so that the faculty can connect with the students and know their study goals and motivations for increased connection.
Considering all these, it is clear that pre-departure briefing sessions are extremely beneficial to all parties – the students, their families, and faculty members of their chosen institution.
Many things can make or break a student’s experience abroad. Poor preparation, limited local information on insurance and living options, and just the general anxiety of being alone and far from home for the first time can make a huge impact on one’s study journey. But with pre-departure briefings, we can face these challenges head-on and we can set the path for student success by starting in the right direction. (SUNEETHA QURESHI)
Suneetha has more than 10 years of experience in the international education sector. As president of MSM GMO, she fortifies its business development outreach globally, particularly in the face of MSM’s foray in edtech-based recruitment via MSM Unify. She preserves the premium, value-adding services provided to each GMO partner institution, including dedicated teams on the ground, agent management, lead generation and inquiry management, application pre-screening, and student and parent support through pioneering pre-departure briefing sessions.
She has an impeccable track record of successfully launching the representative offices in Asia and Africa of many North American and European higher education institutions. Her key strengths include hiring, training, and developing teams as evidenced by the successful results of the dedicated in-country college and university client teams.
Suneetha also has taken the lead in developing several initiatives at MSM, including building robust standard operating procedures, the Rise ‘n Shine team engagement platform, and the organization’s data analytics and audit segments.