Set Up to Thrive: Enhancing the Study Abroad and Exchange experience

I enjoyed attending APAIE in Perth last month.  One of the areas that stood out for me was the renewed commitment to give students study abroad and exchange experiences.

These are so valuable for students as they provide the opportunity to experience a different culture, make new friends, be connected to the world beyond their home country, and build valuable skills for future employment.

For me personally, international education changed my life. I studied from high school to universities in New Zealand, where I built my confidence and entrepreneurial spirit that’s driven my career ever since. It taught me about other cultures and gave me the skills to help organisations wanting to navigate the China market, including many in the education sector.

Just as importantly, international education has given me so many rich memories and friendships for life. It’s helped me become a global citizen and made me committed to creating cross-cultural connections between countries and people.

So thinking about these benefits, how can we make sure all exchange and study abroad students get the most out of their time overseas?

I see three important opportunities where we can give further support to maximise students’ time learning abroad, while also benefiting your university. And in each case, digital solutions, always at hand on students’ smartphones, are the enabler.


1. Set up your students to thrive


Managing expectations and providing opportunities for growth are key ingredients for ensuring a great student experience. So how can partner institutions work together to ensure students get tools, information and all the preparation they need before they leave their home country? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Be engaging – provide fun, interactive digital solutions, with bite-sized content for your students to engage with
  • Listicles on different topics – e.g. the top 10 things for students to plan before they leave, top 10 things to do arrival, top 10 food experiences, top 10 local cultural experiences, etc.
  • Provide insights and learnings from previous study abroad and exchange students (these could be video, in person or livestreams, for example).
  • Video welcomes from university and civic leaders and students
  • Provide virtual or video tours of your campus and city
  • Provide exclusive tourism, cultural experiences and other offers as part of your welcome process
  • Former exchange or study abroad students talking about how they used their time abroad to enhance their career.

Exchanges and study abroad programmes give students a new, extended family. From the friends they make and their host university, city and country. So think how you can build on this by creating pre-arrival welcome opportunities and connections. For example, by connecting with students from the destination country before departure – both with those currently on exchange in your home country and those at the destination university? And how do students maintain connections with their new university family and friends once they return home?

There is so much potential for this type of digital solution to be an accessible, go-to companion for your students. And by partnering between institutions for content and development, you’re modelling the spirit of collaboration and internationalisation.


2. Employability


We know that employability (“future career impact”) is the key driver of student choice of university.[1] And research has shown that learning abroad improves employability due to the skills and expertise developed.[2] These include gaining  hands-on work experience in internships and part-time work, together with a wide range of soft skills and personal attributes including problem solving, resourcefulness, resilience, interpersonal skills, intercultural awareness and understanding of the complexity of global issues.[3]

Studies have revealed that students who get the greatest employability benefits from their outbound mobility experiences are very intentional in their approach.[4] They not only make the most of their time abroad, they prepare before they leave and build on their overseas experience when they return home. They network and seek internships and other professional development opportunities. They continually reflect on their learning, their goals and place in the world as a result of their overseas study. And they “re-story” their experience from a travel story to a career story.[5]

So there is a significant opportunity for universities to equip all their study abroad and exchange students with a digital tool that provides techniques, checklists, connections and self-reflection prompts to get employability benefits from their time abroad. Doing this will not only benefit your students, but is a sound investment for your university. It shows your commitment to employability, it will provide substantiation and case studies for recruitment activity, and help set you apart as a university.


3. Create friendships and build global citizenship


Multiple studies show that making friendships with local students helps create a positive student experience and increases cross-cultural understanding. So how can we enable this for all students having learning experiences overseas? Here are a few thoughts:

  • “Match” students from each country on an exchange, so they can share their stories, learnings and answer each other’s questions.[6]
  • Use returning students as buddies for newly arrived students. Aside from benefiting the new student, this will help returning students further enhance their CV and maintain their language skills
  • Use the exchange programme as an opportunity for domestic students to build their cross-cultural skills and understanding
  • Create a menu of cultural experiences for students to select from in their host city
  • Offer a global citizenship qualification. Some countries and institutions are already doing this, with very positive feedback from students.[7]

Aside from benefiting your students, the three opportunities above will help increase student advocacy and build the profile of your and your partner’s universities. Innovating to support your students studying overseas and improving their employability differentiates your university.

At UMS we believe the best way to recognise these opportunities is through a digital solution shared by partner universities. One that gives students need-to-know information, advice on getting the most out of their time abroad, a structured approach to building their skills and stories for employability, and channels for creating connections with students from their host university.

UMS has extensive knowledge in international education globally and helping to improve student experience. Many of our team are former international students. They know both the challenges and transformational experience of studying abroad.

UMS would be delighted to help you develop a digital strategy and digital solutions for your outbound mobility programmes and students. Talk to us now to learn more.

[1] See Tribal i-graduate The Global Student Experience 2023, pp 16 – 19,

[2] See Matherly, C. & Tillman, M., “Linking learning abroad and employability”, pp 11 – 24, Internationalisation and Employability in Higher Education, 2019, Routledge.

[3] Ibid, pp 22 – 23.

[4] Green, W., King, E., & Gallagher J., “How can international learning experiences enhance employability?”, pp 33-34 in Internationalisation and Employability in Higher Education, 2020, Routledge.

[5] Ibid, pp 35-36.

[6] For a humorous rendition of this, see!

[7] For examples, see and