Notre Dame International launches new digital initiative to enhance the study abroad experience

Author: Colleen Wilcox

Study Abroad Compass Lockin

The study abroad team at Notre Dame International is launching a new digital initiative that connects the different phases of study abroad and enhances the experience for students. Study Abroad Compass, a newly-developed and innovative program, will be a collection of courses, online lectures, and certificates completed over the different phases of study abroad. Stage one of the development of this new initiative is complete with the interactive course titled “Study Abroad 101.”

The new course gives students a high-level view of the study abroad experience and helps them narrow down the programs based on personal, professional, and academic preferences. It also highlights all of the individual programs, allows students to take a quiz to find a program that matches their needs and wants, and includes tips on how to write a personal statement that is compelling and convincing.

"This program allows students to learn about the study abroad process more in depth and explore different options and opportunities than they have ever been able to before,” says Laura Stipic, associate director, study abroad.

“The quiz encourages students to think about their goals for study abroad rather than just deciding based on location.

"This allows them to search beyond the larger locations they may have heard about to really find the program that is the best fit for them personally.”

To help personalize the program, the study abroad team gathered video testimonials from students who studied abroad up to ten years ago, allowing previous students to give their own perspectives on the long-term benefits of going abroad. They cover several topics, including how to respond when faced with family resistance on the idea of study abroad.

The course is non-credit bearing but allows students to earn a certificate of completion.

The approach

The study abroad team took a collaborative approach to this new resource, hoping to create a more holistic experience for study abroad students and to effectively deliver content digitally during the global pandemic.

The uncertainty of the pandemic in early March forced the University to suspend all undergraduate and graduate study abroad programs for the fall 2020 semester. The study abroad team worked around the clock to safely bring home more than 500 students. The team remained fluid, prepping for contingency plans for the upcoming summer and fall programs, all of which were ultimately canceled.

While the pandemic created barriers for the study abroad team, it also freed up their time over the summer to focus on higher level projects that they’ve been tracking. The team attended a retreat over the summer to come up with a more comprehensive plan to help guide students through the entire study abroad decision-making process. They sketched out their plans, conducted guided exercises such as stakeholder mapping, story boarded, and ultimately came up with the Study Abroad Compass module.

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During an off-site retreat, the study abroad team mapped out plans for Study Abroad Compass.

The goal

Based on previous research and feedback, the study abroad team focused on creating a user-centered program, meant to offer meaningful content to students while also delivering the content in an easy-to-access way. It is meant to encourage students to be more intentional about their study abroad choices, offer guidance throughout the process, and address questions that pop up along a student’s journey to study abroad.

“Our goal with Study Abroad 101 and Study Abroad Compass is not to create meaningless work for students,” says Rafa Guerra, associate director of study abroad and, alongside his colleague Katie Kovar, project manager for Study Abroad Compass. “All we wanted, from the very beginning, was to give study abroad students a more integrated, enjoyable, and comprehensive experience."

This aligns with the mission of the study abroad team and Notre Dame International and challenges students to go further by immersing themselves in new cultures and gaining diverse perspectives, ultimately becoming stronger global citizens and future global leaders.

“Study abroad is such a transformative experience and we really want students to be well prepared for it and get the most out of it,” says Hong Zhu, senior director of global education.

“Study Abroad Compass is created to help students navigate through the different phases of the process--before they go, while they are abroad, and after they return--and to provide guidance to maximize their experiences. While Study Abroad Compass is still in the development stage, we are hoping it will have many resources that all students can utilize and it will be truly a compass that provides them with directions."

The final phase

The study abroad team is in the process of developing the next phase of the project: brand new online pre-departure and re-entry programming, such as the Study Abroad Pre-Departure Sakai course and professional development seminars in conjunction with other units on campus. The team will also be utilizing the resources and expertise at the Global Gateways and Centers.

An additional course will be designed to help prepare students for an experience beyond studying abroad. This course will be available to prepare students for research abroad and also how to handle culture shock while abroad and reverse culture shock in the re-entry phase.

The designed course will not be mandatory, but it is strongly encouraged as it covers everything a student needs to know about study abroad. The completed program will be available by summer 2021. 

The study abroad team also plans to host a hybrid of in-person and virtual workshops on how to frame study abroad experiences on resumes or in future interviews using industry-validated frameworks and techniques. 

Learn more about Study Abroad Compass and Study Abroad 101.

Originally published by Colleen Wilcox at on September 21, 2020.