Before studying abroad with IFSA, all students fill out an application stating the goals that they want to achieve while studying abroad. The goals are framed in three categories: professional, academic, and personal. The IFSA learning plan is then reviewed and revised with IFSA staff during several meetings on campus during your study abroad experience to assess how you are progressing toward your goals, what steps can be taken to achieve them, and how the IFSA staff can help. Each student experiences this process differently according to their individual needs. The check-ins are a place for students to ask questions to staff about all things study abroad and also provides space for reflection on the study abroad experience thus far.
I wanted to tell you about my check-in and IFSA learning plan experience and also share some of my friends’ experiences with the process. Anna Fronhofer is a computer science major and math minor at University of Vermont studying abroad at University of Limerick and Deana Mobley is an elementary education major at University of Tulsa studying abroad at National University of Ireland-Galway.
My Perspective on the IFSA Learning Plan
The first check-in meeting occurs a couple weeks following orientation with the IFSA staff who advises your specific school. For me, it was Ruth Elliot. When we met, she asked how I had been adjusting to life in Ireland and how I enjoyed my studies, if I had experienced culture shock, and if I had joined any clubs or societies. She asked about any favorite classes or professors, how making friends has been here, and more general get-to-know-you type questions. Then, we went through each of the goals that I identified. At the beginning of the semester, she asked me if there were any specific steps I could take to achieve these goals and at the end of the semester, she asked me how my progress had been toward these goals. I had to adjust some goals along the way, which I understand is totally normal. Ruth pointed out how I could then use the experiences I talked about during the check-in process in resumes and future interviews.
Anna’s Check-in with the IFSA Learning Plan
From the very beginning, Anna noticed how quick the IFSA staff were at answering questions. They made the process and transition abroad so smooth. She was particularly concerned about grades and the grading process abroad and she found that IFSA was helpful in answering all of her concerns.
She had never really thought about professional goals before completing the IFSA learning plan, so having to create professional goals for herself got her to start thinking about her future career.
In her first meeting with Ruth, she found that she had to change some of her goals because she had written her goals almost half a year before studying abroad, so she wasn’t quite sure yet what to expect of studying abroad. Her second check-in was good because it helped remind her of the original goals and prompted her to email her academic advisor back home for career and professional opportunities. She had never really thought about professional goals before completing the IFSA learning plan, so having to create professional goals for herself got her to start thinking about her future career. The check-in process helped her organize and direct her study abroad experience.
Deana’s Experience with the IFSA Learning Plan
Overall, the IFSA learning plan was a very positive experience for Deana. She said, “I enjoyed the meetings in that [the IFSA staff] were friendly and were wanting to get an update of how my time here has been as well as learn how I have been achieving my goals. I loved catching up and taking time to talk to people about my time here.” She didn’t have any concerns, but she said that if she did, she felt comfortable sharing with the staff. The IFSA staff were able to point her to another meeting where she could write and talk about her experience abroad. When she wanted to change her goals to better suit her time here, the staff were encouraging of her in achieving her new goals.
No matter where you go, the IFSA staff will be there to support you throughout your study abroad process. Using the IFSA learning plan as a guide, they will meet you where you are and help you have a successful time abroad.
Jennifer Liao is an elementary education and applied psychology and human development double major at Boston College and studied abroad with IFSA at University of Limerick in Ireland in fall 2018. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.