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Studying Abroad with Social Media

I was thrilled (and quite jealous!) to hear my colleague from Frostburg State University, Becca Ramspott, was invited to join on a study abroad trip to Peru. I asked if she might be willing to share some lessons advice with her peers and was thrilled she accepted. Be sure to follow her on Twitter, @beccaramspott, because she is a wealth of ideas and positivity. And let me know if your institution needs a chaperone for their trip to my dream location. I have a passport and am willing to travel! Sincerely, TVP
When it comes to promoting quality experiences to students, global education is the best of all worlds in marketing higher education. If done well, it capsulizes what the ideal college experience should be – taking students out of context and helping them actualize and take ownership of their ideas, so they grow as human beings. And often with gorgeous scenery that’s camera-ready to boot!
This is why when I found out Frostburg State University’s College of Business was sending me to Peru July 24 through Aug. 3 with a small group of students studying international leadership, I knew I had to rock it and gather as many good stories, pictures and examples of learning as I could. Luckily, I had already cut my teeth communicating Frostburg’s overseas adventures in 2008, when I was sent to China with our chamber choir to photograph and publicize their performances. But that was back in the day when my communication responsibilities were limited to writing press releases and speeches and updating a blog or two. Today it was a whole new world (wide Web), with more social media communities (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.) that I wanted to use to our best advantage.  I knew I needed to up my game, not to mention figure out some surefire ways to be efficient, especially since I was the only communications staff member going on this trip.
Here are some strategies I used to social media-ize our experience in Peru. Whether you are a small shop, or just really busy, you might find a tip or two to take with you the next time you are traveling and sharing your school’s stories:
Expand your marketing horizons and do your research beyond higher ed to get ideas.
I knew I wanted to incorporate Instagram into how we shared this trip, but needed inspiration, so I found this article about the best travelers on Instagram. When I created our trip’s Instagram account, I followed all these great traveler accounts (Why not? Maybe they would take notice of our adventures and share a photo or two). I also took note of the ways they tagged and promoted their Instagram images with things like “traveltuesday,” hashtags I ended up using to connect our Peru to a larger, international conversation on Instagram.


Plug into technology that will foolproof and streamline your work so you can stay organized.
We’re in an era where we’re just as likely to tweet or post a photo with our mobile devices as we are to take high-quality images with larger, heavier cameras, as part of our marketing efforts. If you’re the only one on the trip doing all of this for official communications purposes, it can be daunting to multi-task and get things done efficiently. To save time and to also ensure our students were a part of our storytelling, I invited them to use a hashtag we created for our trip, “fsucobperu” so we could crowdsource imagery. This enabled me to search for what they were sharing online and upload it instantly on the go with my iPhone, and use some of the great editing tools available through Instagram. I also became adept at switching back and forth between my iPhone and my other camera; taking pictures with both was part of the routine with our group shots, much to the amusement of my colleagues and our students.


Other ways I prepared: I bought a special charging case for my iPhone with two extra batteries that made it possible for my phone to run for two days straight, hugely extending my capability to take pictures and video on the go. I bought more memory for my laptop and an external hard drive, to back up my footage and imagery. Most of our hotels had Wi-Fi, but in the future, I would probably opt to take along one of those personal Wi-Fi hotspots, so I could have Internet access everywhere. Another possibility for next time: upgrading my iPhone with a better lens and making it my primary camera.
Be a support for the people leading the trip.
If you’re lucky enough to have a college or program enlist your help in publicizing global education by sending you abroad and paying for it, it’s a given you should be collaborative as possible and help out whomever is in charge. My colleague Dr. Jeff McClellan and I worked together to create a Tumblr blog for the trip, as part of his “Leadership in Latin America” course. I made sure I was available to help students figure out how to share content on the blog (we opted to make me an administrator who reviewed posts they submitted for consideration). Sometimes the students and I met early in the morning before breakfast or after dinner during the trip, so I could answer their questions and help them pick out pictures. The Tumblr blog was great because it was mobile-friendly, conducive to convenient social sharing, and provided an online inventory of the students’ learning experiences abroad that we could turn to again and again in future promotions of the trip.
Cross-promote, cross-promote, cross-promote.
To get ready for Peru, we listed how we would be sharing the trip through social media in the press release, complete with hyperlinks. I did random things like take a screenshot of our Instagram account with my phone and tweet it out and post it on our university’s Facebook Page, as a picture, not just text. When we met people during our trip, we invited them to join us on the rest of our journey and stay in touch with us online.  They enjoyed our photos and even shared recommendations with us, after we met them.
Don’t forget to be present.
Yes, you’re on call 24/7 to do social media and communications, and you’ve got to be on point for that, at all times. But there will be those moments when you can—and should—catch your breath and enjoy those moments with everyone else and just see and experience things with your own eyes. As part of studying servant leadership, our group had raised funds to buy toys and food for children in an Andean village in Peru. The day we went there, I took a ton of photos and even some video. But it required nuance and subtlety… these were kids who lived in poverty and obviously weren’t familiar with our highly digitized world. I didn’t want them to feel scared or overwhelmed by cameras in their faces, and I also didn’t want to distance myself from a once-in-a-lifetime experience to connect with them in a meaningful way. Following the recommendation of Dr. McCllellan, at one point I put away my camera and just spent some time playing with these kids and making them smile. And the other students did, too. And that was one of the most magical moments of the trip, something we’d never fully capture through social media and that we needed to remember with our hearts as much as anything else.