Representing Your Institution Overseas: Leveraging Your Alumni as a Key Resource

by Gretchen Dobson (Gretchen Dobson, LLC)

We do it domestically when we are traveling for business: we ask family, colleagues, and friends for recommendations on how to make the most of a free afternoon, where to find local cuisine, and whether public transportation saves us time and money. We need to do the same when traveling internationally. However, in this case we should turn to our "extended family," our international alumni and valued partners that dot the globe, from Switzerland to Shanghai.

And our questions need to go beyond soliciting a Top Ten list for restaurants; making international travel productive requires knowing your destination much more fully, including familiarity with:

  • Cultural norms
  • Vaccinations and health regulations
  • Travel requirements
  • Currency exchange and travel costs
  • Holiday calendars and traditions

In this article, I'll focus on holiday calendars. Planning without knowledge of the holiday calendar and traditions for your destination can threaten your credibility with overseas contacts. Part of your checklist for 2014 international travel should include a thorough review of the 2014 international holiday schedule for regions outside the US and Canada.

Getting the Information and Perspective You Need

Use every opportunity to poll alumni abroad to gain a deeper understanding of the calendar and rhythms of overseas regions. For example:

  • Survey international chapter officers annually to confirm the next year’s holidays and whether there may be major global celebrations that could affect the ease for planning travel and/or events in the region (e.g., World Cup, Olympics, Major Conferences).
  • Build in international travel management to regular discussions with other colleagues such as the Study Abroad office, International Student Programs office and student recruitment officers from both undergraduate and graduate programs.
  • Speak with staff and faculty on campus with family, business or research ties to another region. Proactively ask for their advice and tips.
  • Identify and involve international trustees or other governing/advisory board members in your pre-travel planning discussions. Many of these busy and influential individuals travel often and may be available to accompany your delegation for part of the trip and/or attend an event.

TIP
Learn more about the holiday customs and traditions for future destinations. Ask international alumni to share stories of their favorite holidays and post impressions and pictures to chapter or regional web sites and resources.

By involving your local international alumni, families, friends and campus partners in as much conversation as possible about upcoming travel, you can:

  • Communicate your respect by asking for their advice in navigating local holidays and customs.
  • Gain greater credibility and foster trust in your shop's ability to operate from a global mindset.
  • Be better prepared to navigate your travel and maximize your return on it.

Let's review a few examples of overseas calendars and traditions that are critical for you to know about in advance.

Example A: China in 2014

For instance, consider these extended holidays in China.

Spring Festival

Spring Festival (also known as Lunar New Year) is one of the most significant holidays in China. January 31, 2014 marks the first day of this six-day celebration ending on February 6, 2014. Avoid planning international special events, planning meetings, or donor visits during this time. In fact, I recommend adding an embargo on travel for one week preceding and one week following the festival. Plan to travel well before January 24 and after February 13, 2014, and use the New Year period instead for post-travel reports and for other items that do not require involvement or input from Chinese alumni, parents, or donors.

National Day

Another period of time to note is National Day, celebrated this October 1-7, 2014. I learned about this holiday this past fall when I took the train down from Boston to apply for a Chinese visa in person at the Chinese consulate in New York City. I applied for an expedited process and planned to pick up my visa the next day. Not only could I not do this; I learned that my visa would only be ready the following week. Note to self: Check the holiday calendar not only when planning travel, but when applying for visas or scheduling other critical communications.

A QUICK RESOURCE

There are many holidays worth noting. Check with Travel China Guide for an at-a-glance, comprehensive holiday calendar for China.

Example B: The United Kingdom in 2014

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a list of holidays in the United Kingdom. From the spring and summer Bank Holidays to the expanded Easter holiday, it is critical to put yourself in the shoes of the locals who live for that extra Monday off or for a nice period of pause in the spring--which is also observed by schools and universities across the country.

Daylight Savings Time

Other important dates include the start and stop dates for Daylight Savings Time in 2014. This coming year, March 30 is the date that the UK springs forward (compare that to March 9 in the United States). This means that for a three-week period of time, there will only be a four-hour time difference between NYC and London.

Conversely, in the fall, Sunday, October 26 is the day when the UK turns the clock one hour back. In the United States, we do this one week later, on November 2. So, again, for a week, there is a four-hour NYC/London gap instead of the typical five hours. Mark these changes on your calendar today! You don't want to learn this lesson the wrong way--for example,m by mistakenly scheduling a Skype call only to arrive at the wrong hour.

A QUICK RESOURCE

Check with timeanddate.com/holidays/uk/2014 for a quick calendar.