Representing Your Institution Overseas – Like an International Travel Rockstar

illustration of an article

Academic Impressions recently released the new International Travel Handbook: Engaging Constituents Abroad by leading global alumni relations consultant Gretchen Dobson of Gretchen Dobson, LLC. Dobson is based in Chengdu, China and has been recognized by the Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the leading “Innovators in Internationalization” for her work at Tufts University.

To introduce you to her new handbook for higher-ed professionals traveling abroad — and to learn more about the impact she hopes this resource will have — we reached out to Gretchen Dobson for this interview.

AI. Gretchen, why is this book so needed? What drove you to write it?

Gretchen Dobson. Traveling domestically for work requires advance planning in research, logistics and coordination with both those with whom you travel and with whom you meet at your destination. Traveling internationally requires all of the above and more: more resources and an understanding about working within and across different cultures and with various constituencies (including prospective international students or the VIP alum who once attended your university) that require a different approach.

I’ve been a road-warrior in international higher education for over twelve years and have shared my stories with the person sitting next to me in the plane and my colleagues via Skype. What I have not seen, however, is a succinct resource that introduces the international traveler to key considerations when preparing to work abroad. It’s just not what we do to prepare and set agendas; it’s what happens when we touch down, what happens during the course of three days in London, and how we make the most of our time engaging our valuable constituents.

I wrote this book to guide all of us that travel abroad — and those who support us in preparing for these trips, before, during and after. It’s a resource that provides tips for maximizing your time and impact. It is written for the fundraiser, the dean’s assistant, the admissions recruiter, the chief of staff to the president, and the alumni council president who will join your group on your next global campaign tour.

Traveling internationally is not always sexy. It’s hard work but it is a privilege to represent our institutions and our causes. The International Travel Handbook reminds us that we must be good stewards of our international resources: time, money and people.

AI. What are a couple of specific missed opportunities you see with international travel?

Gretchen Dobson. We make the mistakes back on campus by not planning together and not working across functional areas, departments and schools. What can one international alumni officer and a faculty member fluent in the local language do when traveling with the lead international admissions recruiter in the fall season? So much!! For example:

  • International alumni engagement gets a boost when alumni witness a coordinated presence and receive invitations to become involved.
  • You could do a special event with the faculty member and informational sessions with local alumni and admissions officers for prospective students and families. (Don’t forget to invite the high school guidance counselors.)

We must be able to identify early with the international story for our institution and then act collectively to communicate top regional or global priorities for the academic, admissions and advancement agendas.

AI. What is the #1 thing you hope professionals in alumni relations, development, admissions and other areas such as study abroad will take away from reading this book?

Gretchen Dobson. The most important consideration when working internationally is the notion that managing expectations is critical. Alumni and other key constituents know that your institution is making a considerable investment and they want to know how that investment will be sustained, what their role can/will be, when you will return, and why it matters that you came to their region in the first place. We must be sincere and invite these partners to help identify ways they can advance the institution’s international story – and positively impact their own lives and relationships.

AI. Finally, Gretchen, what’s your favorite international city for work and why? 

Gretchen Dobson. There are two: Istanbul and Hong Kong.

Istanbul’s neighborhoods are beautiful and seeped in history, the waterfront boasts delicious fish and the people are friendly and increasingly engaged in international education pursuits. The Star Alliance lounge at Ataturk International Airport is also one of the very best.

Working in Hong Kong is easy due to the English language, and I’ve experienced a sustained number of relationships over time with students, families, alumni and other key partners in higher education and hospitality. It’s a great place to take a hike, shop, entertain and the ease of checking your bag at the metro station in Central before you arrive at the airport is a nice logistical plus.

AI. Thank you, Gretchen! And happy travels!