How USAC Can Help You Share Your Experience Abroad With Your Home University

Once you come home from study abroad you’ll want to tell everyone you see about your experience. That’s why USAC offers an alumni grant for people just like you, who know you have a lot to share and can’t wait to do it! All USAC alumni are eligible for a grant of up to $500 to offset the cost of food, supplies, event space, transportation, etc. associated with a presentation, event, or project that allows more students to learn about study abroad and USAC programs, the resources available, and the lessons gained.

What’s possible with the $500?

  • Share your story – organize a presentation, Q&A, host a luncheon or dinner, present to local high schools/classrooms
  • Gain skills – attend a returnee conference, hold a lecture or seminar with a university faculty member
  • Expand on a project – Expand on a Follow-On Service Project for scholarships
  • Collaborate – Organize an event with your home university during International Education Week, work with other alumni to host a reflection session, host an event on campus with another club or organization
  • Use your knowledge – Hold a budgeting workshop, host a presentation

If you are interested in applying for an Alumni Grant, you may do so here.

Alexandra Josfan is an alumni of the USAC France program. After returning from her study abroad she served as a Peer Advisor and USAC Ambassador on her campus, Portland State University. Alexandra used her alumni grant to organize several events on her campus to promote study abroad.

Using the USAC Alumni Grant to Organize On-Campus Events

After spending two years studying abroad in France and Spain with University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), I became a student and a Peer Advisor at Portland State University (PSU). My work as a Peer Advisor is aimed at helping other students study abroad, and connecting people who have already been abroad or who are planning to go abroad so that they have a community at PSU. As a USAC representative, I took the opportunity to pursue this vision by applying for the $500 Alumni Grant. With the grant, I was able to hold three catered events, one each term, for USAC alumni, students preparing to go abroad with USAC, and students who were still looking for study abroad programs. In all, the events reached more than 60 students.

For the fall event, I invited students to a lunch mixer where I set out USAC brochures and information booklets, USAC giveaway gifts, and posters for the USAC programs offered at PSU and the academic fields supported by each program. When they arrived, students were asked to put on a nametag that would help people identify if they had studied abroad yet (red if you had, blue if you had not yet studied abroad). Over food, free pens, and some well-placed conversation prompts, people began to open up to each other, ask questions about study abroad, and tell stories, share concerns, and give advice. About thirty minutes into the event, I introduced myself and told them why they were all there. I explained that PSU often feels very big and spread out, and when you start thinking about studying abroad, the world can start feeling very big and lonely, but everyone here has a shared interest in going abroad, in exploring other cultures, countries, and cuisines. We all have things in common, and we can all help each other. I often see students who are returning from study abroad feeling disenfranchised by their friends—no one wants to hear their stories after the first day they come home. The students who want to go abroad or who are getting ready for their programs are hungry for information and stories. Each group benefits from the other, and each person benefits from knowing they are not alone in their excitement, fear, isolation, and adventurous spirit. The event ended up going for an extra hour more than I had planned. I saw students exchanging numbers, and I heard questions being answered authentically and honestly. It was really working.

The second event followed the same pattern, but this time, we had a USAC representative, Brent Kirkland, talk to the students and answer questions. After that, they were back to making conversation and talking to the advisors in attendance…and eating.

For the final event, I asked students who were currently abroad to Skype in and talk to the students about their experiences, then answer questions. After many technical difficulties in our smart classroom, we finally were able to get through to our guest speaker. She gave us insights and brought up a lot of great points about language, immersion, visas, daily life abroad, and feelings about going home that led to thought-provoking conversations between the students who attended. With some students, I answered questions about resources when abroad, identity, LGBTQIA+ issues abroad, and visas. These events helped to fill in the gap between what students know before they go and what they wish they would have known when they arrive.

Overall, these mixers were a great way to build community for study abroad students on campus. About a fourth of the students who came did not have a program yet, so it was also a good tool for introducing students to USAC as one of their most dynamic and affordable study abroad options. The casual nature of these events made them accessible for students who had classes, so that they could come in when they had time. It also made for a space in which students felt comfortable connecting with one another. After hearing a story from a USAC France alum about not having enough converters for all of her devices, a student looked at me and asked, “What’s a converter?” It’s all those things that you didn’t even know you didn’t know that make these events such a success and remind us that there is always something to be learned from a stranger.