A plan for communication while traveling abroad

Jacob Finke is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, where he majors in international and area studies and Chinese language and culture. He studied abroad at Fudan University in Shanghai for the summer and fall of 2018. Jacob wrote this post for the Olin Blog on behalf of Bear Studios.

Going abroad always strains relationships. This was something that I was aware of—and worried about—when I decided to study abroad for the summer and fall of 2018. In addition to finding new ways to keep in touch with my family and friends, I was particularly preoccupied about how I was going to communicate with my team at Bear Studios.

Since beginning my time as executive director of Bear Studios in April 2018, Lexi Jackson—my co-director—and I have done our best to communicate as openly as possible, not only between ourselves, but also with Bear Studios’ partners and fellows. We’re a team, and we wanted to communicate like it.

When I went abroad, it strained our communications plan—but I learned some valuable lessons from it.

Have a plan

Before I left for China, Lexi and I wrote up a plan on how we were going to communicate while abroad. Who was going to check our business email? Who was going to update our website? When were we going to have our phone calls? What worked best—FaceTime or Skype? All of these conversations are important—and they need to happen before you leave.

Be flexible

You know the plan Lexi and I drew up? It didn’t last long. Reality got in the way. We flip-flopped between Facebook Messenger and GroupMe before discovering halfway through the semester that iMessage was most convenient. Our roles constantly shifted and were complicated when new responsibilities, such as recruiting new fellows, muddied our beautifully laid-out plan. But we rolled with the punches.

Count on your team

I absolutely made communication blunders this semester. Sometimes, I poorly navigated the time change and sent flurries of texts at 4 a.m. St. Louis time. Other times, because of internet restrictions in China, I was unable to access my work email account for days at a time. When this happened, I knew I could count on Lexi and the team to be understanding—as they were, time and time again. While this was important while I was abroad, I know it will be no less important now that I am home.

I am by no means a communication expert and this semester’s communication plan was by no means perfect. However, it did illuminate some ways my communication can be improved. It also showed me just how important it is to have a team, like the one we have at Bear Studios, that is consistent, flexible, and open to error.

Pictured above are Washington University students and faculty with Fudan University program partners at Thanksgiving dinner in Shanghai in November 2018. Jacob is on the far right in the second row.

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