Rethinking Student Mobility: New Game-changing Report for 2020 and Beyond

The Indo-Pacific Student Mobility Youth Dialogue (IPSMYD) has launched a report that is a game changer for student mobility as we know it.

Earlier this year, over 160 delegates alongside 36 facilitators came together, to identify key issues and barriers within student mobility and brainstorm potential solutions. The key to this dialogue was the student-led problem solving and the collation of the youth run organisations that spearheaded the research.  

 Asia Options sat down with the IPSMYD Convening Team to discuss student mobility and the findings of their report.

Can you tell us a little bit about From Dialogue to Action, your newly launched report?

This report captures the challenges and opportunities that 162 students from across 29 universities experienced whilst on their mobility programs. Our report goes into depth about the challenges experienced by students on their mobility programs and provides 29 recommendations on how to overcome these challenges. These challenges range from financial challenges, to difficulties with returning and re-integrating home, to challenges for LGBTQIA+ students and how individuals can struggle when trying to building support networks. A large part of our report is dedicated to outlining these challenges and we encourage the international education community to have a read.

Student experiences and student perspectives are important and informative, and we hope this report injects some student-led thought leadership into international education discourse in Australia.

Why is student mobility important?

Student mobility is an incredibly powerful medium through which cultural, economic and diplomatic ties can be shaped and enhanced. For many young Australians, the experience of studying abroad is their first opportunity to engage with a foreign country on a level beyond tourism. The learnings from such often involve an internationalising of outlooks, increased intercultural competence, and a sense of greater independence and empathy.

Beyond a month-long overseas subject or a semester abroad, however, the impacts of student mobility can be long-lasting, and indeed, lifelong. A large number of the Dialogue’s participants noted that their experiences in the Indo-Pacific shaped, or helped redirect, their career directions and life aspirations, whilst others noted that their regional and global perspectives were highly valued by employers.

In light of such, it is integral that universities, governments, and other stakeholders truly appreciate student mobility for what it truly is – not just a ‘rite of passage’ for many young Australians, but an opportunity to foster the skills and knowledge of future leaders on the international stage.

How do you believe COVID-19 has impacted student mobility and what will the ongoing effects be? 

Over the past nine months, we have seen student exchanges and global mobility grind to a halt – both in Australia, and elsewhere across the globe. A significant portion of delegates to the Dialogue were either forced to return home early, had their upcoming programs be cancelled or found their travels to be postponed indefinitely.

Whilst once an integral part of university studies for many, increasing numbers of students are now unsure of the viability of overseas study, and whether or not they should continue to pursue these opportunities. Amongst the varied reasons for this apprehension include the financial impacts of COVID-19, concerns about physical health and wellbeing, and rising geo-political tensions – all of which are likely to have long-term effects, even once international travel resumes.

Despite all this, however, the IPSMYD Convening Team firmly believe that now is the optimal time to discuss student mobility, and meaningfully reflect on how we can improve these experiences – so that the effects of COVID-19 are a temporary setback, rather than a death knell to international exchanges. Moreover, the outcomes of the Dialogue, as well as the findings illustrated in the report, provide a valuable opportunity for universities and other mobility providers to review their programs, and look at tangible ways to better support students in the (hopefully near) future.

How can students get involved with overseas study opportunities when borders are closed? 

Whilst international travel is not currently possible, there are still a myriad of opportunities for Australian students to engage with our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific, and develop new knowledge, and people-to-people connections.

The consortium of youth organisations involved in convening the Dialogue – the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Youth Partnership, Australia-China Youth Association, Australia-Indonesia Youth Association and Australia-Japan Youth Dialogue – all provide a vibrant program of events through which young people can form friendships, build intercultural understanding and foster bilateral relationships. These include, but are certainly not limited to, professional development, mentorship programs, virtual ‘coffee chats’ and trivia – and thanks to the Internet, are now widely and easily accessible.

We would encourage anyone interested in the Indo-Pacific to reach out about getting involved. Attending an event or signing up to language lessons may well be the beginning of a long and fruitful engagement with the region!

What are the advantages to studying abroad in Asia as compared to more ‘traditional’ study abroad destinations?

First, it just makes sense. Asia is close to Australia and our futures are intertwined. Mobility programs can help you understand our neighbours and feel more connected with our region. Who knows … you might meet someone on your exchange who becomes your future business partner?

I think another key advantage of studying in Asia is you get thrown in the deep-end. Depending on where you go and your own background, studying in Asia requires you to navigate new languages, social norms and lifestyles. This is not necessarily something you get when you study in an Anglophone country. Studying in Asia makes for an interesting and new (and sometimes gleefully chaotic!) experience.

What professional advantages arise from mobility experiences?

If you get the chance, you should absolutely undertake a mobility program. Not only is it enriching professionally, but it will take you on a journey of self-reckoning and discovery.

Professionally, mobility experiences can yield huge returns. It gives you the chance to learn, work and live in a completely new community. Through navigating, grappling with and reflecting on new social and cultural mores and working with people from different cultural backgrounds, you become more self-aware and (hopefully) culturally intelligent. The nature of work is more globalised and transnational than ever, so having skills to work in a culturally diverse context is a must.

Mobility programs can also be challenging – you are away from home and living outside your comfort zone. This is not always easy, but over time you will find yourself becoming more confident and adventurous. The ability to have resilience and independence is a life lesson that extends beyond the workplace as an essential and necessary skill.

For us, one of the biggest takeaways from our mobility experience was the introspection and lessons learnt about ourselves. Being thrown in the deep end helps to clarify your priorities, values and goals. It helps you understand what you like and don’t like, and where you want to head in the future. These type of clarifying moments can be hard to come by.

Read the full report here:

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Ashley Eadon

Ashley Eadon is a New Colombo Plan Scholar which is an initiative of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs. Ashley has previously held the role of ‘Youth Advocate for the United Nations’ in Bangkok, Thailand. She is a Youth Citizen of the Year (Macedon Ranges Shire), co-founder of community education project ‘Dear CRIS’ and studies a Bachelor of Laws and Psychological Science at La Trobe University alongside a Diploma in Hindi. As a youth leader, she has spoken at the United Nations Conference Centre in Thailand, Australian Parliament House and the Australian-Indian High Commission.

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