When graduates return to their home country, their alma mater needs a strategy for effective engagement.
Long distance relationships with international alumni can be tricky. Especially when cultural differences, communication styles, and time zones come into play.
Universities wishing to engage with their constituents from afar don’t always get it right. In many cases there is no magic formula. There’s no manual that explains how to build a community, engage effectively, or how and when to communicate.
Having worked in alumni relations in the Australian higher education sector – where many universities have an international student rate of 30%, mostly from Mainland China – I’ve had experience with long distance relationships.
I’ve travelled throughout Southeast Asia many times, meeting with graduates, donors, and business leaders. I’ve hosted large scale and intimate international alumni events, and spoken with local Embassy staff. I’ve also been lucky enough to live in Shanghai for a few years with my husband and young son. My life — personally and professionally — has been an exciting journey over the past 10 years.
There are a few things I’ve learnt along the way:
- Former international students who have repatriated to their country of origin are often very willing to engage with you. They have usually had a positive experience at your institution and have returned home with a highly-prized international qualification. They are just waiting for you to reach out and connect.
- Return on Investment (RoI) with any long-distance business travel is critical. So meet with as many international alumni and prospects as possible. How you secure that meeting is up to you—use the hook you think will resonate most. People like to know you care about them and they love to offer their opinion.
- “Asia” is not confined to one culture. It is a wonderful melting pot of different cultures, languages, preferences, foods. Just because your China-based community likes something a certain way, don’t assume that your Hong Kong or Singapore community will have the same preference.
- Many universities have alumni chapters or networks offshore. Use these networks frequently for intel gathering and feedback, to ensure you get the basics right. Is a Friday night appropriate? Should my event start at 6pm or 8pm? Is access to public transport a deal-breaker? Does my event date fall on an important holiday?
- Graduate employability is becoming more and more important for international alumni teams to effectively address. In China, there is a term for the 5 million+ recent graduates who have repatriated after their tertiary study abroad: The hăiguī —the Sea Turtle. Traditionally, these students had it made, but that is no longer guaranteed.
Stay tuned for my next blog, to learn more about “Sea Turtles” and how universities can better support this important group of returning recent graduates in the shifting sands of the Chinese employment market.
A former Alumni Director within the Australian university sector, Kristy White brings a wealth of experience in stakeholder engagement. She is well placed to provide advice on strategies and tactics with off-shore communities.
Read more about Kristy on LinkedIn)