Chapter 6. Activities At Foreign Site

6.1 Receive and greet student participants

Arrange and coordinate a reception team to meet students at the airport, or other arrival point. A single program administrator and several student assistants (graduate or undergraduate students from the host labs) can efficiently manage the arrival point reception. Prepare a checklist of needed items and services: For programs where all students have a common embarkation point and destination, consider having someone from the program accompany them in travel. A seasoned traveler can direct the group should problems arise (for example, diversion to another destination due to weather or mechanical problems).

For transport to the program site, consider using a charter bus that can handle program staff, participants and their luggage. Alternatively, if public transportation (bus, tram, or subway) is to be utilized, engage the services of a baggage transfer company to deliver all of the luggage to the program venue. Arriving students will be fatigued, and they will better endure the final segments of their travel without the burden of luggage if economical alternatives are available.


6.2 Introduce students to on-site program, staff and facilities

The first organized activity for participants is a welcoming reception and on-site orientation. Although a pre-departure orientation delivers much advance information, the on-site meeting adds essential practical knowledge about the site and scheduled activities. A 1-to-2 day welcome/orientation meeting usually includes: For a dispersed program at the foreign site, where participants are separated in their laboratories and housing, provide a roster with contact information to facilitate their communication and interaction.

Prepare for each student participant, a wallet card with important contact information (name, address, and work and home telephone and fax numbers) for the individual host scholar and institute, and the American Embassy.

A bus or walking tour of the host city is helpful, but not essential. Combine this with a “kick-off” site visit or industrial tour appropriate to the program’s theme, if possible.


6.3 Provide foreign language training or other formal coursework as appropriate

The need for language training or other formal coursework depends on the nature and duration of the program, the language skills of the students and hosts, and the necessity for language skills for daily living and research activities. At a foreign site where little or no English is spoken outside of the host lab, several hours of “survival” language training is most useful. Implement a language training program built on either intensive class work over the first week of the on-site program, or on shorter classes meeting daily or weekly throughout the duration of the program. Explore the availability of language programs through the host institution or, alternatively, through an external contractor; in either case, seek guidance in planning from competent instructors. If the number of student participants is large, discuss with language instructors the optimal language class size. Divide large groups into smaller classes according to speaking proficiency and previous formal training. Evaluate participants’ language skills at the pre-departure orientation (or by e-mail through a self-evaluation report); use these results to estimate the number and level of language classes needed. If there is linkage with a domestic program, consider initiating foreign language training prior to departure.


6.4 Organize seminars and colloquia for student participants to discuss and to report on individual projects

Include ample opportunities for students to discuss their research projects with other students and with host scholars. Arrange these opportunities through informal “data presentations” to small groups, and through a more formal gathering (Section 6.7.1). Another means of facilitating exchange is a site visit model wherein each participant provides a short tour of her/his host laboratory to the other participants. If the number of participating students is large, designate sub-groups for this purpose. If the program uses a distributed host site model, participants will “reunite” during these lab exchanges.


6.5 Emphasize individual research and mentoring

Individual research and mentoring is the scientific focus of the student experience at the foreign site. Execution of this program component hinges strongly on the field of study, foreign site facilities, and program staffing. There is no “one size fits all” program model. Each international REU program is unique and expresses the creative essence of the project director. Overall, however, the organization of the program and of group activities reflects the priority of the students’ laboratory work in host labs.

Provide each host scholar with resource materials on mentoring. Hosts will be aware of their responsibilities to the student from the pre-arrival orientation meeting, but reference materials on mentoring will be useful practically, in any event (and especially for first-time mentors). The following short book from the National Academy of Sciences provides a wealth of information on mentoring, and includes clear discussions on the multiple roles of mentors, specific needs of undergraduate students, cultural bias, and diversity issues. For program directors, the book contains a comprehensive listing of additional mentoring resources. The book is available in print and Web-based versions:

National Academy of Sciences 1997. Advisor, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering. National Academy Press: Washington, D.C. 84 pp. ISBN 0-309-06363-9
Available on-line at: http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/mentor/

As part of a mentoring plan, consider the submission of short interim reports by the host scholars to promote honest discussions about the student’s research progress.

Encourage U.S. mentors to check on their students. The “home connection” is important for those students traveling abroad for the first time, and problems may be revealed through that link that would go unmentioned otherwise. Mid-term data reporting or program evaluations by participants may also reveal shortcomings. Detected early, many problems can be resolved through mid-course correction (program-level problems) or through intervention by the U.S. or foreign program directors (individual participant problems).

The National Science Foundation offers support to improve undergraduate mentoring. A useful example is the NSF Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental Biology (UMEB) Program, which serves two intents. First, this activity provides research support for talented students and fosters an enriched and culturally diverse research and educational environment. Second, it enables faculty members to become better mentors through active engagement with students in research. The UMEB program description is available on-line at:
http://www.nsf.gov/bio/progdes/umeb.htm


6.6 Complement individual research work with group activities

6.6.1 Facilitate site visits and other scientific activities appropriate to the international REU site theme
Visits to research and industrial sites build upon the laboratory projects of the group. For example, a site visit to a computer chip R&D or manufacturing facility complements an REU program in electrical engineering. Discuss these outings with host scholars during their orientation meeting; utilize their professional contacts to arrange invitations to desirable facilities. Informal and impromptu site visits for subgroups of students, arranged individually by host scholars, are to be expected. Promote these networking opportunities by allocating modest funds for transportation and incidental expenses.

Guest speakers from other institutes in the foreign country provide refreshing and informative breaks for participants. Select topics for presentation that are central to the group’s overall research interest, or choose them from an intersecting research field to add an interdisciplinary element.

6.6.2 Organize cultural and historical site field trips
Field trips to cultural and historical sites are effective “ice-breaking” tools during the first week at the foreign site. Careful selection of sites strengthens the cultural awareness of the participants and introduces them to the surrounding areas. Plan carefully the number and frequency of these field trips so as not to disrupt the productivity of the participants in their laboratory projects. Plan occasional evening outings to museums or cultural events (traditional theater, for example) to limit disruptions to the workday.


6.7 Use formal activities to recognize the program’s close

Generally speaking, organize closing activities that comprise more than just a simple farewell reception or a dinner; include the presentation of certificates of achievement to participants. Altogether, for a large group, the closing activities could occupy a full day and might include reporting and evaluation exercises, a recognition ceremony and dinner.

Even if the number of participants is small, devise a formal closing ceremony as visible recognition of the students’ efforts and accomplishments. For a very small group of participants, host a luncheon with appropriate university officials or representatives of the sponsoring agency. If participants are scattered among several sites during the program, and unable to spend much time in group-centered activities, the closing ceremony is an opportunity to “re-connect.” A “reunion” meeting in the U.S. can substitute for a closing ceremony at the foreign host site.

6.7.1 Require participant reports on individual projects and accomplishments
Participant reporting is a very important component of the international REU site program. The requirement for a final presentation encourages students to continue their strong efforts in the laboratory and to manage their individual projects with that goal in mind. Successful projects include not just experimental design and data collection, but analysis and interpretation of findings, and reporting. Students will enjoy an element of pride, certainly, in a well-done and successful project (although what constitutes a successful project can be quite broad). Since a successful project reflects well on the host lab, engaged mentors share an interest in the outcome of student projects. Finally, experience in oral presentation to a scientific audience is always needed, especially for undergraduates.

Model the format for the student presentations on the typical professional conference for that field. Specifically, some combination of either platform presentations or poster presentations works effectively for groups of almost any size. Because of time constraints, poster presentations are preferable to platform presentations for larger groups. Additionally, poster presentations typically elicit more extensive comments from visitors. If a more formal gathering is desired, pre-select a few of the participants to deliver platform talks as part of a “student research symposium” that includes both posters and oral presentations. Base the selection of speakers on project abstracts submitted by the students or on suggestions from host engineers. Invited remarks from university or agency representatives add a degree of formality to the proceedings.

6.7.2 Conduct exit surveys of participants
Conduct exit surveys on-site prior to departure of the participants. Conducting the survey by mail after the program’s close adds unnecessary work and potentially compromises full participation. Some questions are best answered while the international REU experience is still fresh in the minds of the participants, while other questions are better answered after some reflection. Exit surveys reasonably address issues related to daily schedules and time spent in different activities, housing accommodations, the convenience and quality of local support facilities (dining halls and/or restaurants, laundry, etc.), and sufficiency of the allowance relative to the actual costs of participation. Reserve other questions relating to the outcome of research projects, to satisfaction with the host and mentor, and to whether initial expectations were met and future career goals affected by the international REU experience for follow-up questionnaires after return home (Section 7.2). Despite the advantages, perhaps, of more considered responses by the participants, it may be hard to achieve good returns once students disperse.

6.7.3 Publicly and formally recognize REU activities at a closing event
Formal closing events add legitimacy in the eyes of the home and host institutions. The closing program is a showcase not only for student research accomplishments, but also for the international REU program and the hosting laboratories. Work to realize some public relations benefit through these more visible program components, and definitely advertise the event to the local academic and research communities.

Recognize successful participation and research accomplishments in a formal closing ceremony. Offer a printed certificate of accomplishment as a physical reminder of the student’s participation; students will display it and make it part of their personal academic portfolios (together with a copy of his/her final technical report). The certificate can be presented by the REU site director(s), or by an official of the hosting institution. A sample certificate is included in Appendix 3. Invite speeches of various sorts, as appropriate to the circumstance, and arrange a formal thanks to the scientific hosts from the participants. Include the closing ceremony as part of a farewell reception or gala dinner.


6.8 Be aware of and recognize culture shock and reverse culture shock

6.8.1 Prepare student travelers for culture shock
Incorporate an overview of culture shock and reverse culture shock into the international REU program agenda. This may have been included as part of a pre-departure orientation (Section 5.1.5) but it is, nevertheless, appropriate to address the phenomenon at the on-site orientation (Section 6.2).

Describe for participants the well-known “U curve of cultural adaptation.” A clear understanding of the phases of culture shock—honeymoon (exhilaration), conflict (depression) and recovery (adjustment and balance)—aids students in coping with culture shock and assists program staff in recognizing psychological problems of different underlying natures. Encourage students to keep a journal of their personal experiences and to take photographs, and to correspond with friends and family.

Excellent resource materials exist for program staff and student participants. The following print volumes are useful, but some are intended for a broad audience of travelers (students, established researchers and other professionals):

Black, J.S., and H.B. Gregersen 1999. So You’re Coming Home. Global Business Publishers: San Diego, CA. 233pp. ISBN 0-9663180-3-X

Black, J.S., and H.B. Gregersen 1998. So You’re Going Overseas. Global Business Publishers: San Diego, CA. 201pp. ISBN 0-9663180-0-5

Carlson, J.S., B.B. Burn, J. Useem and D. Yachimowicz 1990. Study Abroad: The Experience of American Undergraduates. Greenwood Press: Westport, CT. 264pp. ISBN 0-313-27385-5

Storti, C. 2001. The Art of Coming Home. Nicholas Brealey Publishing/Intercultural Press: Yarmouth, ME. 203pp. ISBN 1-85788-297-0

Storti, C. 2001. The Art of Crossing Cultures, 2nd Edition. Nicholas Brealey Publishing/Intercultural Press: Yarmouth, ME. 153pp. ISBN 1-85788-296-2

The following Web-based references are particularly appropriate for student audiences and for international REU program staff:

http://wings.buffalo.edu/studyabroad/shock.html [culture shock]

http://wings.buffalo.edu/studyabroad/rculture.html [reverse culture shock]

http://studyabroad.tamu.edu/travel_reentry.html [reverse culture shock]

http://www.culturegrams.com [culture shock]

6.8.2 Discuss reverse culture shock in a pre-return briefing
Prior to departure from the international site, review with participants their cross-cultural experiences and their management of culture shock. Introduce them to the reverse culture shock that they will individually and variably experience upon return (disengagement from the host lab situation, euphoria upon return to home, alienation among peers, and readjustment to the home culture) and to the coping strategies that exist for them (for example, involvement with international programming and student groups on campus or continued foreign language study). Use the resources listed above (Section 6.8.1).




Chapter 7 - Post-Program Activities


Last updated July, 2002