Here are a few tips to help you to have a productive and positive experience.
Last week, the Executive Director of EnglishUSA, Cheryl Delk-Le Good, sent out a message to the EnglishUSA mailing list requesting that members share tips and best practices when preparing for an embassy visit.
As we get closer to the annual IEP Stakeholder Conference, colleagues who are new to the field (or who are new to hosting sponsored student programs) begin asking these questions in an effort to better prepare for the embassy visits that they will undertake while in Washington, DC.
Though I don’t visit embassies regularly, I find that I learn something new about how to prepare for these visits every time that I go.
This post includes the tips that I shared on the EnglishUSA mailing list, along with additional details and ideas that came to me since then.
Prepare an agenda before you contact them
When you contact the embassy to set up an appointment, be sure to have a clear idea in mind of the subjects that you want to discuss. This will help your embassy contact to put you in front of the right people.
Though most IEPs that host sponsored student programs have a designated contact at the embassy or mission that administers the program, that contact person is probably responsible for only one or two aspects of the institutional relationship.
If you have issues related to billing, academics, admissions, social issues, or legal situations, you may have to deal with a variety of people at the embassy. By having at least a tentative list of of the items that you wish to address while at the visit, it will facilitate the process on both sides.
Gather/prepare your sponsored student data
What type of data should you gather?
Before your trip, gather the most recent data on that sponsor’s students in your program. Data to review includes:
- The number of their students in your program;
- Their levels, estimated time to completion, and related info; and
- Their grades, GPA, test scores, and any other performance indicators.
Another thing to consider: if necessary, gather data to back you up if you have any concerns about one or more students, or about the program, itself.
Put it together for easy review
Consider putting together a one- to two-page document that aggregates the information mentioned above. Make it as simple as possible, and consider making it aesthetically pleasing.
Providing a brief document that includes a big-picture, at-a-glance view of all of their students is a nice touch for the sponsor–not to mention the fact that it will be easier for you (i.e., there will be no need to commit any data to memory in advance!).
Emphasize success stories
There are always stars among our sponsored students. This visit provides a wonderful opportunity to highlight how well most (or all) of the students are doing, overall, and to point out the particularly outstanding performance of one or two of their students.
Gathering the data mentioned above will help you to identify the stars and to share their information–either on the document that you prepare, or in another format that you choose to use.
Highlighting the students’ performance serves another great purpose: it makes your institution AND the sponsor look good!
Not only does this information confirm to the sponsor that you offer a quality program, but it also gives their personnel some “bragging rights” with government officials and with colleagues back in their home country. You want them to be able to have some version of this conversation about your IEP: “You see how well our scholarship program is working? Let me show you how our students at [insert the name of your IEP] are doing. This is money well spent.”
Tip: Don’t forget to provide them with this information in an electronic format, as well, so that they can easily email a PDF of it to their peers.
Prepare overall data about the student body
We all know that sponsors are almost always concerned with the level of “saturation” of their students’ nationalities in our IEPs.
For instance, the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM), the institution that administers many Saudi scholarships, including the large Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques (CTHM) program (formerly known as the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, or KASP), tries to be particularly careful about this issue.
Every few months, SACM officials circulate a questionnaire to IEP partners to gather information about A) how many Saudis are in their program; B) how many of those students are sponsored by SACM; and C) how many students from all nationalities are in the program. If memory serves, SACM wants partners to try to keep the percentage of Saudis in their student body at around 35%.
With this in mind, it is helpful to prepare a simple pie chart that provides information about the nationality mix of your IEPs student body. This will provide the sponsor with a way to visualize how their students fit into the whole or your program.
Find out about any specific student issues
Another thing to do before your embassy visit is to talk to your staff/faculty. Chances are, they may be dealing with a student issue about which you are not aware. If the embassy official asks you for an update on that case during your visit, it would be helpful (not to mention less embarrassing!) if you can speak intelligently about it.
Show them the money
If you plan to talk about financials during your visit, then you will definitely need to prepare some details in advance.
Maybe you have a price change coming up, or perhaps you will be launching a new program or service that will greatly benefit their students. It is a good idea to prepare a one- or two-page document in advance that provides the financial details–and definitely be sure to highlight any cost-sharing.
In the same document, you should consider including a list of some of the services that their students receive at your institution–particularly anything “special” that you are only doing for their students (e.g., a dedicated faculty advisor, special tutoring, events to allow them to share their culture with others, etc.). You should especially emphasize any services or activities that allows them to interact with students of other cultures and nationalities. For instance, the Omani Cultural Division really wants its students to have opportunities to promote Omani culture on campuses, so providing some examples about how you have provided them with these opportunities would be very appreciated.
On the other hand, if you need to talk about a financial topic that is a little “less fun” (e.g., perhaps your pending receivables for their program have gotten a little out of control…), a brief document that includes those details will be helpful, as well.
For those of us who have been in the field for awhile, this point seems obvious; still, I will include it on this list because it is truly important (and it is a sign of respect): bring several gifts with you.
What makes an appropriate gift?
It’s important to be cognizant of your institution’s guidelines on gifting, and to avoid giving anything that seems particularly ostentatious. The gift is meant to express your appreciation for your partnership with the sponsor; you don’t want it to be perceived as anything untoward.
You can almost never go wrong with gifts that show your institution’s brand: notebooks, bags, paperweights, mouse pads, candy, mugs, scarves, ties, etc.
Tip: If you are in a university-based IEP, call the manager of your university’s bookstore and ask him or her if you can obtain a discount for buying in bulk. This will enable you to always keep a store of gifts on hand while also being budget-friendly.
Consider gifts that are specific to your region or to your campus. For instance, we have a strong agriculture program, so we may bring a woolen blanket made from the university’s sheep. A northeastern school may choose to bring maple-based products (e.g., candy, sugar, syrup). Gifts based on your regional culture or industries are usually a good way to go.
Remember to bring a few different “levels” of gifts with you to the embassy.
For example, a highly placed official should get one of the nicer gifts that you have brought with you. Same goes with the contact at the embassy with whom you have a great relationship.
More modest gifts should be given to the rest of the individuals with whom you meet.
It’s always a safe bet to bring some marketing materials with you–a couple of brochures, for example.
That being said, do not fill up your bag or briefcase with too many brochures; you do not want to carry a heavy bag with you everywhere as you are touring the facilities. Plus, you don’t want to have too many things in your bag when you are going through security checkpoints.
Tip: Consider bringing 2-3 brochures with you, and several USB storage devices that are pre-loaded with information about your school and PDF copies of the data that you prepared prior to the visit. You can even include translated PDF versions of your brochure. A branded USB storage device is an even better idea–not only is it useful, but it will keep your logo in their field of vision every time they use it.
Confirm your visit
In terms of logistical planning, this may sound obvious, as well, but trust me: you absolutely must confirm your appointment with your contact several times before you travel.
Which information should be confirmed?
Do not just confirm the date and time of the meeting, but also the location. In addition, be sure to obtain any information that you need to know about entry procedures and security that you can expect when entering their facility.
How many times should you confirm?
A good rule of thumb:
- Confirm when you first make the plans;
- Confirm again a week to ten days before the visit; and
- Confirm one more time the day before the trip.
Print out the confirmation in writing and bring it with you to the embassy (in case you need it for security).
You may be wondering if all of this is a little excessive–but let me tell you a little story.
A few years ago, some colleagues and I went on some embassy visits with reps from other IEPs. With so many people participating in the visits (and flying in to do so), our group coordinator took the time to confirm all of the meetings that we had planned at each of the embassies.
On the day of our visit, the first two embassy visits went very well; unfortunately, our good luck eventually ran out.
When we arrived at the final embassy planned for our trip, we saw a sign that indicated that it was closed for a holiday. It was actually pretty frustrating because we had literally just confirmed with them the day before (and the contact didn’t know that the next day was a holiday?).
So, all of that is to say that A) you should always be sure to confirm a few times in advance; and B) if it doesn’t work out in the end, sometimes you just have to go with it. What can you do?
Bring your passport
You will need a state-issued ID when you go to the embassy. A passport is not a bad way to go, as it is a document that the security staff will easily recognize and understand and it also is proof of your citizenship. Plus, you never know if the embassy has a rule that requires visitors to bring their proof of citizenship with them. So, save yourself the trouble–and bring your passport.
Please feel free to add to the list
Alright, that’s it for me! If you have another tip or best practice that you would like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments.