As mentioned, I recently spoke at the annual meeting of the European Association for International Education (EAIE). 2,600 international
student exchange professionals from 75 countries gathered to compare
notes and discuss trends and best practices. Since international
students generally become international alumni, there is a small but
motivated group within EAIE that considers the implications of this.
I'm still processing a lot of what I saw and heard, which ranged from assessing international rankings of universities to discussing the "student as customer."
The general attitude toward alumni relations (and by extension, fundraising) was that "North America is so far ahead" of the rest of world in this area. To me that is just another way of saying that "North American schools have a lot of baggage that they can't unload." This is exemplified by the comments I quoted here many weeks ago about volunteer management. Many well-established programs are saddled with structures, processes and events that we cannot, politically, afford to do away with. And yet, as times change we are expected to take advantage of each new opportunity that comes along.
Listening to EAIE attendees talk about the lack of alumni relations, career services or fundraising functions in their institutions, I felt a twinge of jealousy. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence: these developing programs look to North America for mature examples that they can learn from (and sometimes copy directly), while we look at their blank slates and think, "If only I had the opportunity to build a program from the ground up, I could be so much more effective."
Our programs all sit somewhere on the continuum between having every possible alumni service and having no alumni program at all. In the immediate future those of us in North America will meet many nascent programs part way, and perhaps be asked to help them build additional pieces based on our own experience. But I would encourage this group of new international professionals, struggling to create a culture of alumni relations, to invent its own programs that alumni will find relevant.
As this happens, those of us who are supposedly experts will learn a thing or two as well. Then we'll just need to summon up the courage to cross off our own lists one or two things that we frankly do not need any more, and replace them with something we can proudly label: "Not invented here."