A day in the life: Julia Porter

The international exchanges manager loves seeing students’ lives change through travel

How long have you been in your job?

I have recently celebrated my 25th anniversary at RGU where I started as a student exchange administrator in the European office. While I have always been involved in student exchange programmes, the team which facilitates ‘study abroad’ initiatives has changed names and departments several times.

What is it about your job that gets you out of bed in the morning?

I enjoy the fact that no two days are the same as my role covers so many different areas – one day I can be providing pastoral assistance to a student who has problems overseas; the next, working on finance; on another, working with academic colleagues to develop new collaborations. My job is never dull.

I am also very fortunate to be able to work with a huge variety of colleagues, not just in my own institution, but also those who hold similar posts in the other Scottish universities and colleagues across the world – many of whom have now become friends.

What’s the first thing you do when you get into work?

Make a cup of tea. If there are any colleagues around, I will have a chat with them, but work-wise, I always check my emails first.

Who are the two or three people you talk to on a daily basis?

My colleague, Fiona, who makes up the study abroad team without whom I would be lost, and my line manager, Paul. The other people I speak to change depending on the time of year – at certain points, I will be in contact with academic staff on a daily basis.

We ask students to send us postcards while they are abroad, and reading the messages on the back when the postcards arrive makes it all worthwhile.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I love that I am helping students change their lives and give them one of the most incredible learning experiences they can have. I went abroad twice as part of my degree, and both trips were invaluable to my personal development. We ask students to send us postcards while they are abroad, and reading the messages on the back when the postcards arrive makes it all worthwhile.

And the worst?

When students are overseas in a crisis situation – I think one of the biggest challenges of my career was last year when we had over 70 students overseas at the start of the pandemic and it was a whole new and unprecedented situation. I was so relieved when I knew they were all home safely.

Your number one most vital prop/tool/piece of equipment?

Very dull – my mobile! Communication is the most important aspect of my job, be that with students, staff or colleagues overseas, so being able to have access to my email wherever I am is really important. However, I would be lost without a pen and paper.

How did you get into your job?

I saw an advert in the local paper for the job, and the skills required were to have experience of student exchange and the ability to speak at least two other European languages. As my degree was in French and Spanish and I had spent two years abroad as part of my degree, it seemed like the perfect job for me – and I was right. I started on a 16-month contract – little did I know I would still be doing it 25 years later!

What is it about your personality that makes you suitable for the role?

I am a chatty, smiley and friendly person which really helps when speaking to students, but also when building relationships with peers from around the world. Knowing the people in our partner institutions makes everything run much more smoothly, especially if there are any niggles to be ironed out. I am also a bit of a perfectionist, which is very useful when working with all the rules and regulations related to the funding we have received to date.

Which five words sum up your typical day?

I am not sure I have a typical day! But if I had to pick five words, I’d go for varied; enjoyable; challenging; stimulating; rewarding.

If you weren’t in this role, what would you be?

I’ve been working in student exchanges for so long, I can’t imagine doing anything else, but I would like to think it would be working with animals.

Julia Porter is international exchanges manager at Robert Gordon University.

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