Two graduates of Vanderbilt University have launched an “app”, entirely based on student reviews, to create a “shared knowledge base” and help international students navigate their host countries.
Rayka – its name is a variation on the Icelandic word for ‘wander’ – collects recommendations on attractions, restaurant, bars and places to visit in countries all around the world.
But setting itself apart from other reviews sites such as Yelp or Tripadvisor, Rayka is only open to students, with a system requiring users to sign up via Facebook as a way to verify their age – and ensure they are real people.
Its founders, Landon Sanford and Hans Braunfisch, are friends from college who “bonded over travels” and remember how daunting studying abroad can be at first.
“When I first got to Spain, I was the first student there from Vanderbilt, so I didn’t know any other classmates and I didn’t know where students went – it was only by the end of the semester that I found the good spots,” Sanford told The PIE News.
Sanford remembers students sharing tips and recommendations via Google and messages, but no one used TripAdvisor or Yelp.
One of the reasons why students didn’t really use those sites, the Rayka founders explained, is that they are not tailored to the student experience.
“We know our generation, and we know that young travellers greatly emphasise recommendations from their peers over other sources,” Braunfisch explained.
“I think the two largest distinctions that make us unique are our “groups” feature and our demographic specificity.”
“Students can create and join groups,” Sanford explained, “for example, ‘best places to go on a date’, or ‘Instagram-worthy food’. This is more specific, customisable and tailored to the actual student experience.”
Another difference from other reviews websites is that Rayka doesn’t employ the common five-star review system, but is based on compiled favourites and qualitative reviews.
“The five-star ranking system is flawed,” Sanford explained. “The average ranking on that format is 4.3, which is not helpful.”
So far the app has had good feedback from the students and the industry, Sanford said, and some partnerships could be on the horizon.
With over 2 thousand recommendations added on the app by January 17th, the team is now focusing on fixing bugs and understanding how students are using the app, while mulling over additional features, such as gamification.
“We also want Rayka to become more community-focused,” added Sanford, “adding features that allow students to meet other students from their university or country.”
What else does the future hold for Rayka?
Braunfisch sees the app creating a better student experience overall by providing a virtual support network for international students.
“Elevating the ease of adaptation to new areas will hopefully help more students have the courage to explore,” he said.
“As for the educational community, Rayka can help mitigate the number of students who feel out of place or uncomfortable abroad by giving them access to real recommendations from peers who were once in their same situations.”
Sanford sees the role of the app even further.
“One of the aims would be to increase the study abroad participation rate,” he said.
By using Rayka, students would have access to a variety of resources and information – for example, lists of study abroad scholarships. The app would also make it easier for companies in the international education industry to reach those students and offer them their services.
“There will be more ways to reach and support students and help them see that study abroad is very beneficial and impactful in a number of ways to their career and their education.”