The COVID-19 pandemic has led Ohio University’s Office of Global Opportunities (OGO) to find safe ways for students to continue engaging in global and multicultural perspectives.
While carefully planning for future programs, OGO has been able to continue programs such as OHIO in LA through virtual experiential learning. Students in the OHIO in LA program are interning virtually and engaging in virtual activities such as having career conversations with LA-based professionals. OGO has been collaborating with the Office of Experiential Learning as well as faculty and staff across various OU departments to offer curricular and co-curricular virtual global experiences.
“From international guest lectures to cultural engagement lab activities and collaborative group projects, OGO has a wide variety of curricular support activities planned for fall semester,” Keely Davin, associate director of OGO, said in an email. “For instance, the Global Leadership Certificate (GLC) students will engage in international consulting project work based in several locations abroad for the remainder of the academic year.”
Davin said OGO has also partnered with organizations across campus to continue facilitating out-of-class events. For example, the office has partnered with the Office of Multicultural Student Access and Retention to hold the Being Black in College series.
OGO is continuing to work with global program directors to plan for future study abroad and internship programs. Davin said the office is continuing to monitor the health implications and safety suggestions of travel, whether it be international or domestic.
“Before travel resumes, there will be a robust review of programs and destinations,” Davin said in an email. “Top of mind will be the extent to which risk can be mitigated to protect both travelers and the academic mission of the program. At the same time, we will be assessing the potential impact on the host communities to ensure we’re moving forward ethically.”
Davin said OGO will provide materials and resources to ensure students traveling are fully aware of risks associated with the pandemic and take proper precautions around them.
Kaia Mckenney, a junior studying environmental studies, applied for the spring 2020 semester in Spain program in fall 2019. Once she was accepted into the program, she took a class with a little over 20 students. The group departed from Ohio and traveled to Spain in January.
The semester was going smoothly, and Mckenney’s group was getting comfortable with its routine in the city of Toledo, Spain, when they first started getting informed by both professors and news outlets about COVID-19. Mckenney said she had no idea the extent to which COVID-19 would become. The week before spring break, her study abroad group was told they probably should not leave the country. Mckenney’s family went to Madrid to visit her over break, but was quickly rushed home when they were told in the middle of the night that they needed to leave.
“I was just getting comfortable with living with and speaking to my host mom, and my family actually got to meet her,” Mckenney said. “It’s just sad that I had to rush and leave three days later.”
Mckenney was not able to leave Spain with her family, and she said it was scary traveling alone while everyone was rushing around in a panic due to COVID-19. While waiting for her departure date, she stayed in a hotel room with a friend one night, and then she stayed in a room the next night alone. Since grocery stores had closed at the time, she only had a small amount of food left from a bag her host mom packed her.
“I can full-heartedly say I don’t feel like I missed out on the rest of the semester, because just being in a program where everyone else was from OU, it was easy to transition because we had this commonality with OU and taking classes together, so two months was long enough,” Mckenney said. “I was just happy to make it home safely.”
Winsome Chunnu-Brayda, director of OU’s Multicultural Center, was an international student from Jamaica before she became director. Now, she works with the development of international programs both through student organizations such as Black Student Cultural Programming Board (BSCPB) and International Student Union (ISU) as well as in administrative roles.
“As someone who is a scholar of popular culture and who encourages students to travel and learn, what you see on TV, Zoom or Microsoft Teams in terms of another place is great because you’re seeing it, but you could also get on YouTube and see the same thing,” Chunnu-Brayda said.
Although Chunnu-Brayda believes that much of a culture is rooted in the place in which it belongs, she said it is better for OU to find virtual ways to continue study abroad programs than to take a break from them completely.
Chunnu-Brayda pointed out that there is no documentation of a situation exactly like the one COVID-19 has caused, so OU and OGO are trying to find ways to create experiences for students virtually during an unexpected time. She said she is hopeful that the documentation from COVID-19 will be informal and helpful to future generations who experience a similar situation.
“If we want to provide some kind of light for students, at the end of the day, you want to show that you had these challenges and here are the ways that you rose to these challenges,” Chunnu-Brayda said. “This generation of students can go off of this experience in a way that is marketable with future employers.”