It’s been difficult for everyone, and hit the study abroad sector particularly hard due to the nature of traditionally needing to travel and learn in a group. Everyone scrambled to figure out a way to carry on as best as possible and FIE was no exception to quick pivots. We had no idea that it would be years rather than weeks, but everyone came together and continued on in the best way we could. Now, in March 2022, we’re proud of how far we’ve come in this situation and feel it’s important to reflect on what we’ve done and where we’re going.
In a crisis, communication is key, so one of the first things FIE did back in February of 2020 was adapt our messaging with students and partners while creating a designated space on our website for important updates. This page continues to be monitored and updated by all departments at FIE as a one stop information shop for partners and students, and we remain vigilant in sending any Covid-19 specific rule and regulation changes to students directly via email. Our Student Life team especially have had the monumental task of keeping up on all the guidance and alerting and assisting students and partners when things can turn on a dime, so we are hugely thankful to have such dedicated, caring and knowledgeable colleagues working together to keep everyone safe and accommodated in such a tumultuous period. “The safety of our students has always been, and will always be, of the highest priority and being able to safely get them abroad for a semester and maintain some normality throughout the pandemic has been a worthwhile and fulfilling task,” says Dr. Julie Ann Andreshak, Chief Academic and Operations Officer.
Of course, getting to the point of having students back on the ground was a big moment and didn’t occur until 2021. FIE was just like any other higher education provider in early 2020 and had to shift exclusively to online learning for a brief period. Our Academic and Experiential Education Team were expert in this switch, implementing highly effective and engaging Zoom classrooms for students that continued to isolate in London as well as those who made quick exits back to the United States. FIE even kept the experiential side of study abroad learning alive by featuring virtual tours and walkthroughs of prominent London and Dublin landmarks on their social media channels. “We took swift action to give students and faculty as seamless a transition as possible in a very uncertain, turbulent time and everyone was able to finish out their studies safely and thoroughly. No student had to worry about incompletes or losing credit on their semester abroad due to a virus that was out of their control, and the quality of their online classes remained strong,” explains Dr. Andreshak.
Perhaps even more impressive was the development and launch of FIE Online on April 15, 2020, not even a month after the first lockdown took effect in London. While Spring 2020 students were able to complete most of their term on-site, it was clear that Covid-19 would be a hindrance to anyone who needed to complete an internship or class during the summer months of 2020. FIE immediately got to work creating an all-new program option so that no student had to forego a quintessential academic experience. Since then, FIE has hosted over 100 students from nine different colleges and universities on our online-only program at a lower price point, providing remote international working experience that is accessible to all communities. We continue to run this program as we feel it is important to accommodate anyone who is unable to travel or work in an office setting due to Covid-19 or otherwise, and the lower cost can also help those needing an internship or study abroad credit via a more affordable avenue. “Having an online program offering is a way for FIE to live out one of its core values of diversity and inclusivity, and the creation of FIE Online is one of the good things to come out of these unprecedented times,” says Dr. Andreshak.
After everything we’ve all been through, it is somewhat hard to believe that lockdowns and isolation are now dwindling away thanks to the quick rollout of vaccines and the sacrifices everyone has made to stay home and wear protective equipment. Slowly we’ve been able to come together again and find safer ways to travel, learn together and work together in the same spaces. FIE continues to have an active COVID-19 Task Force on hand to advise on best practices as we move from pandemic to endemic. The task force was created in 2020 to provide risk assessments and resources, and has eventually included return to work and return to the classroom information. The Residence Life and Facilities teams have continued enhanced cleaning, health and safety information displays, as well as rooms for self-isolation. Internships in Spring 2022 reflect world-wide trends towards flexible and hybrid working and we are delivering support for students in this new reality. FIE Online also continues to forge ahead for at least another year.
The world might forever be changed in its policies, attitudes and technologies but students, educators, travellers, and workers have adapted and we will continue to revolve our programs around safety and preparing students for the real world they are entering now and in the future.