When confronted with the challenge of delivering a study abroad experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, Marymount University’s Center for Global Engagement (CGE) didn’t miss a beat.
“We were not able to travel — yet, that did not mean we couldn’t connect with the world,” explained Victor Betancourt, Assistant Vice President for Global Engagement.
The University’s main resource for global connectivity pivoted its efforts during the Spring 2021 semester to ensure courses, like Dr. Megan McFarlane’s Communication class, could maintain the invaluable experience of global exposure. Online platforms, such as Zoom, transported international speakers to Marymount classrooms and onto students’ screens on campus and from their homes.
Dr. McFarlane’s Intercultural Communication course was initially meant to include a trip abroad during Spring Break so that students could experience their intercultural communications lessons in person. Unfortunately, travel was not possible due to the pandemic, but Dr. McFarlane still aimed to provide a global experience.
In partnership with the CGE and Customized Education Programs Abroad, students had five virtual opportunities to meet and converse with university students from Germany, and discuss how culture influences communications with those on the front lines of the pandemic in Geneva.
“It’s really unique and great to be able to have our classroom [physically located] at Marymount, but today it was hosted in Switzerland,” said senior Marymount University student Daniella Alexander.
During one virtual session, students heard from Romina Genovesi, a leader at Delivery Associates currently supporting the World Health Organization, and Roberta Petrucci, medical coordinator with Doctors Without Borders. These experts have been tasked with disseminating credible information about the pandemic and safety practices to multiple populations within Switzerland, including those experiencing homelessness and undocumented migrants.
“We found ourselves providing COVID-19 response in many different settings and in many new settings,” Petrucci said. “We had to face the problem that we have to work with these precarious populations, and that is a big mix of diverse peoples…and we had to find an entry point and target messages that could be specific to each community.”
Petrucci and Genovesi challenged Marymount students to organize a campaign to reach diverse communities and educate them about protective measures, and to counteract information fatigue that many have felt.
“Discussing something that everyone is kind of going through was a really surreal moment, especially because they have been dealing with the same issues we have with disseminating information that’s reliable,” Alexander said. “It was really great to listen to the methods that they were doing, and we had the same ideas.”
Dr. McFarlane says the course was successful in not only teaching students about communication methods between diverse cultures, but also in exposing students to people within those differing cultures, allowing lessons to be brought to life — even through a screen.
“Being able to have the students learn the theories and concepts in class with me, and then have these experts come and bring it into the classroom from all over the world, I think is giving really unique experiences that will set them apart as Marymount graduates,” Dr. McFarlane said.
As the University moves forward with in-person classes and activities for the Fall 2021 semester, Betancourt isn’t putting aside the value of virtual experiences for students.
“Global connectivity and global virtual experiences are here to stay,” he said. “We’re hoping to continue making this type of experience accessible, whether it’s for internships or classroom experiences where it’s collaborative.”