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Reimagining Re-entry in the Age of Coronavirus

By Emily Dougherty posted 05-06-2020 11:03 AM


As international educators, we have gone through an impossible situation recently and supported our students the best that we can. Anything you have done, or are doing, to support students in their abrupt re-entry is valid, appreciated, and helpful.

The purpose of this blog is to open the door to new ideas and see how we might be able to adapt our re-entry strategies in the future using the virtual and online options we’ve created. The purpose is not to make any person, or office, feel like they have not done enough. There are countless ways to support our students but what we can provide has a lot to do with staffing, time, and budget. Instead, my intention is that this blog can be a place of inspiration for us all – especially our one-person-office colleagues.

In my quest to learn what our field is doing to support our sudden returnees, I reached out to my fellow Education Abroad Regional Liaisons and members from NAFSA’s Education Abroad Knowledge Community, to returnee resources I was familiar with, and to new connections I found through opportunities shared on various listservs. What I found was a wide spectrum of support for students and I look forward to sharing these details with you here.

How can we help?

Here is a breakdown of strategies colleagues have used in supporting our sudden returnees:

Individualized Contact

  • Email students about next steps post-recall. Topics may include:
    • Possible refunds
    • Housing considerations
    • Spring/summer registration
    • If they can move to a pass/fail grading system
  • Invite students to individual Zoom/virtual meetings to debrief (recommended by Joseph Milostan, Region II, Kansas State University; BJ Titus, Director of Institutional Relations, University of Minnesota)

Website Updates

Collaboration Opportunities

  • Utilize peer mentors/ambassadors or similar student group
    • Ask for re-entry tips/testimonials about how to best manage coming home (Ilse Damkoehler, Region XI, Boston University)
    • Have Peer Advisors set up a Facebook group to create a peer support network (Joseph Milostan, Region II, Kansas State University)
  • Work with other campus offices for a special welcome home message (BJ Titus, Director of Institutional Relations, University of Minnesota)
  • Reinstate on-campus services for students who are back on campus unexpectedly (BJ Titus, Director of Institutional Relations, University of Minnesota; Sabrina Cortez, Region III, Trinity University)
  • Invite colleagues who work in the Counseling Center or in Mental health to meetings with students (BJ Titus, Director of Institutional Relations, University of Minnesota)

Online Outreach

  • Host a virtual ‘storytelling event’ for students to share their experience (Sabrina Cortez, Region III, Trinity University)
  • Create new travel prompts for your Travel Writing Program (Krista Mantello, Region I, Western Washington University)
    • Or create a travel writing program!
  • Offer Instagram takeovers focused on the perspective of being home/having a program disrupted (Joseph Milostan, Region II, Kansas State University)
  • Invite students to participate in webinars hosted through their provider (such as ISA’s three-part re-entry series)
  • Re-boot your re-entry course to start early and online (Erin Kunert, Region VI, Valparaiso University)
  • Use a staggered system to send a series of emails to breakdown information week by week – quick activities, short reads, ways to reminisce and reconnect with their host country (USAC)
  • Encourage students to read and interact with materials from their provider (such as the examples from API, AIFS, Barcelona SAE, ISA, and USAC)

Parent Resources

  • Communicate directly with parents (Sabrina Cortez, Region III, Trinity University)
  • Write blogs directed towards parents (such as AIFS and USAC)

I also want to share some information geared towards study abroad offices and some action items that you can still take as the semester wraps up.

Resources for Your Office

Easy Wins

  • Use the linked articles from above and share with your students through emails or social media
  • Invite students to use the Small Planet Studio worksheet and/or Western Washington University’s Coronavirus Anxiety workbook linked above
  • Host a virtual debrief – plan a few discussion points but be sure to go with the flow of what students want to discuss
  • Offer the opportunity for students to blog for your office
  • Have students write a letter to their study abroad experience (or themselves when they first arrived on-site)

Thoughtful Considerations

  • Remember to meet students where they are, not where we want them to be (Amber Aiton, Alumni & Donor Relations Officer, USAC)
  • Adjust the tone in your emails to student from the ‘usual’ celebratory return to something that is more compassionate and understanding of their abrupt re-entry (Amber Aiton, Alumni & Donor Relations Officer, USAC)
  • AIFS is training on-site directors to be part of virtual small group re-entry dialogues with Spring 2020 students. If it goes well they may continue to use this strategy in the future (Angela Manginelli, Vice President, Director of Alumni and Inclusion Initiatives, AIFS)
  • Encourage students to practice gratitude towards their experience (Addison Welch, Regional Director, University Partnerships, ISA/Zach Muskin, Director - Student Outreach, ISA)
  • Reflect on how students did not have a chance to countdown to their departure date or have the opportunity to savor most experiences ‘one last time’ (Addison Welch, Regional Director, University Partnerships, ISA)
  • Recognize students may not have an outlet to embrace the experience they did have abroad as their friends and family may be only asking about coronavirus and/or evacuation topics (Addison Welch, Regional Director, University Partnerships, ISA)

Additional Takeaways

  • Plan to virtually connect with students while they are abroad in the future. Some institutions reached out through Zoom before students were recalled.
  • Make sure you open up conversations to discuss with students want to talk about – not just your list of reflection questions.
  • Consider limiting group discussions to smaller groups on purpose – perhaps having students register for specific times. This makes a big difference when facilitating conversations virtually and can create a more comfortable space for sharing.
  • Remember we are doing the best we can!
  • Keep in mind, for institutions who work with providers, we can lean on our providers for assistance and collaboration opportunities. We all want the best for our students.
  • Students may desire multiple groups to connect with – such as the students they were abroad with and students from their university who were abroad in different places.

Moving Forward

The questions I want to pose to those reading this are: how will we change our re-entry programming in the future? Will we use some of these new virtual components from this sudden re-entry to enhance our re-entry programming when we are able to meet in person again? What can we learn from our colleagues who have always worked with students in re-entry from a distance and what they are doing now?

The U.S. Spring semester is quickly wrapping up. What can we do for students at this time? How can we ask them what they want or need? Do they want to connect synchronously? Or are they Zoomed-out? Would they like an opportunity to write out how they felt about their semester abroad getting cut short? Or would they like activities that help focus their feelings? Our students are bright and adventurous, and the recall was painful. Let us do what we can to help them along this new, unexpected journey.

There is a lot of great work being done out there in the field – thank you to everyone who contributed resources to include in this blog for our Education Abroad colleagues:

Addison Welch (Regional Director, University Partnerships, ISA)
Amber Aiton (Alumni & Donor Relations Officer, USAC)
Angela Manginelli (Vice President, Director of Alumni and Inclusion Initiatives, AIFS)
BJ Titus (Director of Institutional Relations, University of Minnesota)
Cate Brubaker (Founder, Small Planet Studio)
Erin Kunert (EA KC Region VI, Valparaiso University)
Hannah Olevson (Director of Alumni Engagement, API)
Ilse Damkoehler (EA KC Region XI)
Joseph Milostan (EA KC Region II, Kansas State University)
Krista Mantello (EA KC Region I, Western Washington University)
Lauren Moloney-Egnatios (Director of the Center for Intercultural Learning & Global Competence Education, AFS Intercultural Programs)
Rich Kurtzman (Founder & CEO, Barcelona SAE)
Sabrina Cortez (EA KC Region III, Trinity University)
Zach Muskin (Director - Student Outreach, ISA)


Emily Dougherty
Education Abroad Regional Liaison
Study Abroad Advisor
University of North Dakota