Global Engagement Goes Virtual

screenshot of virtual Study Abroad Office

Check out the virtual Study Abroad Office

The Office of International Services (OIS) would normally hold a two day-long welcome for close to 1,400 new international students that would include guest speakers, small group breakout sessions, as well as lunch at Fountain Dining Hall. Orientation this year was different in a multitude of ways, including transitioning the content to a completely virtual experience.

“One of the most difficult things for our new students to adjust to was the impact that travel restrictions and not being able to get a visa appointment had on their ability to come to the U.S.,” said Asia King, the program coordinator for OIS. “Because of this, our numbers are a lot smaller than typical years.”

The new international student population this year is less than a quarter of its usual size. Most students are transfers from a different university in the U.S. or students who were switching program levels, such as those going from an undergraduate to a graduate degree program.

screenshot of OIS Small Group Leaders
Orientation Small Group Leaders on Zoom

King added that moving orientation to a virtual platform was a difficult, but necessary process for this year.

“There’s a certain energy and spirit you can feel in Talley Student Union on International Student Orientation day, and there’s a joy in my heart when I see the students arriving,” she added. “This year, it was still there. It was in the interactions they had in their break-out rooms, in the chat box when they saw someone introduce themselves who was from their home country, in the panelists shared stories and tips for community and success here at State, and it was at the end of the day as students were leaving and even though they didn’t have to they turned on their cameras and their microphones because they wanted to say thank you and that they were excited to be here.”

Virtual Study Abroad Fair

Another major Global Engagement event that will be all online this year is the Study Abroad Fair. The fair has typically been a one-day event, but this year it will last two weeks.

“More than 1,000 students attend our fair each year, so when it became clear that COVID-19 was going to be with us for a while, we knew we needed to find a way to reach students virtually,” explained Bethany Remington, an advisor in the Study Abroad Office who is organizing this year’s virtual fair. “Some students are taking their NC State classes from their homes all across the state and the world, and many study abroad program providers and partner institutions are not able to travel to us. Being able to pivot to a virtual format allows us to make sure everyone who wants to attend is able to do so.”

Students will be able to explore all of NC State’s study abroad programs, discover on-campus resources, speak with program directors and study abroad returnees, and learn about study abroad opportunities through their college. Unlike previous years, students will be able to access content online in both synchronous and asynchronous formats.

“We hope this will make the Study Abroad Fair accessible to more students than ever,” Remington added. “The pandemic has really challenged us to think creatively and find the best way to offer the same services and support in a new format. We’re looking forward to being able to gather in large numbers but also to see if there are new ways to reach students that we can continue using in the future.”

The fair goes live on October 12. Students can follow the Study Abroad Office on Instagram and Facebook or sign up for the newsletter to receive the latest updates.

Virtual Advising for Study Abroad

In addition to large virtual events, Global Engagement staff have also been hard at work transitioning their daily services to an online format. For example, Study Abroad’s typical walk-in advising will now be done through Zoom. The office is also developing a live chat advising tool and shifting in-person advising appointments to appointment-based Zoom sessions. The office’s front desk will be open for limited hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but students are encouraged to engage with the staff virtually whenever possible. The office developed a website that outlines all the various ways students can connect with their staff.

“We are eager to continue to connect students with academically well-matched study abroad programs,” said Sean Addley, Study Abroad’s senior assistant director. “We’ve created an engaging virtual office for students to explore to learn more about study abroad tools and resources and are providing more flexibility in our financial policies to allow students to make the best decision for their own personal safety and well-being.”

Virtual Advising for International Students

Advising for international students through OIS will also be done virtually this semester since their current office layout doesn’t allow the staff to safely meet with students face-to-face at this time. One of the primary changes is a new virtual walk-in advising process that allows students to have same day access to advisors for quick questions four days a week. Additionally, advisors have opened up more time slots on their calendar for students to make virtual appointments for more in-depth discussions for complex situations.

King recommended that international students looking to connect with OIS should follow these three steps:
  1.  For general questions, students should visit one of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages at go.ncsu.edu/ois-faq or go.ncsu.edu/ois-covid-19.
  2. Students can reach out to their advisor directly. They should ask to set-up a time for a quick phone call or Zoom meeting rather than emailing back and forth. Students can find out who their advisor is at go.ncsu.edu/ois-staff.
  3. If students aren’t sure exactly where to go, they should reach out to our office directly. Students can email ois@ncsu.edu or call (919) 515-2961. Our current response time is five business days through email.