The global nature of COVID-19 impacted all areas of NC State, and certainly the Office of Global Engagement. Necessary changes took place regarding international students, study abroad programs and more, but NC State Global responded with a commitment to continuing to serve faculty, staff and students, wherever they were. Now, units within NC State Global prepare for a return to mostly normal operations, and look forward to enhancing and expanding their services. Some units within NC State Global recently provided an update on how they’re doing and where they’re heading.
The NC Japan Center usually hosts on-site Japanese language courses, as well as a full range of non-credit, Japanese language courses to the public. With the advent of the pandemic, the center was unable to host these at the Spring Hill House, due to in-person restrictions. The center needed to very quickly transfer to a completely virtual format, which was very challenging, as the Japanese language instructors work part-time, and needed training, NC State-supported technology (laptops), and ad-hoc course facilitation support. However, the instructors did a fantastic job and Japanese language course cohort numbers grew substantially, resulting in the center’s highest growth numbers ever at 15.6%. The center even needed to hire two more instructors. This is a result of more students having access to programming that might not have otherwise been able to participate due to proximity to the NC Japan Center.
With a return to campus, the NC Japan Center will be adopting a hybrid model for our Japanese language courses; hosting the smaller sections on-site and having a combination of on-site/virtual pedagogy for the larger sections. The center will be getting back to hosting on-site events and hopefully the current positive trends in infection number and vaccinations will allow for the return of the incredibly popular NC-Japan Business Conference in spring 2022. The NCJC is very active on social media and the monthly newsletter is quickly growing in subscribers every month (42% in fiscal year 2021). The center also recently interviewed the new Japanese ambassador to the U.S., the Honorable Koji Tomita, who is looking forward to visiting North Carolina and meeting with government and business leaders as soon as it’s possible to do so.
The center is looking forward to growing COIL-type programming with Japanese institutions. This virtual collaboration platform allows students at NC State to interact and learn with cohorts in Japan, improving cultural competency and driving interest into traditional study abroad and exchange programs. Spring 2021 COIL programs with Nagoya University, Waseda University and Kansai University were very successful, and the center is preparing more programs for the fall 2021 semester.
As a service unit, the NC Japan Center serves the entire state of North Carolina, but always has a very intentional support focus on the Wolfpack community. This ranges from financially supporting the teaching assistants’ salaries in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures’ Japanese language program, financially supporting cooperative STEM research between NC State faculty and Japanese institutions through the Harry C. Kelly Memorial Fund, supporting both matriculated and exchange students from Japan at NC State, hosting academic delegations from Japan to NC State, and interacting with and supporting the NC State Japan Club and students focusing on building a Japan-focused career after graduation.
NC State Prague
Due to COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions, NC State Prague summer 2020, fall 2020 and summer 2021 programs were cancelled, impacting NC State Prague revenue. Out of the 153 enrolled students, 16 were able to come over to Prague in the 2020-21 academic year. For those students, it was the only opportunity to study abroad before graduating.
Faculty and staff worked hard to implement COVID-related health and safety measures following university protocols. Because of these efforts, Prague staff were able to participate in various online events and trainings previously organized in-person on campus, fostering greater unity and collaboration between Prague staff and NC State campus units. NC State Prague also initiated the Collaborative Online Global Learning, consisting of three NC State on-campus courses in partnership with parallel Czech university courses to provide students with a unique cultural learning experience.
Some exciting changes are taking place, including new hires Alexander Wesner as assistant director in the Raleigh office, and Financial Officer and Human Resources Coordinator Jakub Klimeš joined NC State Prague. Additionally, NC State Prague created a new summer internship program, which drew a high number of applicants for summer 2021. Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions the program had to be cancelled.
As students have shown great interest in NC State Prague’s programs, despite the pandemic, and are keen to apply to future programs, the main plan/goal for the upcoming year is to reach pre-pandemic student participation levels. This includes providing safe study abroad programs in line with university measures and guidelines, running new programs such as the Summer Internship and Global Leadership Minor programs, and currently petitioning to run fall 2021 programs.
The Summer Internship offers students the opportunity to study and work globally. Such a format is in high demand and is bound to thrive in the post-pandemic era. The Global Leadership Minor program also promotes global learning by offering students the opportunity to study in three different countries (Czech Republic, Germany and the United Kingdom). Also, the unique cultural experiences NC State Prague affords its students will give them invaluable opportunities for global learning and engagement, and, towards that goal, NC State Prague aims to expand collaboration between NC State and local partners.
Global Learning for All
The Office of Global Engagement has launched a new framework for its strategic planning entitled “Global Learning for All: building a more equitable and sustainable world.” With this plan, NC State Global embraced the opportunity to not only address the immediate challenges of the COVID crisis, but also to establish a strong and sustainable foundation for the future that will ensure access to global learning and engagement experiences for all members of the campus community.
Building on existing high impact opportunities such as study abroad, global research collaboration, international student engagement and other forms of traditional student and faculty mobility, this initiative expands the focus of NC State Global to a wider variety of accessible program models, primarily by providing many more online or virtual global learning options, as well as campus-based curricular and co-curricular global activities.
As part of the Global Learning for All initiative, the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) will be used as an important framework for co-curricular and on-campus programming. For the coming two academic years, learning and engagement opportunities will be focused on a thematic cluster of four Sustainable Development Goals in each of the four semesters, involving faculty, students and staff, as well as local community organizations and international partners.
Faculty applying for NC State Global seed grants are now asked to identify up to 3 UN SDGs that are especially well aligned with their project. Many faculty members have been pleased to discover that their work is already strongly connected to the SDGs, and that framing their research in this context can open opportunities for networking, collaboration, and funding. NC State Global has also broadened eligibility for all of its seed grants to include virtual projects. This will help ensure that all faculty are able to compete successfully for this assistance.
Partnering with the NC State Sustainability Office and the Sustainability Council has led to additional fruitful collaborations on the SDGs. Dr. Seth Murray and his students have created a searchable database of NC State courses that address the SDGs, helping students to align their studies with their desire to help solve some of the world’s most pressing and complex problems.
Another core component of Global Learning for All is NC State Global’s COIL, or Collaborative Online International Learning initiative. In its pilot phase in spring 2021, ten faculty members incorporated limited COIL experiences into 11 courses. Preliminary findings from learning assessment surveys show that students are enthusiastic, with some saying that engaging online with peers in classes around the world has been the most significant academic experience they have had thus far.
Additionally, going virtual for the first time, the University Global Partnership Network (UGPN) conference brought together administrators, faculty, staff and students from across the globe over four days: March 22-25, 2021. Within the overarching theme of resilient universities, the agenda included plenary sessions with keynote speakers complemented by concurrent theme-based UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) workshops relating to industries for the future, health and wellbeing and sustainable planet. Additionally, resiliency sessions brought together staff and diverse expertise to address operational, administrative, educational, technology and HR issues and provided a forum for discussing lessons learned during the global pandemic. These included panel discussions over the first three days: innovations in remote learning and hybrid education, student mobility and mission continuity.
Health and safety is the Study Abroad Office’s greatest priority as the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on all areas of the work that the office does. At the very beginning of the pandemic, Study Abroad worked to bring students home, first from China, Japan, South Korea and Italy. Soon thereafter, all students had to be evacuated. This was traumatic for these students as they grieved the loss of this experience. It was also traumatic for staff who worked so closely with the students as they prepared for their experience, only to have to work even more diligently to ensure their safe return to the U.S. once the pandemic hit the countries that they were in.
Like other units at NC State, Study Abroad pivoted to virtual advising and remote working. The first focus was on supporting the recently and suddenly returned student population, ensuring that they could continue their studies remotely or receive a withdrawal for the semester with limited financial impact. The office also developed enhanced programming and resources for this uniquely impacted student population. Faculty and staff continued to enhance these resources as programs were continually suspended in the semesters that followed.
Study Abroad works well in advance to advise students and prepare for a possible study abroad experience. The office accepted applications in recent terms in hopes that the situation would improve. Unfortunately, it has been heartbreaking to work with students, faculty, and partner institutions in preparation of a possible experience and then to suspend study abroad over the last five terms. This has been incredibly challenging.
Study Abroad continued to provide outreach and programming to engage students in global learning. The office adapted all programming to virtual formats such as the “Traveling While” series that explores identities, intersectionality and travel. Study Abroad also totally revamped the Study Fair to allow for a new virtual experience with both synchronous and asynchronous offerings to allow greater flexibility for students to attend and engage with all that the office has to offer. The office was able to partner with many colleagues and departments on campus as well as partner institutions and providers to provide an enriching experience. Study Abroad has also pivoted many information sessions to ensure that our students still have the information that they need to prepare for future opportunities.
Study Abroad has worked hard to develop ways in which it could continue to serve students to ensure global learning opportunities while mobility was suspended. These opportunities are great ways to introduce students to global education in hopes that when student mobility returns, that introduction would lead to in-person study abroad experiences.
In an effort to strengthen exchange partnerships and creatively meet global learning outcomes with suspended mobility, Study Abroad developed a new virtual exchange model to allow NC State students to take a single course with an international partner institution. International students at partner institutions enrolled in a single virtual instruction course, including a specially-designed orientation for the international students to understand the U.S. education system/classes and culture. For students who are graduating and who were, unfortunately, not able to study abroad during their time at NC State due to the pandemic, Study Abroad has been highlighting alternate ways to go abroad after graduation, including a number of interviews with others who’ve participated in opportunities like going abroad while in grad school, the Peace Corps, teaching English abroad and working/interning abroad.
Study Abroad is feeling cautiously optimistic about the coming year as a trend of improvements begins with the CDC and Department of State advisory levels decreasing in some countries. As student mobility increases, Study Abroad is operating with student health and safety in mind. The office has made a number of risk mitigation adaptations together with institutional partners and program directors, and will continue to adapt and remain flexible as things continue to change and as we move forward. While Study Abroad looks forward to being back on campus in the fall, the office will continue to provide virtual ways to engage in addition to more in-person opportunities. This will allow for a greater reach at such a large institution. It will also allow greater flexibility in collaborating with colleagues and students all over the world.
This article was originally published by Emily Packard on June 16, 2021.