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How COVID Has Changed Us for the Better

The COVID-19 pandemic has delivered unprecedented challenges to international education and heightened our need for collaboration across the world to solve global problems. It has hindered our ability to send students abroad and to bring international students to the U.S. for nearly a year. It has tested our resilience and perseverance. 

But there was a silver lining: the isolation and limitations induced by the pandemic also encouraged virtual collaboration and innovation. This fresh approach brought us all together and left a legacy of positive changes that will outlast the virus.

“Temple University has a key advantage in realizing a globalized education in this pandemic—our truly global reach. Not only do we have campuses on three continents (Temple Japan in Asia, Temple Rome in Europe, and Main Campus in North America), but we also have many partners worldwide,” said Vice President of International Affairs, Hai-Lung Dai. “The value of that reach became apparent this year as we learned how much we can accomplish when we work together despite the serious limitations COVID-19 imposed on crossing national borders.”  

This year, Temple staff and faculty collaborated across all three campuses to continue enhancing intercultural learning, especially via technology, expanding access to students, alumni, faculty and staff around the world.

The value of Temple’s global reach became even more apparent this year as we learned how much we can accomplish when we work together.”

—Hai-Lung Dai, Vice President of International Affairs

Strengthening Student Support

Many international students were unable to obtain visas to return to the U.S., while others faced extraordinary isolation and financial obstacles. Staff collaborated with partners abroad and units across campus to support students from wherever they were in the world. 

For example, Temple arranged for students to take classes at partner universities in students’ home countries or at one of our campuses abroad, and worked with computer services to help students with technology access. 

“This universitywide effort underscored how ‘Global Temple’ extends across the entire university, not just to the international units,” said Martyn J. Miller, PhD, assistant vice president for International Affairs. 

Providing support to international students required extra thought and planning. “We initially wondered how we would uphold the connections that bind us together as a cohesive international community, but we have successfully bridged our social distance in the virtual environment and made some positive changes that are here to stay,” said Leah Hetzell, EdD, director of International Student Affairs (ISA).

ISA started a biweekly newsletter, “Owls Online,” focused on support services and resources, and its staff has assisted international students facing difficulties during the pandemic through Zoom appointments. As leadership programs moved online, the Peer2Peer Mentoring Program—a program that pairs new students with experienced peer mentors—has maintained high enrollment, including an increase in graduate student participation.  

Education Abroad has also offered student advising appointments online, and has a virtual front desk that’s open every day during the week.

Increasing Access to Events by Going Virtual

International units have connected students, staff, faculty and alumni across time zones through online events.

Collaborations with overseas campuses allowed for virtual campus tours, coffee hours, a lesson on Chinese tea, and more during Global Temple Live at Homecoming and other events.

“Our fourth annual #YouAreWelcomeHere Week was a 2020 highlight, showcasing that our mission of engaging with students, sharing global culture and building partnerships is still as strong as ever,” said Hetzell. 

Another highlight of the fall semester was International Education Week (IEW): Global Reach, Global Teach. Led by Education Abroad, the international units and campuses collaborated with the Center for the Advancement of Teaching (CAT) to host a series of virtual events that brought together diverse perspectives of faculty experts and students from across our campuses. 

The IEW events offered “a moment of optimism in a challenging year,” said Martyn Miller, “to reflect upon what we have learned and what we’re capable of accomplishing when faced with unprecedented obstacles.” 

Participants discussed topics ranging from global pandemic responses, language learning, and social movements, to creative pivoting in light of the pandemic. 

Efforts have continued throughout the spring, including Black History Month events for Education Abroad and Temple Rome, and a collaborative exhibition between Temple Rome and Temple Japan.

In addition, this year International Affairs’ newly formed Anti-Racism Taskforce, with staff members from both Education Abroad, OIA Inbound and Temple Rome, hosted events attended around the globe, including a program on how race affects access to education.

Encouraging Intercultural Learning Virtually

Temple University Rome 
Due to the pandemic, Temple Rome was forced to send students home in March 2020 and was unable to host study abroad students for 10 months. “The big question was, how do we bring value to students when they cannot come here? How do we expand their international and global perspective, and how do we still serve?,” said Temple Rome Dean Emilia Zankina. 

Throughout the summer and fall terms, Temple Rome continued to offer internships and courses remotely, collaborated with faculty at Main Campus and Temple Japan to coordinate guest lectures on topics ranging from race and immigration to architecture and art history, and created culture and language labs that took students virtually into the city of Rome. 

“This meant walking around Rome with our professors, literally bringing Rome into the classroom, or talking about issues that bridge Rome, Europe and the United States, such as race and immigration,” Zankina said. 

“This has indeed brought a lot of value to many students that would not ordinarily look into a study abroad experience. In a way, this has allowed us to reach a much broader target audience,” Zankina said. “Now that we have seen how well that works, it is something we will continue.”

One example of the ongoing initiative is the Sustainable Environments course, one of several redesigned for virtual delivery in the fall, with students enrolled this spring from both Main Campus and Temple Rome.

Temple University, Japan Campus
Japan had fewer cases and fewer restrictions imposed, so Temple Japan, a degree-granting institution, continued to operate in summer and fall for over 1,200 undergraduate students and nearly 200 graduate students. The campus was able to host some classes in person and even led field trips, although the study abroad program did not run until it returned again this semester. 

Temple Japan also broadened virtual offerings to include language conversations, a recorded concert featuring a traditional Japanese instrument, the shamisen, and guest lectures to augment student learning using technology. In the fall, Associate Dean George Miller taught a course that included a combination of Temple Japan and Main Campus students. 

“Talk about being truly global—having international content in a course run from Tokyo with Main Campus students enrolled,” said Matt Wilson, dean of Temple Japan. 

Wilson himself has a decade of experience developing and teaching international business and law courses that were co-taught across multiple continents. In one course, in his capacity as university president, he helped professors at his university in the U.S. collaborate with universities in France, Brazil and South Africa to teach a synchronous course. Each university had four weeks to teach a component of their course focused on their country’s presidencies. 

“There were students on the ground in all of the different campus locations. It was a phenomenal experience,” said Wilson, who plans to create similar opportunities at Temple Japan moving forward.

International Collaboration Connection Program
Another silver lining was the launch of a new International Collaboration Connection Program, which allows faculty to enrich their students’ learning by hosting a guest lecture or student discussion with a faculty member from abroad. The program offers an extension of the overseas campuses’ existing virtual guest lectures, broadening participation of faculty universitywide and across disciplines.

“These kinds of incremental changes are the key to reworking curricula with the goal of developing globally competent students,” said Stephanie Fiore, assistant vice provost and director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. She encourages faculty to look at the content they normally teach with a more global lens.

Organizers connected nearly 30 faculty for the inaugural launch during Spring 2021 in a variety of disciplines, including advertising, anthropology, Asian studies, business, communication, psychology, Italian, marketing, music, photography, political science and tourism. 

“I hope to see more faculty take advantage of this program in the future, even as Temple returns to increased in-person teaching. These collaborations provide a valuable way to expand students’ exposure to global learning opportunities,” said Fiore.

Return to In-Person Learning

Temple’s international units plan to continue virtual programming in the future, but look forward to serving students face-to-face again. “Nothing can fully replace spending time with our international owls in person, and we truly look forward to physically being together in the future,” said Leah Hetzell. 

Temple’s overseas campuses have already begun to welcome study abroad students back to their campuses, during a time when U.S. study abroad programs canceled programs through spring 2021 and beyond.

The future will offer a hybrid approach that incorporates the best of technology and in-person learning based on the lessons we’ve learned.

Student Takeaways

Sharing Experiences

“I was a little skeptical about how we could come together and unite, especially across three campuses, but I think we’ve done a really good job.”

Olivia Newsome, FOX ’22

“There’s definitely this kind of shared experience, like everyone is going through this together.”

Razeen Mahmood (from Bangladesh), FOX ’21

Recognizing the Value of Language Learning

“It was really refreshing to have a new topic to talk about with Global Reach, Global Teach. I attended the language learning panel, and it was just so awesome to see how many students at Temple are going out of their way to learn all these new languages.”

Emma Shields, FOX ’21

Understanding Global Movements

“At one of the panels, we ended up talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been huge recently. I thought that was only in the U.S., but then we started talking about how it also happened in Tokyo and two Temple students led [a protest march there last June], which I thought was absolutely amazing.”

Amanda Carey, FOX, ’22

Building Resilience and Adaptability during COVID-19

“My study abroad [in Kenya] was focused around field research, and when you’re working in the field, you just have to be flexible, so that helped me adjust more easily when moving to Zoom and self-isolating.”

Ryan Wiramidjaja, CLA ’21

By Suzanne Willever, PhD, Manager of Outreach and Communication, Education Abroad
Illustration by Taylor Zhu, TYL ’21

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