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By Brenna Seifried, Center for International Programs

Sitting in front of my computer, staring at the class in front of me, I felt like I was in some kind of alternate reality: the students were all connected from around the world, learning the new etiquette of Zoom classes, and figuring out how to work breakout rooms. I was struck by how strange this new world looked. I captured the moment with the camera from my cell phone: my computer screen with the gallery view of the class, some with pictures, mostly names on black squares. I didn’t want to forget that moment of shock, coming to terms with the new world of higher education. 

That was a year and a half ago.

There’s no denying that the world looks different than it did seventeen months ago. Facing the challenges of a global pandemic has brought grief, anger, and resistance in no small measure to the sweeping changes we have endured, and continue to confront. What will this new academic year bring, in the face of all we have been through? What will campus life look like for faculty, staff, and students, especially as we consider all that has occurred since 2019? 

In the Center for International Programs, faculty and staff have made the transition back to our UD offices. As the dust from the last year is cleared away, long-unused rooms are reopened, and campus prepares to welcome students, we look back over the past year and what it has taught us. 

For many in the CIP, the break from “normal” gave us space to read the changing times and adapt in creative ways. Heather Schieman, Assistant Director of Education Abroad, says that for her, the pandemic opened new ways for artistic expression. During her time working from home, she engaged in everything from music lessons to cake decorating.  “I spent Sunday afternoons with my Mom learning how to quilt and weave baskets just as she had when I was little,” she reflects,  “I had forgotten the importance of creative expression.” 

At the same time, she continues, “I have missed my calling, which is working with students and helping them to create meaningful international travel and study experiences.  I am passionate about international education, student development, and the power of quality study abroad programming.  I can't wait to start having these conversations with students regularly, and hopefully, soon, start sending our students around the globe again.”

“I've really missed the engagement and interaction with students from all over the world - both US and international,” agrees Amy Anderson, Executive Director for the Center for International Programs, “Yet, I'm appreciative of the technology we have to stay connected with one another when being in person isn't always possible and how this has opened up new possibilities for fostering global learning.” Anderson believes that higher education is “at a critical inflection point” in which the need for global and intercultural education will be even more important.  “The challenges we face today will take the perspectives, knowledge and experiences of the entire human community,” she notes. 

Zoe Krzywda, Programs Coordinator in Education Abroad, agrees that campus just isn’t the same without students and colleagues. “Campus has such a great, lively energy when students are around and I love to be a part of it,” she says, “I'm really looking forward to running into students and colleagues around campus again.” Change is something that Zoe welcomes and finds exciting, but she’s learned some lessons, too: “I've learned to never let myself run low on toilet paper or hand sanitizer,” she laughs. “On a more serious note, though, I've learned from UD's actions that UD really cares about its students and employees.”

The UD commitment to working in community towards the common good has been a theme for many in the CIP. Jeri Taylor, a faculty member in the Intensive English Program, says she’s learned a great deal over this past year and a half. “I’ve been reminded of how innovative, creative and resilient we all are when placed in unusual and sometimes stressful situations,” she says. “We’ve worked together and found ways to make sure that our students move forward in their education in the IEP, while strengthening our connection with them, despite seeing most of them exclusively on Zoom. Together we’ve made it work!” 

I still have that picture I took of my class on Zoom: I don’t want to forget that moment when the world shifted, especially as we return to campus this fall. Nor do I want to forget the lessons we’ve learned, and continue to learn, as the world continues to shift. We may not have all the answers, but staying open to those moments of change are part of who we are at UD. And forging ahead in community is our source of strength.

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