Educator: International study still remains vital
COVID-19 has brought about many new changes in the study realm. The pandemic has accelerated advancements in the education field in terms of teaching and learning, technology, immigration frameworks and school credit policies.
During an interview with Shanghai Daily, Dr Gregory D. Hess, president and CEO of IES Abroad and Study Abroad Foundation, shared his views on education in the post-pandemic era.
Hess, former president of Wabash College in Crawfordsville, the US, joined the board of IES Abroad this August, a Chicago-based, nonprofit, academic consortium of colleges and universities worldwide to provide students with international education and programs.
Hess stressed the importance of promoting global citizenship amid the pandemic — international exchanges will continue to play a critical role in unifying people around the world.
He said that the gains of studying abroad which have stood firm and true for decades will be renewed in the future under the new norms of higher education.
“Studying abroad allows young people to transcend cultural differences and conflicts, cultivate global citizenship and foster the values of a shared community for all. The experience also results in tangible benefits, allowing students to pursue advanced studies, leverage a broader academic and professional network, as well as enhance their resume and professional standing.”
He also stressed that when assessing study abroad opportunities, the number one priority for students and parents should always be safety.
“The criteria we have always advocated students using when assessing study abroad opportunities remain true today, that safety should come first. At SAF and IES Abroad, we have prioritized student health and safety.”
According to Hess, IES was the first organization in the field to establish a dean of students’ office, and students have benefited from first-hand crisis support such as insurance coverage, on-the-ground logistics and communications with key stakeholders.
“Most people don’t expect to face a crisis when they study abroad, but we know students, parents and universities fully appreciate the importance of this support now that they have seen what can happen in a crisis.”
Hess also addressed the psychological pressure due to the pandemic students have encountered while studying abroad, that they should not be afraid to reach out for assistance.
“It is critically important students maintain sound mental health during the pandemic. Most importantly, I encourage students to keep focused on the realities of the situation. Stay informed, avoid misinformation, follow government policies and pay attention to health and safety guidelines. Speak to advisors if you’re feeling anxiety about your situation or feel uncertainty about your plans.”
As Chinese parents are anxious about issues of racism or cultural conflicts after COVID-19, Hess appeals for diversity and inclusion as imperative.
“How international educators act and react are rooted in the basic tenets that all people are equal and deserve equal opportunities to live and learn abroad. Inclusion and empathy should be at the heart of our mission to create informed global leaders.”
COVID-19 has forced higher education and international educators to embrace innovations such as remote learning. Hess expects that technology will play an ever-greater role in creating hybrid opportunities for academic engagement.
“Even before the current crisis, virtual learning was becoming an increasingly important part of higher education. Ultimately, I believe the new normal will be technologically infused.”
IES Abroad’s EdTech Team created a four-week online course called “Introduction to Online Course Design: Pedagogy Meets Technology,” which enhances the virtual learning experience and allows faculties to consider how to integrate cross-location opportunities into the classroom.
Hess admits that the world has changed and will continue to change, which has brought bigger responsibilities of changing lives through study abroad for educators.
“I believe that many people have an innate desire and a need to travel and to explore. And I believe that deep-seeded desire will mean study abroad will rebound and, in time, again become a major part of a student’s college experience.”
Some changes in the study abroad field he has already seen and is planning for include staying on top of the health and safety protocols, adapting programming according to changing times and stick to the ongoing diversity and inclusion initiatives to ensure that all students can study abroad.
He said IES Abroad’s long-term commitment to diversity and inclusion is a major reason he was attracted to the organization.
“We do this from top-to-bottom, from our innovative approach to programming to the introduction of student-centric virtual social programs such as our new ‘Beyond the Classroom’ initiative. Every day SAF and IES Abroad connect diverse students and foster a culture of openness and inclusion.”
“Being at the cutting edge of what students expect is deeply embedded in the culture of SAF and IES Abroad. We are tuned in to the needs of our partner institutions and our students, and have the capacity to respond quickly to their needs while maintaining our commitment to academic quality and student support. This will serve us well as the world begins to emerge from the pandemic.”