June 2020: Year in Review
Greetings…not physically “from the Office of International Affairs” in Brookings, but virtual greetings from South Dakota! When I started my work as Assistant Vice President for International Affairs in August 2019, I really did not know what to expect from “life in Brookings,” much like many new international students arriving at the same time. As we all landed unexpectedly in a global pandemic this academic year, I am still waiting to experience many of the “firsts” in which I had hoped to participate, including our Sash Ceremony, Commencement, and other fun events. I do know, though, how much I enjoy working with SDSU students, faculty, and staff members – particularly our terrific team in OIA! It has been wonderful to enjoy a warm welcome, familiarize myself with new traditions, and dive into work-related opportunities and challenges this year. And nothing in my career has been as challenging as our office’s response to Covid-19.
This extraordinary period has brought out the best in our community, as evidenced by PhD student Balawanth Jadhav’s efforts to mobilize resources to provide dozens of international students groceries in the early stages of the university’s closure. More than thirty international students have received emergency grants from the SDSU Foundation’s Student Emergency Fund, and OIA has raised over $5,000 to provide international students with additional support during the summer. OIA has also worked with Jack’s Cupboard on campus as well as the local United Way chapter to offer community support to our international students in Brookings. OIA staff members have supported students virtually to help them stay on course for CPT and OPT assignments. A significant financial need remains in our international student community, and we appreciate each and every donation designated for “International Student Support” at the SDSU Foundation website. Thanks to everyone who has been generous in offering our international students a helping hand.
SDSU students abroad this past spring also experienced disruptions, as their academic adventures were cut short or eliminated entirely by Covid-19. Several of these cancellations took place days before scheduled departures, and we found the decisions in the early days of the pandemic to be so difficult to make, as this Argus-Leader article should illustrate. OIA staff stayed in contact with students and help them salvage their academic credits for the semester and return home. This may sound easy, but in some cases the trip home took weeks to arrange and realize. Hundreds of students were unable to participate in planned study abroad programs during Spring Break and Summer 2020, but we have been encouraged by the number of students asking for virtual advising appointments and planning a future study abroad experience. We have been working on a “virtual study abroad fair” to present opportunities for students to consider when it becomes safe to travel again, and we look forward to sending these students and faculty members back to the friendly skies.
We have had a terrific year in our English Language and Culture Institute, with wonderful student achievements and exciting programming opportunities. ELCI will offer a Global Foundations Program starting in 2020-2021. Global Foundations will allow students to reach English proficiency while earning degree-eligible credit in their desired programs. Successful completion of Global Foundations will lead to a student’s matriculation in an SDSU degree program! The ELCI will focus this summer on this new program as well as preparation for online delivery of our ESL curriculum.
OIA staff put together a wonderful video presentation of the 2020 Sash Ceremony the day before SDSU’s virtual commencement. Dr. Shuang Li (China – Sociology and Rural Studies) and Jin Hang Ng (Malaysia – Computer Science) represented graduate and undergraduate students well in the ceremony, and we hope that the online event provided a sense of celebration and closure for those students finishing up their programs with us. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the video!
As we look ahead into 2020-2021, OIA is making NO predictions as to “what comes next.” We have no idea! We are doing our best, though, to help the next generation of international students navigate their way to SDSU as quickly and as safely as they can. Together with the SDSU Graduate School, OIA has put together a “Global Start” program for Fall 2020, allowing new students in all categories – undergraduate, graduate, ESL, and Global Foundations – to begin their studies on campus or online in August 2020. We hope we will all be together in South Dakota in January 2021, and the Global State initiative will help keep everyone “on schedule” toward their academic goals.
As we look ahead, let’s not forget the good work and voices of our 2019-2020 international students and study abroad students. The International Relations Council put together another stellar International Night of entertainment, culture, and fellowship in the Fall 2019 semester. We remember the positive vibrations (and good food!) from this night and bring that thought into the coming year. We also recall the wisdom of SDSU senior Kylee Kohls, whose Italy study abroad dreams were dashed in March 2020 – “Italy will still be there and someday I hope to go and I have to keep that in mind that, yeah it could be really disappointing right now but our best interests are being considered and I have faith in that.” Congratulations to IRC, Kylee, and all of us for working through the physical and virtual tasks related to the past twelve months, and best wishes for a relaxing summer!