How quickly things can change! Back in February, the Spring semester was in full swing, and we were looking ahead to the summer, excited about our events program and being able to welcome a new cohort of students to our wonderful country. Less than 4 months on, and borders are shut, travel warnings abound; tourist attractions are closed; as unseasonably warm weather bathed London in bright sunshine, I mourned a city into which I could no longer venture, much less show off to visitors. Less than 4 months on, my colleagues and I were indeed showcasing our homes across Europe to new students, but, while we were where we had expected to be - in Granada and Athens; in London and Dublin; in Rome, Barcelona and Edinburgh - our students were tuning in online from bedrooms and kitchens across the US, from California to Connecticut.
Virtual Europe is an exciting venture - a collaboration between our Centers across Europe which aims to give students a fulfilling international experience at a time when physical travel is not possible - and the Orientation, delivered live through Zoom (though a recording will be available for those who couldn’t attend), was the program’s inaugural activity. Through Orientation, staff from each of our Centers across Europe showcased aspects of that country’s culture and introduced our diverse events program which will complement the academic courses and give students the chance to find out about the food, music, history and personality of our different locations through talks, cooking classes, dancing lessons, performance and more.
The Orientation also helped us find out more about our students and their perceptions of Europe: through the Poll Everywhere tool, students were able to share their location with us, as well as their perspectives, each giving one word that sprang to mind when thinking of Europe. We then divided them into breakout rooms so they could get to know one another - the first step to creating a real community of virtual learners.
For many, the last few months have been a difficult, uncertain and sometimes distressing time. In the midst of all this, it was wonderful to be able to come together to launch and to celebrate something so positive and so interesting. I hope that all our Virtual Europe students find the experience valuable and exciting, and it could be the first step towards them exploring further the myriad cultures and landscapes Europe has to offer once this is all over.