As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world this winter, bringing life as we know it to a standstill and sending study abroad students at John Cabot University back to their respective home countries, the University made it its goal to allow students to finish their classes this semester, moving all classes online to enable remote learning, and to keep everyone engaged and feeling like they were still a part of the community.
The University had a big challenge to overcome, however, in order to achieve this goal. As JCU’s students come from around the world, online content has to be adapted to account for students connecting from 80 different countries and timezones. All online classes and activities had to be prerecorded, asynchronous, and scheduled to meet every student’s needs.
The Admissions Office recently caught up with a few students who were studying abroad at JCU this spring semester to find out more about their experience of returning home due to COVID-19. Here’s what they had to say about how JCU supported them throughout this time, ensuring their safety, facilitating online learning, and keeping in touch.
Lauren LaMontagne from Texas Christian University
“Reacting to a situation like the COVID-19 outbreak is not easy, especially when you are a university in the heart of Rome that hosts students and faculty from all over the world. Nevertheless, John Cabot University, in my opinion, has dealt with the outbreak with grace and organization and has made study abroad students feel reassured and safe even when thousands of miles from home.
“The effort made by JCU faculty and staff did not go unnoticed, and I definitely think their manner of dealing with the situation kept me at ease. In the days leading up to our eventual evacuation, my professors acknowledged what was going on (in a calmly matter) and reassured students that no matter what, they would be there to help us navigate balancing our coursework with this hectic transition. I felt reassured that safety was their priority: they never pressured that my grades would be jeopardized.
“JCU has offered health resources, flexibility with classes, emotional support, and I always felt like there was someone for me to talk to in the JCU community, regardless of what I wanted to talk about. JCU also helped sustain a calming environment throughout all of the unknown with the countless press releases and emails sent to students, our home universities, and the surrounding community. I can honestly say I never felt frustrated with the actions taken by JCU.
“Now, a couple weeks into online JCU classes, all of my professors have been putting in dedicated work to ensure that us students still feel connected to one another. I have classes that engage in online discussions and weekly Zoom calls, and platforms for any questions or concerns. I know that this transition has not been easy for professors, and my respect goes into the time and energy they have put into trying to normalize a process that is definitely not normal.
“After leaving Italy, my professors reached out to me individually to make sure I was ok and they have tackled this disruption to class with understanding that time is needed for everyone to readjust. At times when I feel like this pandemic is hurting my education, I find comfort in knowing that JCU is doing everything they can to remind us that everything is going to be ok.”
Kenza Schreiber from Nova Southeastern University
“Being that most universities do not have an emergency pandemic plan, I believe that JCU has handled the COVID-19 situation very well. JCU has been proactive in keeping the students updated. I really appreciate the emails that we have received from the beginning of it all.
“My sister and I studied abroad together and decided to stay regardless of my university telling me it was highly encouraged for me to come back to America. On the Thursday of midterm week when school was canceled, I was very pleased to see that JCU offered free food to everyone still on campus and took extreme sanitary precautions on how the students received their food. I can tell that the safety of students and faculty has been the top priority for JCU.
“I was in Prague during spring break when my flight to Italy got canceled and Trump announced the travel ban was going to take place shortly. I had to fly out from Prague leaving all my things in Rome. JCU has been extremely understanding of this situation and offered to all students under the same circumstances to pack up our things and ship it to us.”
Alyssa Marie Ferrarone from Oklahoma State University
“When I started my semester abroad at JCU, I certainly had no idea it would end the way it did. Four months turned into two, and I said goodbye to new friends, a new school, and a new home. To try to sum up the range of emotions I felt throughout this experience would be impossible. I can say, however, the one thing I didn’t feel, and that was worried.
“From the very start, JCU was consistently sending me emails, updating me on the status of the virus in Italy and how the school was handling it. Every potential question I may have had was answered in those emails. In a time of total chaos, I could focus on the logistics of getting home, enjoying my last few days, and doing my school work. I didn’t have to worry about how classes would continue or if my credits would still count. For that, I am so thankful.
“Even after coming home, I’ve still felt like I’m part of the JCU community. The effort they’ve put forward to stay in touch with students has made me feel less like I’m missing out. Social media is constantly being updated, I still have access to the library and all the resources I normally did. Even certain experiences I was looking forward to, I still got to do! For example, JCU held an elevator pitch competition that my classmates and I had entered. Instead of reciting our pitches in Tiber Café, we uploaded videos and submitted them. We were even able to watch the finalists’ videos and vote on which we thought was the best.
“While myself and every other student studying abroad may not have had the typical experience, I am so grateful that JCU has made these circumstances easier to handle and continued to include me in their community.”
Brendan Burkhart from Michigan State University
“My time in Rome, before we had to return home due to COVID-19, was an incredible experience. I’m very happy I chose John Cabot because I had the opportunity to have some of the most interesting professors of my college career.
“John Cabot online has been a different experience; however ,John Cabot has been extremely flexible and has worked to close the gap that online classes create. My professors have been very understanding and have tried to still give students a world class education even if it is online. Overall, I’m very glad I had the opportunity to call John Cabot home for a semester.”