Orientation overhaul: INTO virtually welcomes 2020 cohort to US amidst COVID-19

INTO The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s new student cohort participates in the center’s first virtual orientation.

When the COVID-19 crisis pushed US universities to close campuses and move courses online six months ago, one could scarcely imagine that the fall 2020 semester would find new students starting classes from behind their computer screens.

Even so, the student experience teams at INTO’s US centers have quickly adapted to support students through the unimaginable since the start of the pandemic.  Earlier this month, they overhauled orientation to virtually welcome a new cohort of international students to their respective universities.

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INTO UAB team exhibits resilient leadership in COVID-19 pandemic

The INTO UAB team gathers virtually before the start of the fall 2020 semester.

On July 28, INTO The University of Alabama at Birmingham (INTO UAB) Executive Director David Hofmann led one of a series of virtual, university-wide seminars on resilient leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The session centered on cultural intelligence and international student support during the outbreak.

“I wanted colleagues to understand a little more about what’s happening within the INTO UAB center and what international students’ experiences are during COVID-19,” Hofmann said of his talk.

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What matters most: Togetherness in INTO’s U.K. centres during COVID-19

Although the INTO London World Education Centre building is closed to in-person gatherings, students and staff look forward to the time when they can return.

More than two months ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced formal lockdown measures to combat the rise in new COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom.  For many in the U.K., that announcement signaled the start of physical distancing.  However, Qingying Lin, Chinese-language support officer at INTO Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), recalls that her centre had moved all face-to-face learning and extracurricular support online by March 18—five days before the PM’s announcement.

INTO’s 10 other U.K. centres transitioned to digital provision along similar timelines, which means that they have now passed 10 weeks of distance education and support of their respective international student cohorts.  Perhaps paradoxically, what has struck our student support teams most during quarantine is the togetherness they and their students have maintained across that distance—a testament to their agility and resilience.

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First-wave supporters: INTO China sees international students through COVID-19 crisis

Nankai University is located in Tianjin, China, 140 km outside of Beijing.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak led universities in Europe and North America to implement physical distancing policies, universities in China had to face the emerging realities of what is now a global pandemic.  In partnership with Nankai University, INTO has seen a cohort of 43 international students through a campus lockdown and University-wide transition to online learning since late January.  Now, they are helping students adapt to life under less stringent quarantine measures.

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All hands on deck: Helping international students navigate the COVID-19 crisis

In the wake of COVID-19, universities’ social distancing policies require that international students complete coursework and advising sessions virtually.

Even in the best of times, international students’ decision to travel across the globe in search of education opportunities is courageous.  Their journey is one of hope, aspiration, and, of course, some trepidation as they step into the unknown.  When these students embarked on their studies abroad this year, however, a global pandemic added new layers of concern and uncertainty to their experience, sending them into uncharted waters.

The jobs of student experience specialists on whom these students rely to help them navigate uncertainty in their studies has never been so critical or challenging as they are during the COVID-19 crisis.  We reached out to colleagues on the front lines across INTO’s university partnerships in the United States to learn more about their all-hands-on-deck approach to supporting international students in these uncertain times.

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“Hundreds of potential futures” at the INTO London Progression Fair

Students attend the seventh annual INTO London Progression Fair.

Ahead of this year’s university application cycle, international students at the INTO London World Education Centre escaped a dreary, late-January afternoon to attend the Centre’s seventh annual Progression Fair. 

Held at Chapter Spitalfields, the residence INTO students share with other international students in the heart of London’s East End, the event gave students the chance to learn about the vast array of programmes on offer directly from university representatives.  With 62 of INTO’s affiliate universities in the United Kingdom represented, and with 140 INTO students in attendance, it was the largest progression fair the Centre has had to date.

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INTO North America: Year in review

As 2019 concludes, those in the international education community in the United States have much to reflect on.  In November, the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) 70th Open Doors Report revealed that it has been a uniquely challenging year for international student enrollment.  Although the nationwide decline in new international student enrollments (NSEs) slowed from -6.6% in 2017/18 to -0.9% in 2018/19, 51% of American higher education institutions reported a decrease in NSEs in 2019.

For INTO’s 12 American university partners, however, there were a great deal of international student enrollment and education milestones in 2019—proof that there is every reason to believe things can only get better in the American international education realm.

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Paradigm shift: The rise of math and computer science among international students

To kick off International Education Week, the Institute of International Education (IIE) released its 70th Open Doors Report, which outlines international student mobility trends in the United States during the 2018/19 academic year.  The report indicates that there was a 0.05% increase in the total number of international students in the U.S. in 2018/19, 52% of which pursued degrees or completed optional practical training (OPT) in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). 

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The road home: Orientation 2019 at INTO’s American partner universities

INTO Hofstra University’s inaugural class of more than 120 students from 13 countries

Over the past month, some 2,500 students from around the world commenced their studies at INTO’s 12 university partners in the United States.  Understanding the anxieties that accompany this journey, faculty and staff across INTO’s U.S. university partners and their respective INTO centers deploy a combination of pre-arrival communications, carefully curated orientation sessions, and online applications to familiarize students with their new university communities.  The result: a high-touch orientation experience that provides students a launchpad for a successful academic career.

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Symbiotic partnership: Supporting university mission through comprehensive internationalization

In the days following the second annual P3·EDU Conference, hosted by George Mason University (GMU) in May, former GMU President Angel Cabrera posited that “the private sector holds the key to solving many of the challenges public and non-profit universities face.”  The success of such partnerships, Cabrera highlighted, depends on the capacity of private sector parties to support their higher education partners’ strategic goals, protect their academic reputations, and prioritize student experience.

From our first with the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom to our most recent with Hofstra University in New York, every INTO university partnership is predicated on student success and campus enrichment.  At GMU, Colorado State University (CSU), and Drew University, INTO-affiliated faculty are leading initiatives to not only better serve international student populations but support their institutions’ overarching missions.  In so doing, they exemplify the symbiosis INTO shares with its partner universities.

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