Event Recap: Study Abroad Pre-Departure Orientation

Despite uncertainties, the Office of Study Abroad hosted a well attended pre-departure orientation for Fall 2020

On Wednesday May 6, the Office of Study Abroad hosted a virtual pre-departure orientation for students planning to study abroad for the fall semester. The orientation covered Wesleyan-specific considerations and items such as health and safety practices, acclimating to a new culture, negotiating one’s own cultural identity abroad, academic policies, as well as the potential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Fall 2020. In addition to the OSA staff, three Wesleyan students who have studied abroad also attended to offer insight, advice, and answer questions.

The orientation addressed important aspects to keep in mind prior to one’s on site arrival, while abroad, and what to expect upon return. Prior to arrival, students are expected to review academic and financial regulations, reflect upon their developmental goals, and familiarize themselves with health and safety precautions. Students should also research the socio-cultural norms and perceptions of their host country so they can better manage their expectations on how to navigate and negotiate their own identities while abroad. Upon arrival and while on site students should prioritize cultural engagement, be mindful of their mental health and wellness while they adapt, and seek cross-cultural and pragmatic advice to capitalize on their experience. With regard to re-entry, students learned about necessary logistical planning with regard to housing, pre-registration, and transcripts, reverse cultural adaptation, as well as opportunities to maintain momentum on skills or passions acquired abroad and make their experience meaningful on campus on their return.

One Vassar-Wesleyan Paris Program alumna who assisted with the orientation, Kiki Vetoulis-Acevedo, identified pre-departure orientation as “an important first step on the path to independence while abroad.”  Elaborating, she expanded on how crucial her own orientation was in helping her establish a support system, saying

I received a huge amount of support from my professors, my program director, my host family, and the other students that I went abroad with; I can’t imagine what my study abroad experience would have been like if I hadn’t felt comfortable constantly checking in with all of these people. One of the best things about orientation is that it can help ease the stress of diving into a new setting and accustom you to reaching out to those whose job it is to help you. It may seem intuitive, but it is so important to take advantage of systems that are built for you! Being at ease when asking for help (something everyone will need to do at some point) is essential to making the most of your time abroad. This made me more comfortable while choosing classes, interacting with students and professors at my university, and talking to my host family. This ability to ask questions and ask for help led to me making close friends abroad and experiencing Paris in a much fuller way. Getting the answers to logistical and personal questions as well as getting to know members of the Office of Study Abroad are things that will help you throughout your time abroad in more ways than you would expect.

Fondly referred to as the “intrepid souls,” the students planning to go abroad for fall ’20 demonstrate tremendous resiliency and open-mindedness in embracing the challenges of uncertainty as part of the learning process, with the ambition and contemplated optimism we have come to expect from Wesleyan students.

Hence the first item covered in the orientation and new to the agenda this semester was addressing the possible implications of the Covid-19 pandemic for study abroad in the fall semester. While the administration has yet to finalize any decision regarding study abroad, the Associate Director of Study Abroad, Emily Gorlewski, covered several potential scenarios and contingency plans that may be enacted moving forward in the face of coronavirus complications. This included when students should expect a decision from the administration regarding study abroad as well as insights into the factors that would influence that decision, options for students who may experience program cancelations, how to approach social distancing and Covid-19 from an intercultural standpoint, navigating consulate closures and visa complications, as well as ensuring there are contingency plans for academic continuity for Fall 2020 study abroad programs.

The virtual pre-departure orientation was one of the two formats available to students to complete this requirement. Alternatively, students can also satisfy the pre-departure orientation requirement by completing a series of online modules on Moodle.  The Moodle course consists of four modules and takes approximately one hour to complete. Each module is followed by a series of questions to test student knowledge on the subject matter. All modules must be completed by July 1. Any student planning to go abroad for Fall 2020 or the academic year who was unable to attend the virtual orientation can enroll in the Moodle course through their ViaTRM profile.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact the Office of Study Abroad with any questions or concerns via email (studyabroad@wesleyan.edu) or through their virtual advising hours MWF 10AM-12PM, TTh 2PM-4PM.