Global Engagement in the Era of COVID-19
By Maria Kyriakidou, Ph.D. and Heather Funk Theodoridi
“Dedication to education!” That’s what Julia happily exclaimed when she arrived at pre-departure orientation after making the 10-hour drive to get herself and her mother, who worked nights, to 8 am study abroad registration on time. For 25 years, the ACT (American College of Thessaloniki) campus has been buzzing with the energy of study abroad students who come and go; bringing their enthusiasm for new experiences and absorbing the light and life of the Greek culture around them. In April 2020, everything came to a screeching halt. Students rapidly returned to their homes while the world watched and waited as COVID-19 spread across the globe. Students, faculty, administrators, scrambled to find new ways to keep going forward. Education is like water, despite massive barriers, it will find a way to flow. In the era of COVID-19, students and educators are carving new river beds to keep the information flowing. Global engagement is now meeting students at their own doorstep through one-to-one opportunities forged by colleagues and partners around the world.
In the context of global engagement, ACT’s Director of International Programs & Student Services, Heather Funk Theodoridi, at the invitation of Laura Dunn Grodewald, Director of Global Education Programs at Georgian Court University, have paired faculty from each intuition through the COIL initiative. COIL stands for Collaborative Online International Learning and aims to increase global connection, intercultural awareness, and global perspectives through online collaboration. On October 7, 2020, Dr. Maria Kyriakidou, ACT professor and Chair of the Humanities Department, was the first ACT professor to engage in the COIL initiative. Dr. Kyriakidou presented three interactive guest lectures for the World History classes of Dr. Jessica Keene, GCU Assistant Professor of History. Dr. Kyriakidou virtually presented themes of Ancient Greek History and had the opportunity to engage with over 60 students. Presenting and answering student questions on a variety of topics, there was an opportunity to exchange ideas and knowledge. The opportunity for students to interact with an expert in the field, who has daily encounters with the history that they were reading about in the textbooks was enthusiastically received.
Barriers to access study abroad, including finances, scheduling, majors, personal reasons, have prohibited many students from having meaningful global engagement during their college years. Some of the 60 students who participated in this COIL event may have considered studying abroad, but some would not have had the opportunity. As educators, we see COIL as an exciting initiative because it allows us to bring global perspectives and a unique educational experience to the student and meet them right where they are at- literally.
It was a very positive experience and collaborative effort which we plan to continue in the future.