International education soars to new heights at Seneca in light of global pandemic

We all remember where we were on March 11, 2020 when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

The International Mobility Office was buzzing that morning! We had just hosted a successful pre-departure session with over 50 students and faculty preparing for their faculty-led programs in The Gambia/Senegal, Peru and Denmark. We were busy processing a record number of student applications for our outbound Summer and Fall 2020 global opportunities, and the team was hustling to put the final touches on our annual UN Sustainable Development Goals student training. And then, COVID-19 altered everything. Our focus quickly shifted to bringing our students who were studying or working abroad safely back to Canada.

Adapting, pivoting, and adjusting our work and priorities is not something that is new to practitioners of international education. In fact, we spend our time encouraging students and faculty to step outside of their comfort zones and embrace the experiential (and sometimes challenging) learning that accompanies our international programming. While nothing compares to the lived experience that comes with traveling abroad — the sights, the smells, the sounds — we were confident that in face of the adversity and rapidly closing international borders, we could offer comparable experiences for our students through virtual platforms. 

With every challenge comes opportunity.

With the support of international partners, we set to work, and it wasn’t long before partnerships strengthened and new opportunities were created. Here are just a few that took place in the 2020 Summer and Fall semesters:

  • HU University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht, Netherlands, organized webinars for Seneca students to learn about Europe’s latest practices on machine learning, digital innovation, prototyping and smart sustainable cities.
  • In collaboration with our Belgian partner, Artevelde University of Applied Sciences, Seneca’s Early Childhood Education students and faculty joined over 800 ECE students from around the world to exchange knowledge on latest practices in the field. Seneca’s Lab School was recognized for its ingenuity with authentic creative learning experiences and wonderful spaces that honour children as citizens. A presentation on Seneca’s Forest and Nature school program also led to diverse conversations and interest from participating faculty.
  • After signing a student exchange agreement with Universidad de Especialidades Espíritu Santo (UEES) in Guayaquil, Ecuador we hosted a global meet-up with students from Seneca and UEES. Seneca student Aidan D’Souza notes, “The UEES Global Meet-Up was a wonderful opportunity to meet international students [from] a postsecondary institution in a different country. I really enjoyed connecting with the friendly students in Ecuador and hearing how they adapted to learning during the pandemic. Although we were miles apart, we shared a similar experience about adapting to online learning.”
  • A handful of Seneca Business students took advantage of virtual for-credit courses offered by our partner Neu-Ulm University of Applied Sciences (HNU) in Germany. Shortly after starting her online studies with HNU, Seneca student Gabriela Rojas noted, “the professor and students are fantastic and very nice. I can already see myself getting along with [them] amazingly! [I] can’t wait to continue along with the course.”
  • Over 200 Human Resource Management students and 12 faculty from Seneca and Windesheim University of Applied Sciences in Zwolle, Netherlands completed a collaborative project exploring intercultural competencies.

Another positive and unintended consequence of the pandemic has been the rapid expansion of a global learning model that the IMO began exploring in early 2020: COIL- Collaborative Online International Learning. By the end of Winter 2021, we expect to have over 15 Seneca faculty trained on this new model that creates project-based international collaborations right in the classroom.

Despite flights being grounded and international borders being closed, the demand for global opportunities has increased with more students and faculty getting involved than ever before. Stay tuned for future collaborations including guest lectures in e-sports marketing and veterinary programs with partners in France and Ecuador; and our first ever virtual services fair highlighting our study and work abroad opportunities that focus on achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

While we look forward to the familiar greeting, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome onboard Flight ABC with service from Toronto to...”, internationalization at Seneca continues, stronger than ever.