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On April 1st, 2020, we hosted a digital International Educators World Café focused on the theme of “Adding Ideas to Ideas.” We drew inspiration from the world café style of hosting a gathering in a curated environment, with small breakouts focused on a few pointed questions. 

These are unprecedented times, and we wanted to create a space for meaningful conversation. We also just wanted to know how our colleagues are doing and feeling at this moment. 

Introduction

Our Founder & CEO, Samantha Martin, presented an overview of the hour, shared a few best practices for engaging in a digital space, information on the World Cafe concept, and framed the questions we would ask in small groups.

Throughout the course of the hour, over 70 participants joined the conversation. We split into breakout groups of 10 or fewer for two breakout sessions.

Breakout Session 1

The first breakout was focused on a reflection exercise where participants were invited to speak to one or all of the categories to identify a “rose” (something that has come into fruition recently), a “bud” (something on the cusp of change or renewal) and a “thorn” (a current challenge or issue).

With respect to individual anonymity, we wanted to share a few trends and topics that were shared across the groups: 

Roses: 

  • Establishing new routines and having more time for family, pets, and projects at home 
  • Springtime! 
  • Students are home and safe
  • Cooking more 
  • Communication between administrators and students has increased
  • Virtual conferences open up opportunities
  • No commute into the office

Buds: 

  • Building resilience from these challenges. “If we got past this we can do anything”
  • Opportunity to focus on projects that you wouldn’t get to in your typical workday
  • New technology explorations (distance learning and more)
  • Flexibility for those in higher education to work remote or on-site in the future
  • Accurate assessments on how crisis management plans are

Thorns: 

  • Being far from family
  • Concern about friends and family in the medical field 
  • So many unknowns, including the impact on the field of international education
  • Coordinating many schedules for family members
  • Challenges around managing a team remotely and differing tech abilities within the office
  • Layoffs at many companies 
  • Missing human connection
  • Challenges for a lot of international students who are coming to the US 
  • Canceled trips and programs after spending a year or more planning for them
  • Travel restrictions
  • A lot of students have barriers to consider when studying abroad and now they are even more hesitant to do it

Breakout Session 2

The second breakout was focused on two additional questions: 

1.) What do you think is needed right now in this moment? 2.) What could the future of international education and global engagement look like? How might this time broaden our understanding of global participation and engagement?  

The themes that emerged from the second breakout: 

We need: 

  • Authentic, vulnerable leadership
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Using the current state as a learning opportunity, to figure out how to better manage crises in the future
  • We need to pivot (workdays, operations, and institutions)
  • A space to connect, ask questions, to reflect and hear from others
  • Hope 
  • Inspiration
  • To create things
  • Innovation
  • Grace
  • Empathy to understand what others are experiencing in this moment
  • Contingency planning, particularly by different program types
  • Collaboration
  • Transparency
  • Improved internal & external communications coordination with all the stakeholders 
  • Sanity
  • Courage. Collaboration.
  • Pacing. Some people are reacting very quickly when a more thoughtful approach might be best. Slow down and find the best course of action
  • Communication, empathy and listening with your heart.

Needs/Gives

Prior to wrapping up, we shared a concept that is used in the startup space of sharing needs and gives within a group context. The idea is simple: if you have something you need (you’re on the job hunt, you have a question, you’re looking for resources, et al.) you ask for it. And, if you have something to give (you are hiring, you have advice for managing stress, you are able to provide mentorship, et al) you offer it to the group. Participants shared some great needs/gives into the chat, and Kit Ward, an Account Executive with Via TRM, even took to LinkedIn to put some folks in touch with each other.

Closing

One of our team members, Alexander Mathieu, who is Via TRM’s Technical Support Engineer particularly enjoyed connecting with international educators during the café. After the event, he remarked, “It’s truly amazing how adaptive we are as humans, and how quickly we’re able to accept a crisis for what it is, and start building toward a “new normal.”

We couldn’t have said it better. To that, we will raise an espresso and say we cannot wait until we are back together again, but in the meantime, cheers to the resilience of international educators. 

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this connect, you filled our cup. 

P.S. Want to join us for the next World Cafe Connect? Join our newsletter here to stay in the loop.

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