Education Abroad plans halted by COVID-19
Dozens of Texas A&M University-sponsored Education Abroad trips have been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 19, Texas A&M President Michael Young directed all domestic and foreign travel suspended until further notice.
However, for 20 students in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture, their Education Abroad plans were canceled a week before.
Dr. Monica Vasquez Neshyba, clinical assistant professor in TLAC, spent the first part of this semester working with her students on an Education Abroad trip to Italy.
From March 9 to May 4, Neshyba’s undergraduate students were to teach in an English as a Foreign Language classroom four days each week. After school, they would tutor students in English and rehearse for a bilingual play of Snow White.
The goal was to help the Italian students learn English and for the undergraduate students to gain an understanding of what it is like to have to read, listen and speak in a language they do not understand.
On February 28, a message from Texas A&M Provost Carol A. Fierke changed those plans.
“While I was absolutely devastated about not being able to travel like I had planned, I was most upset that we would not be able to teach our students,” said Abby Shaw, a sophomore interdisciplinary studies major. “I know that they were just as excited as we were for the upcoming semester together, especially considering all they were and still are going through with the virus. My heart was broken for the students.”
Despite the challenges, Neshyba did not give up on her students or the students in Italy.
“We had already done so much work to prepare for the program and I wanted to make sure to maintain a connection somehow,” said Neshyba. “The students and teachers in Italy were expecting us to be there and my students and I were very much looking forward to the experience.”
She connected with the teacher in Italy to develop a plan for her students to conduct tutoring online, via Zoom, once a week. The bilingual play they were set to perform is also being turned into a digital bilingual book. Each student, both in Neshyba’s class and in Italy, has lines to read. Each week, they rehearse those lines and on April 22, they will read the book together via Zoom.
While her students are facing barriers with trying to communicate virtually and in another language, they know the benefit is well worth it.
“I hope this new method allows for the Italian students to learn something from us and maybe have some fun in the process. It is such
a difficult time right now, so if we can manage to brighten their day with our Zoom calls, that would mean the world,” said Kelly St. John, a junior interdisciplinary studies major. “As much as this experience meant to us, we were doing it for the students, and they were giving us the opportunity to teach and learn alongside them.”
For Neshyba’s students, they know it will be a lesson learned and onethey can carry on through their teaching careers.
“I hope this new method teaches me that in life, there are always ways to modify or work around things that are in our way. Being a teacher, there will always be times when things don’t go as planned,” said Emily Harmel, a junior interdisciplinary studies major. “For the Italian students, I hope they learn that there is always a way. With the devastation of the virus, I hope they are able to understand that no matter how bad it is, there is still good in bad things, like us all being able to communicate together and build virtual relationships.”
Read more about Texas A&M University’s guidance regarding COVID-19 on the Coronavirus resource site.
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