WASHINGTON, PA (May 13, 2020) – A few years ago, Dana Poole was looking for a way to connect international students with the Washington & Jefferson College campus before they arrived in person. The students received lots of formal communications, but she wanted them to find their community organically, and know that they were with friends the minute they set foot on campus.
Poole, the Director of International Student Initiatives, found that in the messaging service WhatsApp. Usually an outlet international students join voluntarily to connect with on-campus Global Ambassadors – domestic students who assist with international student orientation – WhatsApp is now a lifeline and the community formed there is more important than ever.
“This is a tough time for these students. It’s really stressful,” Poole said. “They didn’t want to leave campus. Our visiting exchange students had their study abroad experience at W&J cut short and our degree seeking international students have lots of questions about when they can make a return to W&J. Their online community is so, so strong and I’m glad they have the W&J students to support them.”
W&J moved its entire operation online in March due to Coronavirus safety measures and many international students returned home, abruptly leaving a community they’d built and the study abroad experience they’d long planned for. They are still taking their W&J classes online.
Remy Legrand, a student from France who started at W&J as a freshman and will be a senior next year, said the transition has been difficult.
“For most exchange students, this semester abroad was the opportunity of their life, their first time out of the country or even the subject of a research project,” he said. “They have been working on it for months and have put money and effort into it. It is hard to “let go” of something that important.”
However, both he and fellow international student Christina Hoffmeister said the W&J connections they’ve maintained have been extremely meaningful during this time, especially because the group was so close.
“The support I got from W&J students and faculty members really helped me and I never felt like I was being left alone to deal with all of this,” said Hoffmeister, who has returned to her home in Germany to continue W&J classes remotely. “The international office still made sure to check on us internationals, even though we are not on campus anymore. The professors have all been very understanding if I had issues with online classes due to different time zones, or just stress in general.”
WhatsApp has become a touchstone for this group, whose members are used to studying, eating meals, navigating classes and participating in student clubs and organizations together. The international students and Global Ambassadors have used the app to talk about classes, stay in touch about their personal lives, offer support and encouragement, and share photos from campus and from students’ home countries.
Selena Easley, a domestic student who serves as a Global Ambassador, said she feels hopeful because even during this time, when distance has kept the friends physically apart, their connection stays strong.
“I really think we’ll all see each other again,” she said. “We all bonded together as a family, and whether it’s in the United States, or Europe, or South America, or somewhere else, we’re all confident that we’ll see each other again.”
This article is part of Thriving Together, a series of articles and videos showcasing the ways in which W&J community members are adapting to new situations and supporting each other during this unprecedented time. Read other articles in the series in the W&J News Section.
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.