Online communication helped students keep in touch with their mentors, classmates and host families once they returned to Lubbock.
There's no doubt that spring 2020 was a semester to remember for students, faculty and staff from educational institutions around the world. Years from now, Texas Tech University students studying abroad at the TTU Center in Sevilla will have especially interesting stories to tell when asked where they were when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Though their semester abroad was cut short, a variety of creative opportunities were found to help them maintain contact with Sevilla after they departed and while making sense of life's new realities.
Normally, students studying Spanish in Sevilla interact with local language assistants, Spaniards who come into the classroom a couple of times a week to give students the opportunity for guided and individualized conversation practice. When students in the Foundational Spanish program returned to the U.S. early due to the pandemic, they were able to maintain regular Zoom meetings with their language assistants from Sevilla for the rest of the semester.
Jay Hitt, an English major studying Spanish in Sevilla, said maintaining these meetings in a virtual manner was beneficial for the students because it helped them stay connected with their language assistants and each other.
"The friendship between us and the assistants was made very evident when we would meet via Zoom to practice because we had plenty to talk about being across the globe, and we genuinely cared for the assistants and all of the people in Sevilla," Hitt said. "The assistants were our primary source of information. We all miss our life in Sevilla tremendously, and being able to meet with the assistants for a few more weeks helped us find a little bit of closure."
Students who participated in local Spanish internships in Sevilla also were able to stay connected to their colleagues.
Sara Guengerich, faculty leader of the spring 2020 Spanish program, and María Consuelo (Chelo) Gutíerrez Martínez, director of studies at Colegio Sagrada Familia-Fundación Vedruna Educación, a neighborhood elementary and middle school where Texas Tech students regularly intern, co-piloted a program to keep students connected through the video-sharing platform Flipgrid. Students who interned at a local hospital in Sevilla also stayed in contact with the physical therapists they worked with through various online platforms.
"The messages were full of encouraging and hopeful words, filling our hearts," Chelo Gutíerrez Martínez said. "We can't forget that we received these messages in the months that we were confined to our homes and Spain had been hit with the worst rates of COVID-19. These Facebook messages were very well received among our educational community and some of the middle school students had the opportunity to answer them, thanking them for their messages."
Students also used these platforms to stay in touch with their Sevilla host families once they returned to the U.S., which Alicia Gonzalez, a Pre-Health in Sevilla student, said has allowed her to feel connected to her host mom and Spain from across the globe.
"Overall, I learned the important role that technology can play in not only bettering my education, but in keeping me connected to people all over the world," Gonzalez said. "I am so grateful for my time abroad but even more grateful for the connections made along the way."
As a final farewell to their study abroad semester, the TTU Center in Sevilla held a virtual exit orientation on April 22, the same day the in-person session was originally scheduled. Students, faculty and staff came together again to talk about some of the typical issues students face after returning home from abroad, and this particular session was tailored to the unique experience of an unexpected emergency evacuation during a study abroad experience.
Jonathan Deen, assistant director of the TTU Center in Sevilla, said the exit orientation always is a therapeutic experience for students to say goodbye and reflect on their semester, but this year's was more cathartic than most.
"After seeing each other every day, then abruptly going our separate ways into quarantine and then lockdown, getting everyone back together again really helped bring closure to a turbulent experience," Deen said.