If you’re at all like me, virtually studying abroad and interning are two experiences you would have never imagined you would encounter. As someone who loves being in the classroom surrounded by my peers and to take time away from her laptop for hands-on learning, studying and working in a virtual environment has been quite a change. I’ve had to find new ways to have enthusiasm for learning, stay connected with my professors, classmates, and colleagues, and remain on track for completing professional projects, all while sitting in my bedroom, at my desk, surrounded by a few plants and my water bottle. Studying and working virtually while staying connected have been learning experiences in and of themselves, but I’ve found a few ways to welcome this new reality into my life for the time being and for the future. (And, CEA now offers virtual internships abroad for Summer and Fall 2020!)
Here are some tips for remaining connected while virtually studying or interning abroad:
1. Get as close to being in class or at work as possible
I know this might sound challenging, or near impossible, but I’ve found that replicating my classroom and work environments at home has been a great way for me to remain eager to tackle new educational and professional challenges, as well as to keep up my relationships with my professors, peers, and colleagues. I’ve made my Google Calendar reflect my class times as they were in Spain, and I “go to class” right from my desk! On Mondays and Wednesdays, I “attend” three of my classes as they were scheduled while I was abroad in Granada, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I attend my remaining two classes. Avoiding classwork that I could easily access due to everything being at my fingertips has made me less stressed and feel less pressured to get my work done right away. This then allows me to prioritize the virtual classes I get to have with my professors and classmates, whom I dearly miss, on their designated days, which feels like I’m back in Granada!
Working from home is something that a lot of people are used to, but for me, it’s been a whole new change of pace. Similarly to how I’ve structured my classes, I make sure to attend work meetings as they’ve been laid out when I was physically in the office, and I schedule time to work remotely so as not to overwhelm myself. Every Friday, I have a team meeting with my colleagues and supervisor, and I look forward to it every single week. During this time, we take about a third of our meeting to check in with each other and see how everyone has been handling the situation, as we’re all in different places in a variety of ways. Taking this time to virtually connect on a personal level makes me feel like I’m back in the office, seeing their bright faces, and having great face-to-face conversations over our usual cups of tea. Prioritizing virtual meetings and remote classes in order to get the most out of them has helped me stay connected as I navigate this virtual way of school and work!
2. Make it a point to connect with your friends/colleagues outside of a professional or educational setting
Even when I’m at work, my team and I love to catch up about our weekends and what we’ve been up to since we’ve last seen each other. Before classes started when I was abroad, my classmates and I would all talk about our experiences in Granada, as well as the weekend trips we took to Portugal, Italy, and many other European countries. I quickly realized that, without these small conversations that help to establish pleasant relationships in both professional and educational settings, going to class and work virtually didn’t quite feel the same. In order to keep my new friendships and work connections alive, I made sure to connect with my peers and colleagues outside of class. I’ve been having great conversations with friends I’ve met abroad through WhatsApp and the sharing of memories on our Instagram stories. My colleagues and I meet together after we finish with our more professional work meeting every Friday, sharing our lunchtimes and a bunch of good laughs. To remain connected with friends from Spain, as they are just as important as my classmates and colleagues, I downloaded the app “Houseparty,” which enables us to catch up and check in, and it helps me to speak more Spanish even though I’m no longer in Granada!
It can be hard to put on a smile right now and maintain all of your relationships from a desk chair. Although it might be difficult to only interact over Zoom, FaceTime, and other video platforms, I know that the connections I’ve made with friends and colleagues will be just as vibrant and whole when I see them in person again as when I had to leave them to study and work remotely.
3. Remaining connected begins with you, so be sure to take care of yourself!
During these unprecedented times, I’ve taken a step back and realized that I can’t be my best self if I don’t take care of myself. I can’t happily pop into a video call or attend a work meeting if I’m not feeling fulfilled or content. So, I’ve made sure to take care of myself in order to be able to connect with others. I’ve established daily routines, one of my favorites being the hour-long walk I take everyday. Listening to a podcast or my favorite music during this time allows me to focus on myself and center in on what I need to get through the days ahead. Following and keeping up with accounts of businesses, organizations, brands, etc. has allowed me to participate in traditionally in-person activities right from my phone and laptop, which has helped me strengthen my connection to the outside world and has even introduced me to new companies and communities. Calling friends on the phone, even for just a few minutes, and writing letters has made me appreciate the relationships that I have in my life, and these little activities help me look forward to better days ahead.
At the end of the day, it’s impossible to stay connected all of the time. There have been times where I’ve said “Maybe we can reschedule?” or “How about we chat a bit later?” because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to engage with others, and that’s perfectly okay! I’ve learned to make the most of the times I have available to me to engage with my classmates, peers, colleagues, and professors, and that’s made all the difference in transforming remote learning and working virtually into both enjoyable, meaningful experiences.
Angela Richard is the Summer 2020 CEA MOJO Blogger in Seville, Spain, and is currently studying at Champlain College.