By: David Chamberlain
March 18, 2021
It was this week one year ago that we sadly saw our last spring semester students off to the airport. With rumblings of a global pandemic spreading fast, ICADS began evacuating students before a single case was on the books in Costa Rica. Intensive spring programs with Western Carolina University and University at Buffalo were mutually called off just days before their arrival in mid-March. The twelve months that followed unfolded in what I think is safe to say something totally unique in ICADS’ 35-year history.
We began to dive into what remote learning looks like. Is the idea of experiential learning even possible when done virtually? Our professors quickly stepped up to the plate and gave lectures to the camera instead of a classroom, and we integrated video and other digital technologies into our teaching. We reached out to our local partners to discuss what virtual internships could and would look like. Even our host families pitched in by letting us into their homes to try and capture a little bit of what Costa Rican home living and cooking is.
All in all, we strove to adapt. We started by offering online study abroad options, both stand-alone and as support to other online classes through our partnered schools. Last fall we kicked off with a cohort of students from Northwestern (GESI & CBR). Teaming up with their Virtual Global Development in Action class, we placed them in internships and provided Costa Rican focused course content. We filmed our lectures and supporting materials, taking advantage of the video format as much as possible to create an immersive experience. Then, twice a week we got together with the students via conference call to discuss the material and their ongoing internships with our local partners. We built on what we learned with this first endeavor into virtual learning and expanded as we worked with other cohorts in similar contexts.
Another first for ICADS was our new partnership with a non-North American organization. We teamed up with Global Cultural Adventurers Education Group (GCA) out of Beijing and placed 3 of their students in winter break internships. All parties agreed on this pilot’s success and we look forward to more cooperation with them in the future. Expanding our cross-cultural exploration is always exciting.
Exploring the new realities of our world quickly became a recurring theme over this last year. COVID-19’s impact on the world is an unavoidable conversation, and we don’t want to avoid it. With ICADS’ focus on practical learning and changing behavior, the global nature of the pandemic has served in bringing relevance to the topics of social justice we discuss. Students are encouraged to take what we are learning about and look at the world around them, wherever they may be, and tie that into the conversation.
Our 2021 is off to an encouraging start, both with the state of the pandemic and for ICADS activities. With ever-dwindling case numbers in Costa Rica and rapid vaccination rollout, we hope to stabilize with a new normal this year! We have more students in virtual learning this spring, with both new and repeat programs. And we have applications coming in for in-person and blended programs for this summer and fall. We are ready to begin a new chapter here at ICADS, and to continue learning together.
As we reflect on a year of virtual learning throughout 2020, we look forward to welcoming students back this summer.
Included in our course material this semester at ICADS is a video exploring the economic challenges and pressures COVID-19 has imposed on many people in Costa Rica.
Katherine Peters is an intercultural educator, Spanish professor, and former Assistant Director of ICADS in Costa Rica. Check out and follow her new blog "New Backwater" and her reflections on her time in Costa Rica.