Stefanie Schweins is Director of the International Relations Office (IRO) at WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management. In an interview, she talks about the challenges the coronavirus imposed on international students visiting WHU from all over the world. She answers what the restricted travel measures mean for the local students and their planned semesters abroad, as well as how the IRO is managing the situation.
To what extent did the spread of the coronavirus hit the IRO, and what were the first steps you had to take?
As the coronavirus is a global phenomenon, it has had a major impact on our work in the International Relations Office. As a first step, we contacted both our Tauschies (exchange students), who were studying at WHU, and WHU students who were abroad, and informed them about the measures taken at the business school. In addition to the safety of the students, the aim was to inform them about the continuation of the term, to show them their alternatives, and to ensure that all students could successfully complete their semester abroad in accordance with both the requirements and their satisfaction. Fortunately, WHU and gradually all of our partner universities also switched to online courses during the spring term of 2020, making this possible for both our students and the exchange students.
Many of our BSc and MSc students, who will graduate in 2021, had already chosen their University for the semester abroad. What did you do about the canceled semesters abroad?
We have offered our students several options for the fall term 2020/2021. For example, our MSc students can exceptionally postpone the semester abroad until the coming spring term and complete other program elements. We have offered our BSc students alternative semesters abroad if a partner university has cancelled the planned stay. By doing so, we have tried to consider the students' preferences as much as possible.
In your work and your decisions, you depend a lot on external regulations such as the Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt), or at the moment, the travel restrictions pronounced by the Robert Koch Institute. Which sources do you recommend the students to consult with questions concerning their planned semesters abroad?
In addition to the regulations of the Robert Koch Institute and the Federal Foreign Office in Germany, we recommend that students also inform themselves about the measures taken in the respective target country. In addition, many partner universities offer information about the current situation on their websites and keep us informed regularly. We then pass this information on to our students.
WHU is home to many Tauschies (exchange students) from all over the world. How is the mood among exchange students? Did all international students have the chance to travel back home, did some even decide to stay in Vallendar or Düsseldorf? In what way is it possible for them to participate in the online courses held at WHU?
The mood among the Tauschies was still positive, given the circumstances, even though many are disappointed that they had to leave Germany earlier than planned. Some students had decided quite quickly to return to their home countries, while others have deliberately waited to see how the situation in Germany and their home countries develops.
And like all students at WHU, our exchange students can of course participate in the online courses and successfully complete their courses.
There is no certainty yet when students will be allowed to meet and study in classrooms again. In summer, WHU usually organizes its European Summer Programs. The MBA European Summer Program, for instance, has been held online, live, and during nighttime in European time so that participants from America or Asia can more easily join the program. How does it work and what do you have to consider organizing a summer program online?
Exactly, the MBA ESP took place online for the first time this year. It was a challenge to offer the program in such a short time in a digital format. Thanks to the support of the Center of Digitalization and IT this worked very well!
Depending on the location, the participants took part in the morning or evening via video conferencing. This way, we spread the program over numerous time zones.
It was important for us to include some social events in addition to the academic units to make the program entertaining: for example, by allowing participants to introduce themselves in a short video, to take part in a photo competition or to network and exchange ideas at the Breakfast/Dinner Meeting.
Like the European Summer Program, all meetings and counselling sessions currently take place online. What conclusions do you draw from this rapid transition to digital communication channels for your work in teams and with students after the crisis?
So far, our experience with digital information channels, whether at our team meetings or virtual information events with students, has been very positive. Some of the technologies we have been using will certainly help us in the future, for example in meetings with our partner universities.
Read more about how other WHU departments managed the current situation: