What do you do when one of the highlights of your students' programme is suddenly derailed thanks to COVID-19?
This was the dilemma International House (IH) faced with the university and whole country in lockdown. Connecting over video has become the everyday norm for most of us but think back to March when 'zooming' was still just a quick way of getting somewhere.
Karen Rutherford, Head of School, explains the IH team were faced with the prospect of cancelling their usual graduation and farewell for students who've studied with AUT fulltime for up to a year. It is a significant and emotional time for the students, who study closely together for months and have often never lived away from their home countries or families before. This graduation was for year-long Saudi Aviation English students and 12-week intensive academic International English Language Testing System (IELTS) preparation students.
'We know how much the farewell means to our students and we were determined that they shouldn't miss out, so we had to think differently. Our students come first,' said Karen. Thanks to Zoom and a couple of lecturers who took over the technology, students and staff were able join meetings from their accommodation all over the city and participate in two separate online graduations and farewells.
Karen describes the Zoom graduations, 'Lecturers spoke proudly about their students' achievements. Each student was able to speak to classmates and lecturers personally and share experiences of their studies at AUT IH. Classmates could say goodbye to each other and acknowledge their close cross-cultural friendships. Some of the Saudi Aviation English students dressed in their national dress and the group sang a rousing version of the Saudi Arabian national anthem. Fulltime IELTS students shared tender stories about their time at AUT and in NZ. It was good to make a human connection when everyone was so physically distanced. There were a few teary moments and a huge amount of aroha in the virtual room.'
Karen said although it was initially a challenge for the IH team to be faced with such a unique problem, but staff were really pleased they had persevered, particularly when one student summed up the experience:
"You guys are like my brothers and the school is like my family, thank you for the chance to say goodbye properly. It means a lot."