European Union Policy Studies

2020 EUPS Cohort Takes on New Challenge: Distance Learning

Distance Learning

By Toni-Anne Barry

EUPS students were traveling all across Europe when we got the devastating news: the JMU Florence campus would be shutting down due to concerns over COVID-19. Learning that our time living and learning together in Italy was likely over for good was not how any of us envisioned our February break would end. For all of us, this reality was hard to accept. We were losing the new way of life we built over the last 6 months: morning cappuccinos at our favorite bars, dodging tourists on the Ponte Vecchio, and after class aperitivos, all while being surrounded by the most beautiful architecture in the world. 

Even more than the loss of our European home, the last stretch, and the most exciting time of our program was suddenly uncertain. From participating in the Model European Union (MEU) simulation with our peers from the University of Florence (UNIFI), to delivering our final paper presentations at the 2020 Symposium to distinguished international scholars at the European University Institute, and experiencing a European work environment through our internships at leading organizations everywhere from Italy to Kosovo. In the end, we did lose out on the in-person aspects of these events, but we learned new ways to connect with our professors and faculty to ensure that we could still achieve the aims of each of these fundamental program milestones. 

For the MEU Simulation, we utilized Google docs and Skype to collaborate with our UNIFI partners to develop comprehensive political analysis and policy recommendations in affronting Iranian nuclear capabilities and the EU’s strategy on Russian relations, both focuses of this year’s exercise. This process alone, helped us learn how to work effectively with international colleagues under time-constraints to produce succinct and cohesive proposals. Important skills were also gained from our Symposium presentations that had to be adapted to our new ‘classroom.’ Switching from in-person to remote presenting required us to learn different speaking, timing, and visual techniques that better fit a virtual setting. In this way, we received feedback not only on the content of our papers and research methods, but we were able to practice alternative presentation skills and hear from our professors what worked, and what did not, in this new virtual format.

In addition to these adjustments, day-to-day classes changed as well. Our professors modified their class schedules and assignments to accommodate the new Transatlantic nature of our program. Not only did we have to work from a distance, but there was a substantial 6-hour time difference that was a challenge for both faculty and students. After a couple of weeks of hiccups and many technical difficulties, we were able to find a rhythm that worked for us. Professors utilized a variety of platforms to conduct classes and communicate with students. WhatsApp was used to send notifications to students, there were drop-in office hours held over Skype, and full classes were even taught over Zoom. In some ways, it felt as though the connection between students and professors grew stronger because more communication was now necessary to make our new situation work.  

Now, as we head into the Summer semester, EUPS students will be completing internships remotely. Whether working at the human rights group USAHello to aid the needs of migrants or focusing on international political analysis at the UN-affiliated Transitional Justice Research Center, our cohort is going to gain experience in research, advocacy, and political communications. We will also have the perfect opportunity to put our newfound remote-working skills to the test in a real-world situation. Many of these internships will require utilizing programs like Skype and Zoom to participate in meetings and working under little direct supervision while producing high-quality deliverables. 

Being equipped with these skills is essential in today’s work environment. Companies and firms no longer limit their talent to candidates in proximity to their offices. The growing popularity of communal workplaces like WeWork and Spaces, where companies can situate remote workers, are a testament to this change. The influx in remote jobs means that the workforce will have more alternative opportunities at its disposal, but these jobs require experience working across distances, schedules that are not restricted to the traditional 9 to 5 workday, and effective communication skills. As sad as we feel about the unexpected, and major, change to our program, we gained invaluable tools that each of us can take into our future professional and academic careers. 

Toni-Anne Barry is a graduate student in the 2019-2020 EUPS program. She graduated from The Catholic University of America in 2018 with a major in Politics and American Government and a minor in Italian Studies.

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Published: Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, May 21, 2020

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