Global Affairs and Global Health Fellows of the Batten Leadership Program recently came together - virtually - with students from China in a project that taught everyone involved more about the international impact of COVID-19.
The project offered a multitude of benefits. From an academic standpoint, it was a unique way for students to research the pandemic and apply what they learned. It also let them re-connect with friends they made through NA's cultural exchange program.
Though the pandemic is preventing travel this year, Norfolk Academy typically offers programs connecting students to China, Germany, France, and other countries. The school provides a variety of opportunities to learn abroad, from traditional exchanges to service-learning trips to global classrooms.
Thirty-nine students – 23 from Beijing and 16 from NA – were involved with the project, along with a handful of teachers from both schools. The main event was a May 7 Zoom conference to discuss how COVID-19 has unfolded in both the United States and China.
During the one-hour call, students split into small breakout rooms, where they considered questions they'd come up with themselves. Topics included restrictions in place in both countries and whether people were following them; how the pandemic was hurting both economies; and potential bright spots developing from the crisis.
Ella Davis '21 led one of the breakouts. Her group started by discussing what their own lives and schooling have been like the past several months. They then expanded into the pandemic's impact on the larger community.
Ella learned that the Chinese students are facing many of the same challenges as those at NA and throughout this country. Both were concerned with upcoming Advanced Placement exams. Their favorite restaurants had been temporarily closed. And they'd all been anxiously checking in on friends and family.
“We have the same worries," Ella said.
Courtney Kilduff '20 led another small group. Many of the Chinese students hope to attend college in America, so Courtney asked whether their plans had changed. She learned that the many existing uncertainties – travel is banned from China, and many U.S. universities have closed their campuses – mean they'll likely be taking classes online come the fall.
Despite all the struggles, positives have come out of the pandemic, the students learned. With so many people working from home, air pollution has declined in China.
The virtual gathering also encouraged students to put what they learned into practice. In addition to keeping up with the pandemic's impact at home, Courtney has been researching its global impact more closely. Ella felt motivated to reach out to the elderly – who have been impacted most severely – and is joining other NA students who are helping residents of the Westminster-Canterbury retirement community in Virginia Beach.
Overall, Courtney said the project was a valuable experience. She went on NA's China exchange before her junior year and enjoyed that travel more than any in her life. The Zoom let her catch up with a friend she'd made during that trip. It also reinforced skills she has developed as a Fellow, notably collaboration and public speaking.
Ella agreed, saying the collaboration between Fellows programs added to her positive distance learning experience. “We're given free range to explore," she said.
In addition to co-directing the Global Affairs Fellows, Dr. Natasha Naujoks is Program Coordinator for the exchange program with Beijing 101. From the Fellows perspective, she was pleased to see students conduct original research and apply what they learned. From the International Programs perspective, she was proud to see the furthering of the strong relationship NA has built with Beijing 101 over the past seven years.
“I was deeply impressed by how open, lively, and well-informed the dialogue was," Dr. Naujoks said. “It was a nice way to salvage some of what was lost in having to cancel our international travel this year."