Meeting international students online gives motivation during the pandemic

As a part of the course Managing Activity Services and Events, we had an opportunity to participate in an International Virtual Workshop this Spring. Students from Douglas College, Canada, had created a virtual meeting space, Gather, using an application called As participants, we were requested to register in advance, and we were provided a list of topics to be discussed in groups during the workshop. We got to choose three topics out of the possible seven, that we found the most interesting and wanted to take part in.

Before the actual workshop, we had a chance to try out Gather and create our own avatar to move around and communicate with others. There was a short tutorial to get acquainted with the functions of the virtual space in the beginning. It was easy and fun to use and reminded me of the nostalgic video games I used to play as a kid.

The workshop started at 7 PM Finnish time, as Vancouver is ten hours behind and it was 9 AM there. There were students from Canada, Finland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands taking part in the workshop. It was possible to have a video conversation with others when the avatars were close to each other or in a private space, in this case around the same table. There were seven tables in the workshop room representing different topics we got to choose from, and after every session we changed the tables. Each discussion lasted for 30 minutes and there were three of them all together. Each table also had a student or a pair from Douglas College leading the discussion.

The first discussion I took part in was about student events and activities in the participant’s country. It was a wonderful start for the workshop! We started by introducing ourselves, everyone was really active, and the atmosphere was easy-going. We had fun sharing our experiences and it was exciting to listen to others’ opinions. We compared the differences between Finnish and Canadian student life. We talked about what kind of events there are for students, who organizes them, how much they cost, how often do we participate and how would we like to improve them.

The second discussion was about our international experiences. To me, this table seemed more serious than the previous one, even though the topic was comprehensive and freer to discuss about. We again started by introducing ourselves, as the groups had changed. However, this time we had turns answering questions, rather than sharing what comes to mind. The Finnish people were well represented in this discussion, so we were able to compare what kind of international experiences we had in common. We also brought up the opportunities there are for students in SAMK concerning internationality.

The third and final discussion was a chance to give feedback and to think together what would be needed to take into consideration in case organizing this kind of an event in the future. We agreed that it is valuable to network internationally and through an event like this it is possible during studies. Someone even came up with an idea to try out Gather for teaching purposes to maintain students’ interest. The discussion was so active, we got lost on the subject. So, in addition to the topic, I learned about different cultures and countries as well.

Beforehand, I did not know what to expect, but I was excited to take part in this workshop and it turned out to be a positive surprise. The others seemed quite thrilled too, as I came across many smiling faces. It was delightful to meet new people from different countries – and even from my school – via online connection especially because of the coronavirus pandemic. I would totally recommend and encourage you to participate in this kind of event, if you are ever given an opportunity to do so!

Text and pictures: Julia Alankoja, first year International Tourism Management student