OKGIT members adapt to COVID-19 – Jared Scism

People around the world find themselves in the midst of one great, shared experience. Social distancing and large-scale quarantine measures became the norm in the months of March and April for many in the U.S. Colleges and schools stand empty, workplace conversations take place on laptops around kitchen tables or, in many industries, not at all. We spoke with a few of our members whose lives, work and studies have been directly impacted since governments across the U.S. took measures to slow COVID-19’s spread. The answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Jared Scism – Asst. Director of the University of Central Oklahoma International House and Programming and Executive Director of the OKGIT

Jared Scism

What is your title and what does your company/program do in “normal” times?

“I am the Assistant Director, UCO International House and Programming a part of the UCO Office of Global Affairs. My job specifically provides intercultural campus housing and programs for international students to learn about American culture and to teach the local community about their culture.The UCO Office of Global Affairs is also responsible for the recruitment, admission and immigration of new international students and making sure the students remain in legal status while studying in the United States.”

How did the COVID-19 issue impact your day-to-day work?

“All intercultural activities on campus were canceled for the remainder of the semester. After Spring Break, all employees were expected to work from home until  June 1.Prior to June 1, I returned back to campus to open a food pantry on campus that local community members could bring food to help international students who were unable to buy any.”

If you’ve been forced to shut down or work from home, how has that impacted your job?

“We have returned to campus, but we were expected to work from home at the beginning. This meant all events on campus were canceled. However, we were creative and held our international pageant on Facebook Live and all contestants performed the different parts of the pageant from their own homes, apartments and dorms.

“Furthermore, we held daily events on our UCO International House Facebook Live and called them Power Hour. Each daily event had a theme: Monday Meals where we learned to make a food from a different culture, Tuesday Trivia where students competed through answering trivia questions about particular regions around the world, Wellness Wednesday where we would do a workout, practice meditation, etc, Tea Thursdays where all students where welcome to bring their own tea and talk about struggles they were facing during the pandemic, and Fun Fridays where we learned various cultural dances from all over the world.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work in the coming few months?

“At the moment, nearly all United States embassies around the world have not be reopened, which makes it difficult for incoming international students to get their visas in order to come and study here. Furthermore, everything is very fluid for the upcoming semester (i.e. classes, activities)  because we are not sure whether or not we can anticipate a second wave of COVID-19 coming soon. This may lead to more classes going online and more activities having less attendees or forcing us to hold more virtual events online. Furthermore, several of our international students come from countries where their families are unable to open their businesses, unable to send money to their children because banks are closed or even arrested for leaving their homes, and international students are unable to return home because their countries have been completely locked down, even to their own citizens making it difficult for students to pay for tuition.”

Have there been any positives you can point to in terms of new ways of doing business or working that have come during this time?

“I believe this time has allowed our international students to see how much the community cares for them. We have raised over $20,000 to help students with financial assistance (see the Go Fund Me here), keep a stocked pantry for them to come and get food that is open daily, and find host families in the community that want to connect with them and help them out in any way that they can.”