UConn’s international population is bonding during this time of pandemic-caused uncertainty through an initiative called #UConnGlobalAtHome. The program offers online activity programs focusing on culture, exercise, and entertainment for a group at the University at particular risk of isolation while most students are attending class remotely.
There are about 3,000 international students and scholars from all levels of the University that remain in the state, with some still living in residence halls at UConn Storrs and others living off-campus in the area or scattered around Connecticut.
“This campaign evolved out of the need to engage international students around the state who can’t return to their families and friends,” says Sahil Laul ’19 (CLAS), a multi-media specialist in the Office of Global Partnerships and Outreach. “As a recent graduate, I thought that if I was a student and isolated from my family, what immediate needs I would have, other than things like food and basic well-being. I was quite involved with the cultural centers on campus and a large number of my friends were international students when I was in school. One of the really common things among them was that we had a real interest in culture and cross-cultural activities.”
The first virtual cultural demonstration was a class teaching the basics of Bhangra dancing, a tradition from northern India. It was taught by Sanjana Javeri ’19 (CLAS), who was a member of the UConn Bhangra Dance Team as a student along with Laul. Javeri is home with her family in Closter, NJ. She was hoping to be doing research in New York City right now, but is home studying for graduate school entrance examinations.
“It was a great way to interact with students from all around the world,” says Javeri. “During this time, you can learn some new skills and see a new face, we all need that. It can get really hard. You can’t leave your house and you have to find a way to keep yourself grounded and content and believe that we will all get through this.”
Since the Bhangra class, other virtual activities of #UConnGlobalatHome have included a spring roll-making lesson, Netflix watch parties, and relaxation and mindfulness sessions. Here is a complete list of upcoming events and what to do for those individuals interested in teaching a class.
“With over 3,000 of UConn’s international students and visiting scholars remaining in Connecticut, the Office of Global Affairs has spent a lot of time thinking about how to ensure that they are supported and remain engaged during this extraordinary time,” says Vice President of Global Affairs Daniel Weiner. “#UConnGlobalAtHome is a new virtual platform to help keep UConn Nation connected while sheltering in place.”
#UConnGlobalatHome is a true team effort working with International Student & Scholar Services at UConn, along with the U-Kindness program from the Office of Student Activities.
“We really like the concept of having a demonstration, something you can engage with and actually do,” says Laul. “It’s a platform where you are not just watching a live stream, but you are interacting with the instructor and other students as well.”
Zoe Xu is a first-year doctoral student living in Middletown with her husband, nine-month old daughter, and in-laws. The Hong Kong native joined the dance class and has also taken part in the mindfulness sessions.
“I was stuck at home for a few weeks without proper exercise, so the dancing class was a great opportunity for me to stretch and get sweating,” says Xu. “We made it a family activity as we like to dance together. We had a lot of fun.
“It’s a great way for the whole international scholars community to be connected together and have a circle. People are worried about everything. We have family at home. I am definitely looking forward to more events and activities over the summer. I don’t have a place to go so all you can do it stay at home and try different activities in different formats.”
Laul is an Indian-American whose culture is a large part of his identity.
“Different cultures are linked by similar things, music and language for instance, and this provides a wonderful opportunity for openness and engagement,” he says.
Laul says he also welcomes all UConn students, no matter where they are from, to attend or teach the sessions.
“We are happy to be part of the message of although we are physically distant, we are socially and globally connected,” says Laul.